Grief is an interesting beast; sharp and spiny, with a very soft tender center. Sitting at my favorite place, the gathering space and cafe inside KEXP radio at Seattle Center, just across the field from the Space Needle and the International Fountain; my mind struggles to process exactly where to start.
The city of Seattle is a beautiful place. It is growing rapidly, mostly due to the takeover of Amazon and other tech companies drawing the thousands of new people here for their workforces. I know the city is changing. I know that people like me, native-born Seattleites that are still living here, are getting increasingly harder to find, a rare breed, if you will.
I was a young pre-teen and teen when this city was giving birth to grunge through the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Green River, Mother Love Bone, Alice in Chains. I was just young enough that it was an act of rebellion to go out to some of these concerts. My mother, a somewhat conservative Christian (while liberal in politics), didn’t always understand why I was rebelling into punk and grunge. I was the good little church-going girl (Although that changed as well. Being forced into religion turned me off to it once I grew into my own.) But, my room increasingly morphed from pink to black, sporting posters of my favorites. And Soundgarden was a big one.
I believe it was 1990 when I was 13 turning 14 years-old that my brother and I were allowed to go see Soundgarden live at what was then the Coliseum, now Key Arena. This was a HUGE deal. My mom just didn’t ever “let” me do this kind of thing. I once even had to lie to her about going to an Alice Cooper concert in Oregon, somewhere about this time.
She probably felt better that I was going with my brother who swore to take care of me. Although, she wasn’t a fan of my outfit, saying I “looked like a sex pot.” In 1990, concert going gear consisted of tube skirts and jean jackets with a tank. I wore it anyway. Because. And no, I didn’t look like a sex pot. I looked like every other young teen concert goer.
My brother and I sat back in the seats, not far up, but not in the pit where the moshing was. He worked hard to keep an eye on me, but I was doing fine. I think it was The Posies who opened and they were grumpy that we weren’t listening to them because we were so excited about Soundgarden. They swore at us. So punk, so grunge.
At one point in the set, Soundgarden, who at this time was still a few years away from their Superunknown album, played a song called, “Big Dumb Sex”, which repeated the phrase:
“Hey, I know what I’m gonna do // I’m gonna fuck fuck fuck fuck you //“
over and over and over. Well, this kind of horrified my brother and he tried to plug my ears. But, to no avail. Besides, I heard the song dozens of times before. This is the freedom I came here for after all.
This will be one of the best memories I have of my brother who struggles with severe bipolar disorder to this day, the onset of which would not come until another 4 years from this concert.
Chris Cornell’s passing late Wednesday night is like losing a family member. His music spoke to the generation X youth in Seattle and the world with its dark, brooding, melodic moods, and yet…ultimately positive and strong in its message of fighting through and overcoming personal demons. It’s no secret that Chris himself struggled deeply with addiction and depression that could have taken his life countless times.
The news this morning is that his wife is disputing the suicide claims. It seems that he talked to her after his performance with Soundgarden in Detroit saying that he “may have taken a two or three extra Ativan.” She immediately called hotel security and asked them to check on him. They did, and found his lifeless body in the bathroom. The coroner states he committed suicide via hanging. His wife says he was slurring his words and not himself. It makes more sense that the extra Ativan could have put him in an altered state that led to him not being of clear mind, perhaps leading him to such a sad ending. Drugs, even prescription, can be dangerous in their side effects. And from the sound of it, he was a loving family man, planning upcoming Memorial Day holidays and summer trips to Greece. It just doesn’t make sense without the Ativan playing some part.
The sadness of his fans, while deep, cannot matched the grief of his wife, his young children, his bandmates. But, having come to “know” him, and essentially grow up with him in this city, we feel this goes deep in our blood, too.
The thing is…music was different back then. The culture was different. Pre-digital abundance, we were forced to discover music the hard ways: listening to the live radio, DJs, through friends, through local paper blurbs and listings, underground night clubs…it was all active work. Now, music is highly available and accessible; people don’t have to do the footwork. Of course, there are positives to evolution, but it is an entirely different experience for today’s youth. Back then…well, it was something that made you who you were, your identity.
Chris Cornell’s astounding 4-octave voice, could go from a smooth baritone to a soulful-scream, seemingly endless air supply, power, tender vulnerability and a love of the art of melody, a true craftsman. Not to mention his lyrics, a kind of poetry that he put into notes, striking at the heart of his fans who could identify with his struggles, his relation to the city, and ultimately, his success. The man was beautiful…seriously striking beauty, with piercing blue eyes and curly brown hair, a ripped bare chest, those camo shorts and combat boots. The girls dreamed of him. The guys wanted to be him. He was the epitome of rockstardom, but he was grace and humility and comfort in who he was…all in one.
Born in Seattle, he is truly the voice of Seattle. Eddie Vedder is a local boy, but not born here. Yes, he defines Seattle in another way. And Kurt, local but born in Aberdeen. Chris? Born here, went to school here. This man was gifted with a voice that could not be denied. We were blessed to hear it, more blessed to share his city.
I spent all day yesterday downtown at the fountain under the Space Needle, and at KEXP radio station where people were gathering to grieve. I was photographed by Getty and interviewed by our local paper. My swollen ugly cry puffy face is plastered over the internet in pictures on the news today. I want to write about that next. For now, this is the start.
And you may have noticed I haven’t written much poetry this week. My brain has said it needed some quiet, to gather thoughts, allow new words to form. And then the news of Chris has set me back a bit, obviously. But, I expect that I will find a poem escape here in the next few days or sooner. Lot of processing going on.
Thank you for your love and support.