In my shoes, a walking sleep
And my youth I pray to keep
Heaven sent hell away
No one sings like you anymore
I’ve had a few weeks to deal with it and I don’t think I’ll ever process the fact that Chris Cornell is dead. I’ve read posts on social media, articles on the Internet, and even listened to interviews of those who claim to be close friends or family. None of that has helped any. Talking about it has made it more real rather than provide any kind of distance. Absorbing all of the music he produced in his short life is the only thing that truly helps, but I think that’s only because that fools my soul into believing he is still alive. He lives on in my speakers and my headphones. He can still affect us when we hear him sing and he can fool us all that he’s doing just fine.
His death gave me an opportunity to revisit the music of my youth: grunge. When I was a teenager, one of the reasons I loved this genre is because there wasn’t a clear definition of it. Those who didn’t know would never know and that was fine by me. I knew that us insiders were in the know and this music was ours. We didn’t need to define it or explain it. We just listened to it and that was enough. Twenty five years later, I am trying to create a playlist on my computer I aptly named GRUNGE4LYFE and I have to be honest—I am struggling with deciding which bands should be included! Why wasn’t there a clear line delineated so we knew who was grunge and who wasn’t?
The obvious components are included: Mother Love Bone. Pearl Jam. Soundgarden. Temple of the Dog. Nirvana. Screaming Trees. Alice in Chains. Mudhoney. Hole. But it’s at this point I get stuck. STP? No—they weren’t from the Pacific Northwest. Scott Weiland only sounded like Eddie Vedder; he wasn’t actually grunge. Billy Corgan did not play grunge music so the Smashing Pumpkins are out. Who else? Do I put the Lemonheads in? What about Bush or L7 or the Foo Fighters? Was grunge over by the time Grohl started his band? Wikipedia has a list of American Grunge Bands, but I don’t follow that, mainly because it doesn’t follow the classification of grunge I have in my head.
My categorization of grunge is: a subgenre of alternative rock that began in the early 1990s in the Pacific Northwest. While many traditional definitions of grunge embrace the style or fashion that includes baggy or torn clothes, I do not. So bands that were founded in Los Angeles or London or New England are not included in my definition of grunge. Maybe my characterization is too narrow. Maybe I am not being inclusive enough. I don’t care. I am not saying that anything outside of this definition is not worth listening to—far from it. I am just saying this is what grunge is and this is whom I included in my GRUNGE4LYFE playlist. Needless to say Mr. Cornell was featured quite prominently in my list.
As I said earlier, it has taken me a while to get over Chris’s death. And I use his first name because although I did not know him personally, he has been a part of my life since I was a teenager. He and I are part of the same generation. He came with me on road trips; he motivated me when I was feeling apathetic; he stuck by my side when other people in my life didn’t. And all that being said, I don’t think I would have counted Soundgarden and Audioslave as my favorite bands. Back in the day the argument was always Pearl Jam versus Nirvana. You were on one side or the other. Soundgarden was in the background just rocking the EFF out not caring which side you were on. And Chris was in the front belting his words out as softly or as brutally as we needed. As we now all know, he carried the weight of his life on his shoulders. He wasn’t healthy. He was in pain and he needed help. Eventually that all became too much and he needed out. Maybe the reason I haven’t been able to come to terms with this death is because he was the one who stuck around. He was able to drop the drug habits that killed Kurt and Layne in one way or another back in the mid 90s. He made it through his twenty-seventh year. He spoke for Generation X when others were not able to and in a way others just couldn’t. Soundgarden broke up and he was still able to go on to do other amazing things and then ultimately get back together with his bandmates. He made it to his fifties. He would be around for the long haul. Obviously I was wrong.
He left us with hundreds of songs and maybe even a handful more that we haven’t heard yet. After I collected all of my grunge tunes into one list and hit shuffle, the first song that came on was “My Wave” from Superunknown. These words seem somehow fitting:
Cry if you want to cry, if it helps you see; if it clears your eyes…
Cheers to you, Chris.