Saturday, May 20, 2017

Early Morning Searching, A Rainy Telephone Call and Pete Thorn on Chris Cornell, 1964 - 2017

I know I wrote about Chris Cornell extensively yesterday, but I'm not done.

I spent over an hour walking around in the drizzle talking to my friend Cindy about Chris Cornell today.  I had to--to mourn with her, discuss him. She really is the only friend I have who knows Chris (from afar of course) and his music the way I do.  She and I saw Chris twice together, once when Chris was supporting his "Scream" album and the last time 10 months ago.

We talked about how rare it is to even have a TRUE artist such as Chris or Prince or Michael Jackson.  How when they are lost, who do you look to?  I said to her, and he was smart.  He wasn't someone looking for the quick fix.  He was someone who sat in his basement with a stack of Beatles albums and memorized them.  Prince studied James Brown and Sly Stone.  These are people who knew a history of rock music, blues, funk, punk, so there were layers of influence to them. I said it's like cooking.  You're supposed to season all the components of a dish as you go along to coax all the nuances of flavor to come out.  You don't just sprinkle a little salt on at the end and expect it to have any complex depth to it.  Chris had the Beatles in him, and The Stones and Led Zeppelin, but also Black Sabbath and Elvis Costello.  When you stir that all together, along with true emotion, intelligence, and vocal skill, well that's how a superstar comes along rather than someone just looking to lay down a beat track with two 7-word verses that loop over and over again.  Ugh.

Now, prior to that conversation earlier this afternoon, I woke up at 1:00 a.m. unable to breathe.  I felt a tightness in my chest and had to get my inhaler to get through.  But in that eerie early hour, as soon as my mind and eyes opened, I thought of Chris.  I couldn't go back to sleep so from 1 a.m. until 5 a.m., I searched for more clues and read more articles and watched more videos (something I had been doing every moment since hearing the news and while not at work). The unreality of a world without him is starting to feel real.  I had to try to get that through to my head and heart.
Here's some worthwhile finds. Please check out the following if you, like me, are in  mourning.

In no particular order:

It makes sense to me that there was something else going on with Chris that motivated him to "commit suicide."    Read his wife, Vicky's statement re: the possible influence of the drug Activan in his system in Spin Magazine's article here.

Here's a link to Mark McGrath (from the group Sugar Ray) on "The Woody Show."  It's totally worth listening to the whole thing, but here is a right on the head quote from Mark that sums up why we feel so sad when a beloved singer dies:

"You loose someone of that magnitude, it takes awhile to resonate.  When you lose someone like Prince, you lose a Scott Weiland, you lose a Chris Cornell, I think it takes awhile for all of us to mourn the loss.  Music is super personal, too.  You internalize music and it becomes a family member if you're really that vested in music & it means that much to you.  It's like feel almost like a family loss. To loose that, it hurts, it's tough, it's very tough." 

This Washington Post article of the history of Soundgarden and of Cornell's vow to make it as an artist doing original music no matter what it took, even if he/they were never a 'success' is excellent.

Here's a very short clip from "American Masters" on Chris Cornell discussing the camaraderie of the bands in Seattle--how they inspired one another, and the development of Temple of the Dog.

The Chicago Tribune's article on how Eddie Vedder is the last grunge frontman still standing.  There is a great point made in the article where rock critic Steven Hyden is quoted from his book, "Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me" as saying:

"By the early aughts Pearl Jam was actively subsuming the operatic emotionalism of their more popular early records in order to cater to hard-core loyalists," Hyden wrote. "The way Vedder purposely piloted Pearl Jam toward a significantly smaller audience is still remarkable. Other than Radiohead, no rock band has ever been more deliberate about ferreting out precisely the people it wanted to care about its music."

This article from Variety is a really great one and a good rock history lesson of how Soundgarden paved the way for all the Pacific Northwest bands, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains (and Stone Temple Pilots by association) who followed.  Note this point which Jem Aswad, Senior Music Editor, makes:

 "But Cornell was a true original in his own right. And the sound and culture of the 1990s would not have been what it was without him or Soundgarden, who cut the path that so many followed."

Here's Charles R. Cross from "Music from NPR," writing on how Chris was Grunge's "True Seattle Son"  Charles knew Chris Cornell personally--read his perspective on how the band had been together for 10 years before it broke through--the slow burn to success.

From Heavy's Chris Bucher, the police report that outlined the timing after the concert, his last call to his wife, and what went down.  I had to read that...find that.  I still had the thought, does anyone question if this was a murder?  I pieced several different articles together, and it seems the band left in shuttle bus from the theater at 11:25 p.m.  Chris' body guard was in his room with him around 11:35; Chris spoke to his wife Vicky at 11:40 p.m. and by midnight he was dead.  I had to know this...make sense of that span of time.  It still is unbelievable.

I wrote in my previous blog post yesterday that I had watched 3 clips of his final concert, and Chris didn't seem right.  He seemed to be moving slowly--a little strangely to me.  His vocals weren't as "on" as normally.  I thought he looked exhausted.  Somewhere else--on YouTube--someone wrote that he seemed "low energy."  This well-articulated article from the Detroit Free Press, by Ashley Zlatopolsky, "Chris Cornell's final performance:  Something Clearly Wasn't Right, corroborates my thoughts that Chris wasn't the Chris I was used to seeing.

By the way, here's a link to the entire final concert.  I've listed the set list at the bottom of this page.

Here's Alexis Sottile's Rolling Stone Magazine article on Cameron Crowe and the 25th anniversary of the movie, "Singles."  He really has wonderful stories of the musical genius and unbelievable creativity of Cornell as well as his impressions of living in the midst of the development of the Seattle scene.  Please read it so you can put into context this quote:

"And holy shit, this is Chris Cornell, as Cliff Poncier, recording all of these songs, with lyrics, and total creative vision, and he has recorded the entire fake, solo cassette. And it's fantastic. And "Seasons" comes on. And you just can't help but go, "Wow." This is a guy who we've only known in Soundgarden. And of course he's incredibly creative, but who's heard him like this? And we got to use "Seasons" on the soundtrack, and Chris did some of the score. And some of the unreleased score is on the new version of the album."

Here's Pete Thorn, his guitarist who supported him through his "Carry On" tour and "Scream" tour.  I saw his play during both of those tours.  He relates poignant memories of playing with Chris, and describes what kind of honorable, supportive, creative, strong person and friend he was.  If you look at the time it's says 37 minutes and you'll think, I'll never listen to all of that.  But you will. It will break your heart a little more though.

Detroit, MI, 5/17/17 Set List
Ugly Truth
Hunted Down
Non-State Actor
Black Hole Sun
Crooked Steps
Day I Tried to Live
My Wave
Zero Chance
Fell on Black Days
A Thousand Days Before
Burden in My Hand
Blow Up the Outside World
Jesus Christ Pose
Beyond the Wheel
Rusty Cage
Slaves and Bulldozers interspersed with lyrics from Led Zeppelin's "In My Time of Dying"

Thursday, May 18, 2017

RIP Chris Cornell "One (U2 Music with Metallica Lyrics)"

I had to be at work early today--7 a.m., for a special process that needed to be done.  As so happens when you need shut-eye, I instead woke up at 4:15 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep.  At 6, I finally got up, had a message on my phone that the power was down at work and texted my boss on how we were going to proceed.  At the end of our conversation, I took one of my dogs out, came back in, and saw my phone flashing.  She had typed one more message, "Chris Cornell died?"

I replied, "F#*@ what?"

She knew how much he meant to me.

I had last seen Chris play 10 months ago.  He was as fantastic and moving as always.  Cool, both in control and at ease in his banter, singing, and playing.  It was the sixth, and now I know my last, time I saw him in concert.  The first was on the last tour of Soundgarden in the '97.  They opened for the grandfather of grunge, Neil Young.

The next time wasn't until April 11, 2007 at the Metro in Chicago.  It ranks as my #1 concert experience...and let me tell you, I've been to a lot.  I had begged so many people to go with me (can you believe this), and FINALLY my friend Andrea said she'd go.  The concert was sold out, but we got some tickets from a StubHub type place.  I remember when she sent me an email that contained a copy of the ticket.  I swooned.  I printed out that email and carried it around with me in my wallet.  I loved his voice, his music, his looks, his attitude.  I just couldn't believe I was going. Chris had been through Audioslave by then, and he was touring as a solo act.  His hair was short at that time, really showing off his gorgeous face.

I remember what I wore, how my hair was cut, and that it was raining that night.  I was standing next to a guy who had driven up from Champaign from the University of Illinois.  He had a cold, but he was there.  As we stood waiting for him to come out, my heart was pounding, and I felt myself getting jelly legs!  I turned to my friend and said, "I have to go!"  I just was overcome with the moment.  She said, "Turn around, you're not going anywhere."  And I turned around, and one minute later he came out, and cooly said, "How ya' doin'?"

We were only about 10 feet from the stage, and he could survey the crowd easily.  And at one point, truly, he stared right at me with those blue piercing eyes.  I'm sure he held everyone's gaze at some point, but at that moment it was me, and I couldn't breathe.

The most memorable moment was when he sang his version of Michael Jackson's, "Billy Jean."  It was slowed down into a soulful groove and then crescendoed into his sexy wail at just the time the lights flashed an guitars wailed.  I will never forget that moment.  It was one of those times where I was fully IN it, but also was outside of myself with this knowledge of what I was experiencing.  It was out-of-body is all I can say.  You don't get transported like that at every concert.  Truly, there's just a handful.

I saw him 2 more times that year--once when he stripped his sweaty shirt off, and that was a moment we didn't forget.

But let me make it clear--he had physical beauty, yes, but it was that voice...that distinctive voice--hard-edged but tender and feeling, too--that was the true draw.  Henry Rollins once said that Chris Cornell's voice could peel paint off of a wall.  But it was the soulful side of his slower songs and acoustic performances--powerful, painful, rough-edged, expressive--that was the true draw.  He made you feel it.  Robert Plant of Led Zepplin had that influence of the blues mixed in with rock mixed with Middle Eastern music.  He was bluesy, hard and soft.  That was Chris Cornell.

The strangest thing is that I had been listening to Chris nonstop over the last week.  I had been painting late at night, especially last weekend, and I had Chris playing on YouTube.  I love his combination of the music from U2's "One" and the lyrics of Metallica's "One."  Over and over I played it, along with his version of Prince's, "Nothing Compares 2 U" and Whitney Houston's/Dolly Parton's, "I Will Always Love You."  I listened to Soundgarden's, "Fell on Black Days," and Audioslave's, "Getaway Car."  I always loved "Sunshower" from the movie "Great Expectations" etc.  I could list this on and on.  I'm listening to the latter right now, and my heart is in my throat, because he is gone.  He really is gone.

Maybe that powerfully pained voice had to come from a place of some desperation/depression.  I wouldn't have thought Chris would kill himself.  He had been through so many suicides of friends and contemporaries in his life (e.g., Andy Wood--from Mother Love Bone which caused him to form the group Temple of the Dog and which just recently reformed and toured; Layne Stanley; Kurt Cobain, etc.)  No one knows, though, the depth of someone's pain.  There's an article that states him as saying, "it's harder to get help the more famous you are."  I get it.  You're in the public eye.  You supposedly have everything you could ever want.  That's the worst part of depression.  You SHOULD feel o.k. with all you have.  And when you don't, where do you turn, what do you strive for?  What gives you the drive to put one foot in front of the other when you're in pain?

I knew he loved his second wife and children deeply.  I've watched him carrying his daughter Toni around in videos and at concerts since she was a baby.  She looks just like him and has a beautiful voice as well.  He had to be in so much anguish to be driven to what happened last night.

I've watched videos of his last performance in Detroit, and he looks weary, exhausted.  The songs seem very slowed down.  I read somewhere that some insiders thought he had relapsed with alcohol.  He had been sober for about 14 years.  But this is all supposition--you want to know why now, just like with Prince--another irreplaceable voice.  All I know is, he could not have been in his right mind.  Was he weary from playing the same songs after 25 years?  Was the pressure, and inability to get out of something--a tour--pressures from the music industry just too much?  I don't know, and we probably won't.

But Chris, your talent, your voice, we ache for you, and we are crushed.  God bless you.

From 7/11/16 - the last time I saw Chris in concert.

Some of the better articles on Chris:

Chris Cornell's Final Red Carpet with Family
LATimes 1991 article w/Chris Cornell on making Badmotorfinger
The one below is something I found after I original blogpost.  The LA Times writer wrote the same thing I did, comparing Chris and Robert Plant and Mideastern Influence.  I guess I heard the same thing they did:
Chris Cornell-A generation lost its Robert Plant
LA Times Obit Chris Cornell
Chris Cornell Interviews Jimmy Page, Part 1