I’m Gonna Break My Rusty Cage and Run

Been just over a week since I wrote. Last week’s post was about Chris Cornell. Today’s post? Kinda almost the same, really, at least to start.

I’ve been writing album reviews, and the one that I’ve been building up to is King Animal, the 2012 Soundgarden reunion album. I won’t talk about the review itself here, because it’s going to be in the Limbo Record Review book I’m trying to get compiled. I hope to have that together by the end of the month. It might not turn out to be the greatest review I ever wrote, but it IS an important one. So important, in fact, that I am embarrassed at how unimportant I have been treating the whole exercise. I knew I was a fan, but I hadn’t really figured it out just how much so, before.

So, what I’m gonna talk about today that I’ve only really hemmed and hawed about in the past is legacy. The net result of all our efforts when viewed through the lens of time past. Chalk it up to feeling my mortality.

First off, I won’t pretend I was the greatest fan in disguise. That’s crap. I don’t even really like their first two albums, and it took me decades to get the groove of the third. I don’t have the singles or EPs. I never saw Soundgarden live. I don’t regret that fact. I didn’t even check out any solo or Audioslave albums until I heard Chris had died.

But what I have learned from the last week is, wow, have I ever internalized a lot of their music without realizing it. Back before my old friend and drummer Bryan Williams III and I graduated, we had shared a lot of music with one another, but he had detected a bit of resistance in me for the messier side of alternative music, particularly in the soon-to-be Grunge movement. Grunge had been an outgrowth of punk and 70s heavy metal, because that’s what we were all listening to when we wanted to blow the fucking stink off of our souls. We had the Cure. We didn’t have Nine Inch Nails yet. The first wave of punk artists were three quarters dead or burned out. California pop punk wasn’t a thing yet. We hadn’t heard Dookie or Nevermind yet. And yet Bryan figured out there was a hole in my musical wall, and gave me a Badmotorfinger to fill it with.

Bryan and I haven’t really been friends in a long time. I probably said or did something arrogant and stupid, and he finally wrote me off. Probably for the best, really. He’s a good guy, though, and for introducing me to Soundgarden, he’s still a friend in my mind, even though we haven’t really talked in a good 25 years or thereabouts. He kicked open some doors for me. Few people have ever really been able to move my musical goal posts for me since I was a kid listening to Big Balls with Jason McGuigan, or Live at Budokan or Sgt Peppers with my dad. Derrick Rose, Bryan, David Guild, Bill Becker, and my ex-girlfriend Dori Downie were all instrumental in introducing me to the last few musical elements that I hadn’t adopted more or less on my own after reclaiming music for myself in my teens. It’s been a spiritual mission for me, and few have travelled the road with me. Bryan was my first bandmate, but more than that, he was on the same road with me. Those were good days.

So, who was Chris to me? Shit, I don’t know, man. He’s been in the back of my head since I started writing music for Etcetera in the mid-90s. He feels like he might have been the big brother I never had. Weird that I need to play this game with myself, building a rock pantheon in my head and Gary Stu-ing myself into the scene like a Renaissance artist. But listening to these albums again for the first time in ages, it’s all there. I never really wrote or sang like Chris, and I certainly never achieved his career success, for all the good it’s done either of us.

Lately, I’ve come to realize that rock stars are passe. The new rock stars are Scientists. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, Alex Filipenko, Brian Cox, Stephen Hawking… these are some of the people that are actually changing the world today. They are teaching the world to think again, after three decades of conservative thinkers have been curtailing our freedom of thought. Rock stars gave us the last paradigm shift in the 60s, and now science guys are taking us to the next place we need to be.

Where does Chris figure in that? I don’t know for sure, and sadly, I probably never will. I suspect he knew he was in a losing game. He was a brilliant lyricist, songwriter and singer/guitarist. But it was in an age when the best that a rock star could do was encourage you to go back and listen to those albums from the 60s and 70s and really wrap your brain around the changes. No more songs about cars or women. It was all about existential angst, now. Sure, Blink-182 would be a sort of return to form for a while, but if Soundgarden taught us nothing else, it’s that the message is to be a better person, because there’s a river of shit rising out there, waiting to drown us all, and we’re gonna need each other to rise above it.

I could go on for days. I won’t. Let’s just remember the people that have touched us and left us for alive. Better than when they found us. Markedly better. Thanks, Chris.


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