Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Soundgarden and my black days

More than a couple of decades ago now, I was sitting in a hospital bed in London, England. I had come down with Hepatitis A after returning from a trip to Egypt a few weeks before, and I was recovering as my skin slowly went from being yellow to its more natural color of Caucasian Flesh. (Crayola, you owe me a royalty if you use that as a name for a crayon color.) I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, as I not only had that to deal with, but I was heartbroken over some girl. There was also a sense of general melancholy that would have been there if either of my other two problems had been nonexistent, as the news coming from the television in my hospital room reported that Kurt Cobain had committed suicide.

Essentially what had become my theme song was Soundgarden's "Fell on Black Days". I had purchased the Superunknown CD, which included a bonus track not available on the U.S. release, about a month before. While I liked the entire disc, this was the song that was speaking to me in particular.

Yeah, I know, there are few things worse than people feeling sorry for themselves. It certainly could have been worse, especially considering that Hepatitis A is the one that you eventually get over, and yeah, I can't even remember the last name of the girl that had me all obsessive. What do you want from me? I was twenty - not too different from a teenager. There's just something about those ending lines when you feel like your luck is in the crapper:

I sure don't mind a change 
But I fell on black days 
How would I know 
That this could be My fate?

I think that I sometimes forget to list Soundgarden when I'm asked what my favorite bands of all time are. But when I look back on it, and when I think of how much I still enjoy their music when I bust out those old CDs, they certainly belong somewhere in my top ten. I mentioned that I had bought Superunknown when it came out, even though I was studying aboad. I didn't have a whole lot of extra spending money, but I made sure that I got this one on the day it came out. (And yes, I still have it.) And of course, I saw them live when they were touring for that particular album.

That wasn't the first time that I saw them. When I was in high school, and slightly before the whole "Seattle Sound" thing went crazy, I went to a "Day on the Green" concert at the Oakland Colosseum. The headlining band was Metallica, but also playing were Queensryche, Faith No More, and Soundgarden - which was the only band I didn't know. (Funny side note - I was probably most enthusiastic for Queensryche, but let's just say that of all those bands, their CDs are the only ones that I don't still currently own.) I don't remember too much about that show, but I remember thinking that they were pretty cool. And I definitely remember when they performed "Big Dumb Sex", and I'd like to think that I was savvy enough to get the fact that they were being ironic.

It probably wasn't too long afterwards that I purchased Badmotorfinger. I suppose the reason why I sometimes neglect to think of Soundgarden when thinking of my favorite band is that they were overshadowed by Pearl Jam. That was the band that always sprang to mind when I thought of what my favorite current bands were. They certainly got more attention in the media, especially after Kurt Cobain died. And if anybody remembers Rock 'n' Roll Comics, they might recall that Soundgarden never got their own issue; instead, they were a backup in the Pearl Jam comic. (I still have that somewhere as well.) And to further prove this point, you can check out my tribute to Pearl Jam that I wrote more than five years ago! I guess that you might say that Soundgarden got a little bit "Outshined". Ahem. Heh. Heh. Hurm...moving on...

I've heard people tell me that as they get older, they like things to be a little bit more mellow. That might still happen to me, but as of now I continuously find myself heading in the opposite direction. I can't stand it when one of my local radio stations has its "Acoustic Sunrise" on Sunday mornings. Acoustic? Acoustic? I need something to wake me up, dammit! I don't want to go back to sleep!

With that said, I find myself gravitating toward Soundgarden when I need a blast of something loud. I ordered their new CD of rarities and B-sides, Echo of Miles, but I wanted a fix while driving yesterday, so I put in Badmotorfinger. I think that I was banging my head to "Slaves and Bulldozers" with as much enthusiasm as I ever did.

My love of the band continues to the present day, and it's even rubbed off on my four-year-old son, Logan, who will sometimes request that I play the band. He was a big fan of their song that they did for The Avengers, "Live to Rise", and you can see him, when he was about two, rocking out to that song below:

He (and I) also enjoy their latest studio release, King Animal, and we've spent many trips back from pre-school listening to it. His favorites are "Been Away Too Long" and "By Crooked Steps". (I'll never understand why some parents complain that they have to listen to kids music in the car. I've always just played what I'd normally play. Luckily, he gets enthusiastic about at least some of it.)

So, why do I like this band so much? First of all, I think that it's time to acknowledge that Chris Cornell has one of the best rock voices ever. He's got a range, and he can go real throaty and soulfull in one song to a bloodcurdling metal wail in the next. (And sometimes in the same song.) Also, and I think that guitarist Kim Thayil has something to do with this, but they have a certain sound about them that you can't trace back to another band. Sure, they have their roots in loud 70s rock, but there's definitely something unique about them. Think of all the copycat bands out there that wound up sounding like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, etc. I can't think of any that copied Soundgarden. Maybe that's because they're unique enough that it would be painfully obvious if somebody did.

Are their lyrics a touch on the dark side? Sure, they can sometimes lean that way. However, sometimes the dark stuff is what you need to get you to see the light. Back when I was living through my own "black days", part of what got me through is that song. Contrary to what some folks might think, songs like that aren't depressing. Instead, they make you realize that you're not the only one who goes through that kind of thing. It's the artist's way of letting you know that you're not alone, and knowing that is what gets you through it.

And it's not all dark. When I'm coming out of a funk, the lyrics to the song "Dusty" are always a nice way to reflect on that mood:

And nothing's gonna put me out 
It's backing down and under 
I'm down on the upside now 
It's turning back around 
Turning back around

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