Wednesday, January 10, 2018


In 1991, when Axel Rose was asked about some of his favorite new bands, he said “The singer of Soundgarden has a beautiful voice.” I had figured Rose to be a tasteless idiot whose well-publicized love of the Sex Pistols I had dismissed as naive and more about a juvenile liking of the name than the music. At the same time, his comment had also given me a weird feeling of hope.

Two years later I was twenty years old and in Prague on a spring break after studying in a small city in southern Germany. Room and board inside somebody’s home cost about 9 dollars a day. Three things are especially vivid from the week I walked around Prague in my ripped jeans, flannel and Joy Division shirt: two raggedy U.S. street performers who recycled 6-8 songs all day, including VU’s “I’m Waiting for My Man” and Pete Seeger’s “Which Side are You On?”; two cleanly dressed prostitutes parading around the main square (I held a competition with myself to see how long I could ogle before getting embarrassed and looking away); and a ticket table for Guns and Roses with special guests Faith No More and Soundgarden. 14 dollars a piece.

Rose had backed up his comments and had brought both bands on a year-long tour. Who knows if the attention he had given to Soundgarden had anything to do with Seattle’s ascendancy and the brief improvement of commercial radio in the early to mid 90s? After three days of indecisiveness, I spent the money and watched the gig in what was then the world’s largest stadium. There were no :assigned seats. They opened the gates and you ran. I made it to the third row and had to pee by the middle of FNM’s set.

Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell’s first words when he came on stage in Prague were nothing creative or insightful, something like, “Man, anyone want to play football?”  Then Soundgarden followed with a stunning set that managed within its short 40-minutes to both dig deep and climb to an epic peak that humbled G n R, who was good in their own right but nowhere near as enthralling as Soundgarden.

Cornell was an entrancing figure on stage: long brown curly hair, jade green eyes, olive skin, hair throwing around in the wind. Sexy as hell. He was wearing a long-sleeve black shirt, unbuttoned, showing off some nice abs for a guy on a year-long tour. And that voice, that ‘beautiful voice’ as Rose had called it. Growling and bluesy, Cornell’s voice has always made me think of what it would sound like if the devil came above, winked and sluiced up the world with some songs he’d been working on with a few of his friends down below.

Look at recent videos of Soundgarden and Cornell hardly looks any different. The music hasn’t lost its dark, romantic growl either. If you want to step back into the Soundgarden catalogue, start with Badmotorfinger. The swirling, frightening “Jesus Christ Pose”, the dark, Sabbath-like ooze of “Slaves and Bulldozers” and the psychedelic, yet fragile “Room a Thousand Years Wide” showcase a band growing so confident in itself: heavy and sexy, just slightly vulnerable and musically better than anything else in the grunge scene.

Cornell died under peculiar circumstances after a show in Detroit, Michigan on May 8, 2017.

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