I’ve spent the day reading FB posts by pals about the passing of Chris Cornell. Invariably those posts have been from folk about ten, fifteen years younger than me. For them Cornell and Soundgarden in the early 90s, were their way into music; they got him, he got them. They were teenagers, he was an eloquent powerhouse of a voice who sang of them and to them. The connection was made. Coincidently his passing and manner of death was similar to the passing and manner of death of the musician I had made a teenage connection with, Ian Curtis of Joy Division. He died May 18 too, 1980, although he was much younger and only at the edge of making it.
The edge is the vital piece here because for many of us now old punk rockers the edge was all we could ever dream about then. It was as far as we could go. We were the alternative, the other side, the outsiders. We danced around the norm, made the charts, made the news but didn’t make the impact, changed little but the hearts perhaps of those younger. We gathered in halls and got new music live and in person. We heard about our music through a network of fanzines and late night radio shows, it was underground.
Before your fourteen year old self heard “Rusty Cage” and “Black Hole Sun”, Cornell and his pals were gathering in halls in dismal Seattle but they heard Black Flag and DOA and their older brother’s Black Sabbath albums, they melted together in the mist of their city, melting and moulding.
I was writing about music in the early 90s and I recall when Temple of the Dog cassette came in the promo run. “Hunger”, good god, you knew something changed. That song has haunted me since. It came, they went. But listen to the guitar, its jangly melodic, you’d call it indie now we called it college rock then - its REM, Replacements, the Smithereens and the Smiths, and there’s barely any weight to it but it switches and kicks in and it drops into dirge-y metal, you know someone in the band has a sleeveless denim jacket with Rainbow patches - and two of the finest voices in what we call Modern Rock, Eddie Veder rumbling like a didgeridoo and Cornell’s impassioned scream, singular, lonesome, alone, lost, with the arrogance of Robert Plant in it. Its hunger is tangible but what wasn’t known when it came out was just how hungry these guys were.
They were hungry enough to reach the edge … and go over. They broke through the levy and into the mainstream, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, - the Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, Alice In Chains, you think it was an accident they showed up on your radio, your teen age teen anger radar - it took decades of work and when they broke everything broke. The punks won, the metalheads, the skaters, the thrashers and hardcore and indie kids and everyone wanted plaid and unlaced docs. And the money flowed and Kurt shot himself, Pearl Jam went on hiatus and Soundgarden split but they had forged a bond between everyone on the outside and underneath their black sun we found a common cause if not a common enemy. Because it was that good and they were that good and now there’s just Eddie.