Growing up in the 90s, Soundgarden were my Beatles. Chris Cornell’s piercing wail was the voice of rock and roll in my mind. Superunknown could easily be said to be the soundtrack of my adolescence. “Spoonman”, “Black Hole Sun”, “My Wave” and a playlist staple for me to this day, “Like Suicide”, among others play in the background of my memories from my formative years.
In a manner of speaking, Chris Cornell (along with Layne Staley, Jerry Cantrell, Billy Corgan, Anthony Kiedis and a few others) was a composer of the soundtrack of my life.
More than any other album, chances are one of the fifteen tracks is eternally tethered to some memory and to hear the song is to relive that memory and recalling that memory plays the song as clearly as if it were playing through the red earpiece, over the ear headphones tethered to my Aiwa personal cassette player.
The introductory riffs of the first track – “Let Me Drown” form a symbiotic sense recollection with the smell of grass. To hear those three short notes followed by a shrieking electric guitar might as well be shoving my nose in a bag of fresh lawn clippings. Conversely, every time I fire up the lawnmower, I feel a powerful urge to call up Chris, Kim, Matt and Ben to rock me through another lawn mowing.
You see, when Superunknown was released, I was 13 – the age where fathers rejoice that they have an able body (willing or not) to share in the yard work.
I decreed that, though I had become a thrall of sod, I’d maintain sovereignty over my ears.
With a brazen disregard for aural health, I donned my cassette player and let Chris take me hither and thither. To look at me, you’d think that boy with the freckly, round face is mowing that yard and listening to music at the same time, what a nice boy.
In actuality, I was watching a black hole sun gobble up the world, or “wallow[ing] in the blood and mud with all the other pigs” or “feel[ing] the rhythm with [my] hands” as I beat the rhythm with the bones of my friends, the ones so afraid of death.
Occasionally, I’d come down from “My Wave” to empty the grass catcher or get a drink.
I’d continue delving into the Superunknown to see me through my landscaping duties through high school.
Speaking of the gratuitously anonymous, the title track for Superunknown was the catalyst for one of my earliest recollections of independent thought.
As a lad, I’d spend a few weeks out of each summer at my grandparents house in that exotic landlocked Xanadu of the plains – Salina, KS. Also living in that sprawling, wheat enclosed utopia was my cousin, TJ. A few months older than me, I typically did what he did, liked what he liked, said what he said, etc. that I’d make a suitable, and dare I say, pleasant companion. TJ liked Soundgarden, so naturally I liked Soundgarden.
During one of our Coca Cola and Cheese Whiz fueled Street Fighter II (yes, the original) sessions, we discussed the joy joy sounds of Superunknown. I was shocked to learn that TJ didn’t rank “Superunknown” among the noteworthy tracks on the album that bears its name. To uphold my position as pleasant companion I agreed, but on the inside I was boiling with unsettling dubiety.
“Superunknown” was worthy of the same praise given “Spoonman”, “My Wave”, “Fresh Tendrils” and so on.
I hope that, when he reads this, he’ll overlook my treachery and continue to view me as a loyal companion.
Listen, at this time (early to mid 90s), the music video was hitting its stride as the creative visual outlet for musicians. The music video for “Black Hole Sun” was a sparkling example of how this medium could enhance the appeal of a piece of music. By itself, the song is worthy of inclusion on any respectable rocker’s rockinest playlist, but the downright eerie countenance of each citizen depicted in that forsaken suburban development is most disturbing. I wanted the black hole sun to suck those plastic smiles off each of face and pull those bulbous orbs out of each eye socket.
As an outspoken GI Joe enthusiast, I took a morbid satisfaction seeing the Barbie get barbecued (Barbiecued?). And I can’t forget feeling sticky after watching ice cream dribble out of the little girl’s mouth.
Why do I remember a ~23 year old music video so well? Because MTV might as well have been called “Black Hole Sun TV” at that time.
I took a long hiatus from this grim ballad, and now have a more grievous reason to spurn the melodic…uhh, melodies of this grunge classic…
…RIP Chris Cornell, you will be missed.
Super special bonus – you just finished reading (then following, oh yes, follow…) this blog and are probably thinking I better see to *insert lame crap* now. But then you’d miss out on my expert selections of Soundgarden’s most face meltingest creations.
This first selection, from the oft overlooked precursor to Superunknown, Badmotorfinger, will melt your ears. Your eyes will be fine (for now) as there is no official music video. The linked video shows the lyrics karaoke style.
Now for your eyes. It’s too bad that you won’t be able to hear this song after “Room a Thousand Years Wide” melts your ears, rest assured that the song is every bit as organ dissolving as the video. This track was originally composed during recording of Badmotorfinger in 1991, but not released until a 2010 compilation album called The Telephantasm. I give you “Black Rain” –