My mom was a suburban baby-boomer hippie who felt like she had become a television addict when she started staying home with me, her first child, so, she threw it out. Like many kids of divorce, I spent every weekend with my grandparents who were of the mind that television would destroy intelligence, so watching was restricted. Reading books, magazines, and comics, and listening to comedy and music became the refuge of this odd little introvert.
Once I wrangled a little spending money, those things combined and overlapped. I love reading, and I love music, so I loved reading about music. I subscribe to the theory that an older sibling can help develop a more advanced taste in pop culture, but I didn’t have one, so the magazines I read became the voice to which my curiosity would listen. I started with the normal things a ten-year old in 1984 would absorb, Prince and M.J, Bruce and Madonna, but a subscription to Rolling Stone and a desire to find voices I could relate to as a semi-misanthropic tween started to encourage me to dig deeper.
The magazines Spin and Rip had a tone that resonated, and both played a role in helping drive my curiosity toward thrash metal, punk, and hip-hop. I am now very aware, by the way, that those two magazines were published by two titans of American pornography, Rip even being the very first non-pornographic magazine published by Larry Flynt. I will leave it to the Freudian analysts figure out exactly what that means. Don’t get me wrong, I would read any piece of trash that would recycle press releases about bands (I’m looking at you Circus and Hit Parader), but my skepticism lead me to drop those when I found the more self-aware alternatives.
So it was, that at age fifteen, the power of major label music press and a Warehouse gift certificate lead me to scoop up a copy of Loud Love. The sound was earnest, and a bit self-important when I look at it now, but imagine how earnest and self-important play at fifteen. And, saving grace to a kid who loved stand-up comedy, it had some childish humor on board, including a Spinal Tap-style song about fucking. It remains my least favorite musically of those first five Soundgarden records, but at the time I listened to the shit out of it. I went back to UltraMega OK and Screaming Life, and by the time Badmotorfinger was released, I was a committed fan.
A couple years later, when music obsession and disposable income combined to encourage me to comb the record stores with an undiscerning mind, buying up imported CD singles and promo compilations, Soundgarden became the flag that signified my commitment to collecting records. A Sub Pop Records singles release forced me to find a record player, and the encouragement of an ill-chosen paragon turned me into a completionist. At one point I owned something like sixty different records, tapes, and CDs of music, later sold to a cokehead friend who had even more disposable income than I.
Chris Cornell’s structurally poetic but vague lyrics resonated with hidden depth to me. To date, the meaning is usually still hidden well enough that I’m not sure if it’s obfuscated or absent, but they resonated. I always hated the leather-and-hairspray costumes of 80s metal, and hated more the costume-costumes of Alice Cooper and KISS, but a costume of Doc Marten’s and flannel shirts seemed everyman enough to accept.
Soundgarden helped me find Mudhoney, The Descendents. and Sonic Youth, and those lead me to find all my favorites in each little niche and subgenre of the rock and roll that ties it all together. Chris Cornell was the face of a band that ties into finding Sleater-Kinney and Sage Francis and Secret Chiefs 3 and Steve Earle and Slug and Sleep and Slobberbone and Sigur Ros, and many other bands I love outside the “S” section of my collection.
I did grow apart from Soundgarden at some point after selling the collection, and only dabbled in Audioslave and the solo records, but reading about Chris Cornell’s passing hit me hard in nostalgia circuits. I will always appreciate Cornell and Soundgarden in helping to open the gateway to so much music that still thrills me to this day. Many bands that were my favorites then don’t hold up when I listen today, but I can still listen with great pleasure to dozens of songs he helped create in the 80s and 90s.
Rest in peace.