So I haven’t updated my blog page in a while. You, Dear Readers (all three of you), will have to forgive me: I have a job which requires me to be on my computer typing most every weekday (a job I love and hope to keep a while), so after a long day of typing for my job, I simply don’t have the energy or gumption or wherewithal or whatever you want to call it to sit down and type even more.
My last few blog posts have been done after work (i.e. after devoting the biggest part of my quite limited brain power to doing the best job I can for the company I work for), and they came out even more haphazard and sloppy than these posts usually do.
I am on vacation from work at the moment, and since I am more or less in the routine of getting up, showering, eating some breakfast, then sitting down at my computer and typing, well, now seems to be the perfect time to write a new blog post.
Especially since something happened last week that I would like to write about.
I’m not one of those people who just flat-out abhors celebrity culture (q.v. this post from last year), but I’m not really all that into it, either.
Nonetheless, every now and again, I suppose I get a little emotionally attached to certain celebrities, sometimes without even realizing it… until they go and do something stupid, like asphyxiating themselves in a hotel bathroom or something.
Yes, you’ve figured it out: this is one of those “this is how Chris Cornell‘s suicide makes me feel” blog posts.
I’ve read a few of those, and the ones I read were really well done.
But this isn’t going to be like most of those. I didn’t know Chris Cornell personally, I don’t have any stories about “The Seattle Scene,” and I no longer harbor any delusions about “grunge” music being anything other than a fad, one where MTV helped a couple hundred mediocre nothing shit bands get famous by riding the coattails of the handful of “grunge” bands that were actually making music worth listening to.
Sorry if that upsets anyone. If I might digress, there’s a reason I don’t have a “music” section on this blog: the act of listening to and enjoying music is an intensely personal and subjective experience. I have often opined (at least to friends and on social media) that there are actually only two (2) genres of music. Those two genres are:
1. Music I Like
2. Music I Don’t Like.
And the “I” here is me, and it’s you, and it’s your significant other (if you have one), and it’s everyone you know.
For example, I can’t explain to you why actual literal tears have actually literally streamed down my cheeks at around the 4:30 mark of this song right here. I can’t.
There aren’t any lyrics. It doesn’t remind me of anything in particular. But something about the way the sounds are arranged makes my brain release a flood of neurochemicals that cause actual literal tears to actually literally well up in my actual literal eyes.
It’s happening as I type this.
This particular song may very well do nothing whatsoever for you. You may even be put off by it. This may actually literally be the worst thing you have actually literally ever heard.
That’s OK. I’m sorry if you don’t like it. I wish I could explain to you why I like it (and the album it’s from) so much… but I can’t.
I just do. It randomly popped up on YouTube one day while I was listening to The Field while working, and since “Fuck Buttons” sounded interesting, I listened to it. And I found that I liked it bunches and bunches.
If you’re one of those “that ain’t real music, that’s just a buncha comprooter noises” people, well, I used to be one of you. All I can say is that there’s lots of really cool comprooter noises out there that you haven’t heard, and you’re the only person missing out because of your, well… snobbery.
And sure, my characterization of most “grunge” bands being “mediocre nothing shit bands riding the coattails of a handful of good bands” or whatever I said also counts as “snobbery.” But it’s a slightly different sort of snobbery: I listened to those bands, I became obsessed with those bands, I bought CDs by those bands, I even learned how to halfway play a few songs by those bands on my guitar. I’m not just dismissing those bands outright; I am intimately familiar with the music those bands produced… and quite frankly I don’t like much of it any more.
You’ll notice I’m not naming any bands here. There’s a reason for that, and it should be obvious, but just in case it isn’t, here’s the reason:
Just because I, Michael Nathan Walker, don’t like this or that band anymore, that doesn’t mean that anyone else is “wrong” for still liking them. It just means that I don’t like them anymore.
The vast majority of “grunge” bands have shifted from “genre” 1:
“Music I Like”
to “genre” 2:
“Music I Don’t Like”
in my own personal brain. That’s all it means; it means precisely nothing else.
So relax, please.
But let me get back on track. Or, actually, let me rewind 20+ years to the mid-1990s, when “grunge” was in its heyday.
This was before I even owned a CD player, I am almost certain. I am almost certain that I ordered three cassette tapes from either Columbia House or BMG, and that they all three arrived in the mailbox on the same day, in the same package. The three tapes were “Nevermind” by Nirvana, “In Utero,” also by Nirvana…
And, you guessed it: “Superunknown” by the band Chris Cornell was most associated with, the band that made him famous, Soundgarden.
I had heard two songs from “Superunknown” on MTV, “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun.” And I liked both of those songs, “Black Hole Sun” especially.
I will now share a still shot from that video, just so there will be a Chris Cornell-associated pic that appears as a preview for this post. Hopefully, at least… I am not very good at coding, and I have no idea how to set the preview image for these blog posts. It seems like the one closest to the top of whichever post is what appears, even if the pic is from another post. Heck, once I re-shared a post on Facebook, and it showed a friend who commented on the post’s avatar in the preview. So I don’t know if this is going to appear correctly, but here’s hoping:
You member that video? I member…
There’s a link to the “Black Hole Sun” video just above the pic, in case you missed it. Click on the purplish “Black Hole Sun” text up there.
As you are undoubtedly aware, there are tons of videos on YouTube that are just images of album covers with the entire album in one big track. I was actually going to try and link full album videos to the titles of the three “grunge” albums I got on cassette, but I couldn’t find one for “Nevermind.” “Bigger name” acts like Nirvana (or at least the record companies that control all the rights to their stuff) often have people working for them that take videos like that down, and anyways I couldn’t find a full-album “Nevermind” video on YouTube, so I didn’t bother looking for “In Utero” or “Superunknown.” As you may already know, I just linked to the Wikpedia pages for each album.
But while I was looking, I found this video. It’s a video of a guy playing guitar along with every song on “Nevermind.” And if you want to learn how to play every song on “Nevermind,” maybe you should check it out.
If not… nevermind. 🙂
As is usually the case on these posts, I have yet again gone off track a bit. So let me back up:
When I got my first copy of “Superunknown,” well… other than “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun,” well…
The majority of the album fell squarely into Genre #2. I.e. I didn’t like it.
It was too complex. The songs were in weird tunings. There were weird time signatures. Etc. I was learning to play the guitar at the time (I am still learning, BTW)…
And there weren’t any songs on it that I could play. Or even wrap my head around how to go about start playing. Or even appreciate, really.
If that dude that played all of “Nevermind” made a video where he played all of “Superunknown,” even just the rhythm parts, I would be impressed, to say the least.
The point is, I didn’t like “Superunknown” the first time I heard it. I was a weird kid, one who prided himself on liking weird things… and it was too weird for me.
That changed over the years, though. It was an album I kept coming back to. I am pretty sure I also had a CD copy of it at some point. The more I listened to it, the more I was able to hear how those weird time signatures and weird tunings and weird vocals worked together, and maybe as long as a decade after I first heard it, it became one of my favorite albums.
To get back to being a music snob vis-à-vis “grunge” bands I used to like, and for that matter a whole slew of other bands I used to like when I was a teenager, “Superunknown” is still just as kick-ass and amazing now as it was the day it was released. It’s a high-water mark of ’90s guitar rock, all sub-genres included.
The album is simply amazing, from beginning to end. But now we’re getting back into subjective territory. I may as well tell you blue is the best color and then get pissed off when you disagree.
So I am going to stop with that sort of thing, and get back to the real reason I am writing this: to record for all the internet to read how Chris Cornell’s suicide affected me personally.
I found out the morning after it happened, before I started working. A Facebook friend shared a story about it.
It didn’t really bug me at first. I posted several Soundgarden songs on Facebook and Twitter, and I listened to all of “Superunknown” while I was working.
And it messed with me a little then, I guess. Chris Cornell’s lyrics were always sort of bleak, borderline nihilistic, etc., but there always seemed to be a hint of irony to them, sort of like “yeah, the world’s gonna end, bad stuff is going to happen…”
I don’t quite know how to articulate what I mean.
Let’s take “Black Hole Sun.” The song’s refrain goes
“Black hole sun, won’t you come
And wash away the rain
Black hole sun, won’t you come
Won’t you come?”
The chorus is basically expressing the hope that the sun will collapse into a black hole and bring the world to an end. But look at the video, with all the funny faces! It was all in fun, it seemed like. I mean, people joke about that sort of thing a lot. Surely you saw these bumper stickers last year in the run-up to the election:
I mean sure, there are probably a few people sporting bumper stickers or t-shirts or whatever with that slogan on them that actually literally want a giant meteor to actually literally destroy the Earth…
But most people don’t, I would venture.
And maybe Chris Cornell really didn’t want the whole world to end. I actually doubt that. I won’t get into dissecting lyrics or anything, do your own research. Start with “Superunknown.” You owe it to yourself.
I just mean… I mean…
I didn’t expect him to actually be suicidal, is what I mean. And it came as a bit of a shock to me.
And if that weren’t enough… this video eventually turned up on my news feed. It’s Chris Cornell playing the song that made Sinéad O’Connor famous, “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
And he did a hell of a good job at it, I must say.
It was around this point that Chris Cornell’s suicide really “hit home” for me. And it was for a reason that didn’t have anything to do with Chris Cornell or Soundgarden or Audioslave or Sinéad O’Connor or even Prince, who you probably know wrote the song in question.
See, I’ve sung that song before.
I taught ESL for a couple years, several years back, in a small city just outside of Seoul,
South Korea called Gimpo or sometimes “Kimpo,” depending on who you’re talking to. The reason the G and the K are pretty much interchangeable there has to do with how the Korean language is written, and let’s just leave it at that.
(Also, “Kimpo Airport” is mentioned several times on the classic T.V. series M*A*S*H, and I think Hawkeye and the gang actually go there at least a couple times. But I digress.)
At any rate, when I lived in Gimpo, I would often go out with friends to Noraebangs (“norae” means “singing” and bang [pronounced “bahng”] means “room”) to drink beer and sing.
It’s fun, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.
And for a decent amount of the time I lived in Gimpo, I was seeing a young Korean woman I was pretty much crazy about.
And I sang “Nothing Compares 2 U” to her at least once or twice. I could pretty much nail the whole song, except for the “all the flowers that you planted, mama” part.
And long story short, she died pretty much the same way Chris Cornell did.
And I don’t want to write about this anymore.
Thanks for reading.
Here’s Norah Jones (someone whose music has helped me sleep many a night in the intervening years, incidentally) singing “Black Hole Sun.” Enjoy.
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