The Beatles made me love songwriting and production, David Bowie trained me in theatrics, and Pink Floyd moved me with grandeur. But at 18 everything changed: Soundgarden taught me how to rock.
The Before Soundgarden and After Soundgarden pictures are quite telling:
I can't stress just how important Soundgarden in general, and Chris Cornell specifically, were to my development as a musician and music fan. They changed the way I thought about music, the way I wrote music, and the way I sang -- taking me from a high B at best to a high E when I learned to open my throat like Chris. I started writing and singing stuff like this. (It's a rushed, shitty eight-track cut mostly from a live recording. You kids today with your GarageBand/Pro Tools don't get it! Also, the video is deliberately awful, so shush. Also, it may suck, but it sucks in a far more awesome way than my high school stuff sucked.) And in 1993, I saw Soundgarden at a Philly show and got roughed up in the mosh pit and it was awesome.
But just two years from their high-water mark, they called it a day. Cornell would go on to release two very good solo albums, three very mediocre albums with Audioslave, and one godawful collaboration with Timbaland that we will not discuss. Ever. Under any circumstances.
Click all you want. This is not a video embed. It will never play. As it should be.
Then a few months ago, they released King Animal, which is so good, it instantly cured any and all of the band's former sins. Cornell's Timbaland transgressions forgiven. Matt Cameron slumming it on drums for Pearl Jam forgiven. Kim Thayil raping his neighbor's dog forgiven! Here's a taste with a video link that will play:
In this state of euphoria, I went to see Soundgarden at Terminal 5 in New York City a few weeks ago. Their new album left no doubt that they could still rock, but could I? After all, I was no longer a long-haired teen. True, the passing years had brought me a lifetime of accomplishments and hard-earned sexual competence, but could I rock? Here is my night. You tell me who the rock star is.
Unlike the sexy young man from '93, I have a job. A job that sometimes requires wearing a suit. There was no way I was going to a Soundgarden show in a suit, so I wisely packed a change of clothes. But what about shoes? Two pairs of shoes? No way. I'm a grunger, baby. I wore my Doc Martens with my suit. What about The Man? Yeah, well, The Man would just have to deal.
After a full day of work, I lost the suit and replaced it with jeans and a fashionably tight green sweater. Why not flannel, you ask? Because I wasn't going to a grunge cosplay party. I was just dressing like myself, which is what I did back in the day when it became inexplicably fashionable for a couple of years in the '90s. See, grunge was always about doing what came naturally -- whether that was wearing some beat-up jeans, drinking 400 cups of coffee, or blowing your head off with a shotgun while tainting Neil Young lyrics.
As a youth, or possibly Robert Brockway, you might prepare for a concert by getting incredibly high. You might drink all the beers, because yeah beers rah! But I was a grown man with grown man responsibilities. I'd have a few beers at the show, sure, but sometimes really rocking out means getting home without being too banged up to go to work the next day. OK, it never means that, but sometimes you can't get too banged up because you have to go to work the next day. Therefore, I pregamed with breakfast food to absorb the few beers I'd be downing later.
Rock 'n' roll!
I also left a 20 percent tip, because ROCK!
Part of going to any show is the pregame cruising for chicks: "Hey, girl. You like Superunknown? Cool. Let's bone." But while that may have worked in 1993, there are three reasons it wouldn't work today: 1) It never worked in '93; 2) I'm married now; and 3) Soundgarden fans sure have gotten old and ugly. Holy cow, it was depressing. It looked like all that teen angst turned into 30 pounds of gut and male pattern baldness. Strangers looking at the line outside Terminal 5 probably assumed they were selling massive reconstructive surgery inside.
Also, some putz behind me kept goading the scalper for how much he was charging given what he'd paid on StubHub. Who tries to shame a scalper? It's his job to charge too much. That's the point. So yeah, I was a huge rock star on line, but the bar was set incredibly low. I also saw someone who might have been described as a "grunge hooker."
"Black Hole Sun costs extra."