Greetings everyone and welcome to another edition of “The Outsiders Guide to the Inside of Hollywood”. This falls into the category of, wish I didn’t have to write. I’ve been trying for the last month’s and literally have started and stopped this blog over 50 times. Last May, we lost one of my favorite musical artist, Chris Cornell. Today July 20, would have been his birthday. Chris was a musical genius. His range and different styles of music was unlike anything at the time. The first time I heard of Soundgarden, was in 1990 when they were on tour with Faith No More”. I remember seeing an interview on MTV and hearing that voice. “That voice”, was so unique. The range of his vocals from Temple of the Dog, to Audioslave and his solo work to the unique and ground breaking sound of Soundgarden. The band had a sound unlike I’ve ever heard. Their songs were well written tales about overcoming obstacles and dealing with darkness, coming through to see the light and hope. The musical journey took everyone to a special place in their mind. Chris sang about personal demons but also stories of Love and hope.
Soundgarden, who was part of the Seattle Invasion along with Nirvana, Pearl Jam and others part of the Grunge rock scene. At the time the rock bands who were dominating the Billboard charts and filling Arena’s were part of the 80’s hairband era. Soundgarden may have had long hair and considered themselves a Heavy Metal band, but they were defiantly not a hair band (Poison, Warrant, ect.). The first Soundgarden album I bought, was the band’s third studio album, “Badmotorfinger”. The CD featured a hard rocking in your face version of “Rusty Cage”. Several times live you can hear Chris dedicate the song to Johnny Cash, who covered the song in 1996. The album was fresh and exciting. There was one song on the album “Outshinned”, that stood out to me. From the opening thunderous chords to the rock anthem lyrics like, “I’m looking California. But feeling Minnesota.”
My first Soundgarden show wasn’t until 1991, when they opened for Guns N Roses in in Woster Massachusetts. The my second show was at Lollaloluza 1992 which featured Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Jesus and Mary Train, Ministry and Pearl Jam and Ice Cube. The band sounded great. Unfortunately they only had about 30 minutes to play. Thankfully I got to see them headline in 1994.
It was the bands 4th album “Supperunknown”, that had an important significance in my life. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and went on to win 2 Grammy’s for the singles “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman”. The album launched the band into mainstream popularity. In 1995, the album was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album. The album has been certified five times platinum by the RIAA in the United States, has sold 10 million copies worldwide and remains Soundgarden’s most successful album. Almost all the songs were instant rock classics. However, it was “Fell on Black Days” and “The Day I tried to Live” that had a direct impact on my life. The album came out on March 8, 1994. I bought it as soon as it came out and was the only thing I listened to for about 2 weeks straight. This time period was one of the toughest in my life. One year away from graduating college I was feeling lost and empty inside. I felt hopeless and was struggling with the question who I was and where I was going.
On a April 5, 1994, I was in Harvard Square at the House of Blues, drinking with my fellow alcoholic friend sometime before noon. I can’t remember which pitcher we were on when a guy came in and said he heard that Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain had died. It was before affordable cell phones and social media, so I went to the phone booth and called the local Alternative Radio station WFNX where the D.J. confirmed it. At first everyone thought it was a drug overdose like Cobain had a few months earlier. Then the news came out it was a suicide. At that point I lost my shit. Here was a guy with everything in the world to live for. As we know addiction has it’s toll on everyone but for him to commit suicide it made me feel like I could never go on. At the time I didn’t know it but I was having a major bipolar episode. I’m not sure how but someway I made it back from Cambridge to Boston. I was walking around the streets of Boston but had no destination. I ended up showing up late to a fraternity meeting, completely trashed instead of continuing to drink or doing something even worse. I don’t remember much about that day. I do remember waking up the next afternoon and listening to “The Day I tried to Live” over and over again. The opening lyrics. “I Woke the same as any other day Except a voice was in my head It said, “Seize the day, pull the trigger Drop the blade and watch the rolling heads”. I used the lyrics as a way to express ones self. It was about a month later where I started to write my first screenplay. Whenever I write I use music as a way to transform my thoughts and mentally turn into my characters.
1996 Soundgarden, returned to a very different Lollapalooza lineup than 1992.This lineup way far from the Indie bands that normally played. The New York shows at Randallas Island featured Soundgarden, The Ramones (final tour), Wu-Tang Clan, Rancid, Devo, Steve Earle, Cornershop, Melvins, Cocteau Twins, Screaming Trees and a controversial headliner Metallica. Metallica took a lot of heat for being the headliner since they fell into the Heavy Metal category. Like many other artists at the show Chris, talked about how much it meant to him to him to be on tour with The Ramones. Soundgarden sounded amazing. The band fed on energy from the crowd sang along with some of their lyrics. Sadly, the band broke up a year later, due to creative differences on where the band was going.
The next time I saw Chris perform was with Audioslave, The supergroup was formed in Los Angeles, in 2001. The band consisted of Soundgarden lead singer/rhythm guitarist Chris Cornell, and Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello (lead guitar), Tim Commerford (bass/backing vocals), and Brad Wilk (drums). On May 6, 2005, Audioslave played a free show in Havana, Cuba.The band became the first American rock group to perform a concert in Cuba, playing in front of an audience of 70,000. One thing different about this tour was unlike their first tour this one featured a few Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine songs.
After a hugely successful show in Cuba, the band headed home to Los Angeles (Cornell was now living in LA). The band decided on doing another free show to celebrate the release of their latest album. The band would perform an outdoor concert on Hollywood Blvd. that will be broadcast on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” The band hit the stage in front of Kimmel’s studio on Hollywood Blvd. The street was closed for the concert that attract some 10,000 fans. The concert areas was behind wire fences and was suppose to only be for contest winners and the studio audience. The band was to play material from its new album, “Out Of Exile,” which was scheduled to be released May 24. Unlike most Kimmel, shows band was set to play a set and not just 2 songs like most guests do. The band sounded great, opening with “Your Time Has Come”. The crowd was full of energy. However, outside the gates everyone was watching the show on a huge screen. The crowd pushed it way to the gates. About 20 minutes into the set, the band broke out the Rage Against the Machine classic “Killing in the Name”. Fans were so excited they started moshing (slam dancing). The police saw it as a riot. Then the gate barrier tumbled. Then the riot squad i riot gear showed up. The police looked like Stormtroopers (latest Star Wars film opened that night) marching through the crowd. Then Chris got on the mic to tel the crowd that the show had to stop. Cornell then played one last song. The show ended with no other problems. The band released a third album, but broke up later that year.
I did have the chance to see Chris solo several times. One of those shows I was registering voters for Headcount, in the Bay Are for the 2008 “Projekt Revolution” tour.
Cornell was featured on the Main Stage of Linkin Park’s “Projekt Revolution” tour. The highlight was of the evening was Cornell dueting with Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, performing Temple of the Dogs” Hunger Strike”. My next show in 2010 was a real special show. It was advertised as a solo acoustic show at the Troubadour. This was the second performance in what would be his“Songbook“ series. The show featured just Chris and an acoustic guitar. Chris played songs from Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog. He also played some of his favorite songs ranging from Elvis Costello, John Lennon The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. The crowed was packed and even included some celebrity guests. I ended up running into actor Tom Hanks and his wife as I left the show.
In 2010 Soundgarden, got back together with a tour that sold out the Forum in LA. The band sounded just as good as they did when I first heard them. My first and only official time photographing Soundgarden was on the Red Carpet at the Avengers LA premiere. Chris’ s kids had walked the carpet and sat on motorcycles that were on the carpet.
Out of all the shows I have been to I feel that my favorite show was At the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California in 2015. The tour was a co headlining tour with Nine Inch Nails. Chris and the guys knocked it out of the ball park. They blew Nine Inch Nails away at that show. The energy from the bands was the most intense I have ever seen of them. Chris looked happy and healthy. His vocals hit all the high notes. Sadly as I saw them walk away not realizing that would be the last time I ever saw Chris.
On May 18th, the Chris was found dead at the MGM Grand Hotel in Detroit. I was in shock. But the real shock was when the information came out that it was a suicide. Cornell had a wife and young children. Soundgarden was on tour at the time. The only thing I could think of was all of the fans. Especially the ones like me, who had used his lyrics as our therapy. His songs helped us feel that we were not alone. As soon as I heard the news I flocked to his Twitter to see if there were any signs of even depression in his tweets. He seemed happy and looking forward to some family time. Vicki Cornell didn’t believe that her husband would actually take his own life. She blamed the anti-depressant Ativan for the singer’s hanging suicide. Sadly we will never know.
If you are having suicidal thoughts talk to a friend, family member or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.
Photo by © Jonathan Scott Shensa Photography