How Chris Cornell Defiantly Faced The Death Of Grunge

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Edited by Brett Buchanan. This is the final part of a three part series (make sure to read part 1 and part 2) remembering Chris Cornell and Soundgarden in England and Europe during the mid 1990’s to mark the one year anniversary of his death.

After Kurt Cobain died everything seemed to change, and in the British press it was clear that they had had enough of the doom and gloom that they perceived was coming out of Seattle, including Soundgarden. Grunge was dead to them.

First it was Kerrang, a magazine that had championed the band since the early 90’s were now calling their return to England boring. Soundgarden, after pulling out of the 1994 Reading Festival at the eleventh hour, came back to play at the 1995 edition- their only UK date that year. Kerrang went on to call the band’s performance lethargic and static. It was a view not held by any fans that day that witnessed a powerful set that ended with a 10-minute cover of The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”

When Soundgarden returned the following year with their new album Down on the Upside, the knives were out. Pearl Jam were able to avoid the same level of criticism because their release that year the highly underrated No Code, with Eddie Vedder and company still refusing to do videos and little to no marketing, their faces weren’t as visible in the media. But for Soundgarden it was the complete opposite, it was a given that they would release videos and do interviews to promote their new album.

The alternative press like NME made Kerrang’s views on the band seem relatively tame. This was a magazine that when “Fell On Black Days” was released, the review was whittled down to just four words: ‘you must be joking.’ NME were doing their best to promote the Brit Pop movement including Oasis and Blur, and Soundgarden’s hard rocking songs were the last thing they wanted to be covering. Fast forward a couple of years later, and when “Burden In My Hand” was released NME stooped to a new low. They didn’t want the American invasion of rock bands in England to continue, perhaps after Nirvana imploded there was a feeling of being let down, and Soundgarden became the British media’s scapegoats. So when Chris Cornell screamed out the brilliant lyric from “Burden In My Hand”- I shot my love today, the NME critic questioned if Cornell had actually said I shot my load today. It was school boy tongue in cheek humor, but to anyone who was following Soundgarden’s music at the time, it seemed bullish, as if the press wanted to write off the band’s efforts before they had even given them a chance. Note as the years went on and Soundgarden reformed in 2010, NME and Kerrang were back to loving and supporting the band.

In September 1996, Soundgarden would undertake what would end up being their last tour of England before breaking up in 1997. One of the final shows was at London’s Brixton Academy, a venue held very dear historically to the band, and this show was one of the best Soundgarden would perform at the legendary venue. One would have to believe that Chris Cornell read some of what the British press were saying about the band’s performance at the Reading Festival the year before. So Cornell rewound back to the early 90’s, playing one third of the gig without his guitar, manically running around the stage, grabbing the microphone, tossing the microphone stand up in the air, and throwing the microphone into the crowd. He rose like a phoenix that night, he was in everybody’s face, like he had something to prove.

Opening up with “Spoonman,” the venue went from a quiet hush and blackened out, to an array of lights. Seven songs were played from Down on the Upside, and “Black Hole Sun” gathered attention when the lights faded to black. Cornell approached the edge of the stage, with a guitar and a single solo spotlight on him. This version without other band members was new to the crowd, and performance was haunting. Soundgarden finished the night with the song that really launched them into English fans’ hearts- “Jesus Christ Pose.” The show was a stunning example of what the band could still achieve when everything clicked, even if by now there were internal pressures and the game was up.

By the following spring Soundgarden announced their break up, and it didn’t feel like a shock. Despite the great shows, the raw chemistry had disappeared from the band, that same connection that had made them the worthy successors to the likes of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. There was not an outpouring of grief when the band called it quits because there was always a feeling that they would play again together.

13 years later, the band were back after regrouping in 2009 backstage at a Pearl Jam show. The music industry had vastly changed with the evolution of the internet, and the pressures were not the same. They realized that there was no need to return to the record, tour, record cycle, that chain had been broken. And that is what the band did things their own way, they lightly tested the waters and jumped back in, but there was no need to go freestyle, everything could be done on their terms at their pace. This new method of approaching the music business was highlighted when the band recorded their new studio album King Animal without having a record deal. Cornell commented that it felt it was like when the band had first started out, referencing the fact they had no label deal.

Soundgarden would go onto play worldwide tours, and for many fans this was the first chance to see the legendary Soundgarden live. The future looked bright for the band, but a darkness weaved throughout their music and intertwined into Cornell’s lyrics remained, and on the night of May 17, 2017 the band’s final curtain came down in Detroit after Chris Cornell returned to his hotel room and died by suicide. The shock was immense, and one year on it still is. But it’s worth remembering the good times, because there was a lifetime of them.

Upon hearing the death of Cornell, Josh Bruer, a fan from New York, was interviewed on television. He had been a fan of the band for almost 30 years, and the reporter asked him what he would do. He glanced at her, looked into the camera and said, “I’m going to go home, turn the volume up to 10 and blast out ‘Room A Thousand Miles Wide.'” the reporter gave Josh a double take, clearly not knowing this was a Soundgarden song. Josh then said, “And after that I’m going to have Big Dumb Sex!” The joke was lost on the mainstream media, but it’s something that Chris Cornell most certainly would have got a huge laugh out of. He is missed, and always will be, but his light will never go out in the Superunknown.

  • Jeanandavathesecond

    I can’t believe it. A well wrote article informing people who weren’t around at the time the atmosphere in the music press.

    Well done, this is the first good post I’ve seen since I joined this site around eight months ago.

    • Olga Stewart

      I really wish there were more articles like this.

  • Olga Stewart

    ‘Upon hearing the death of Cornell, Josh Bruer, a fan from New York, was
    interviewed on television. He had been a fan of the band for almost 30
    years, and the reporter asked him what he would do. He glanced at her,
    looked into the camera and said, “I’m going to go home, turn the volume
    up to 10 and blast out ‘Room A Thousand Miles Wide.’” the reporter gave
    Josh a double take, clearly not knowing this was a Soundgarden song.
    Josh then said, “And after that I’m going to have Big Dumb Sex!” The
    joke was lost on the mainstream media, but it’s something that Chris
    Cornell most certainly would have got a huge laugh out of. He is missed,
    and always will be, but his light will never go out in the
    Superunknown.’- This says it all for me.

    You are dearly and deeply missed, Chris. And you always will be.

    But your memory lives on through your music. And so thank you for that incredible gift that you left us.

  • Olga Stewart

    If any of you would like to leave your thoughts for Chris, you can do so here: https://healgrief.org/christopher-john-boyle-cornell

  • Joe Costigan

    Good Article – I can somewhat remember that 96-97 time frame. I was 14 when DOTU was released and remember being psyched that Soundgarden had released a new album and watching the Blow Up the Outside World and Burden In My Hand videos. In retrospect those two years were probably the definitive end of the Alt Rock movement. I would even say that by summer of 1997 when Third Eye Blind, Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth had the biggest hit “rock” songs that the demise (if you will) of the Seattle bands and the alternative movement was finally over in the media’s eyes. I liked Soundgarden for sure but never really delved into their catalog until I was in college in the early 00s and by that time they had been dormant for 4 or so years.

    Overall that 96-97 time period was pretty much the end of the “grunge” thing – Nirvana had been over since 95, AIC was just entering it’s long hiatus, Pearl Jam circled the wagons and did things their way, STP had to deal with Weiland’s drug issues and Soundgarden broke up. I feel fortunate to have grown up and been able to experience at least the very end of the Alternative movement as a young teenager. It’s also just very sad that out of those 4 biggest bands from the 90s – only one remains intact with it’s original lead singer. 4 of the biggest frontmen in Rock n’ Roll have gone way to soon.

  • Trovoid

    This was a great series of articles. That fan should know that the song is called Room A Thousand YEARS Wide. Come on, man!

    • makingconnections

      Hi Trovoid:

      I have to tell you that I was in a touristy little art community last weekend and for the first time in my life I felt like buying a present for an on-line friend. It was the most wonderful T-Shirt saying “Mendicono (or some other California town) Longer Boarders” with some good graphic–mostly white. So…I send it to you tonight with good wishes. Wear it in good health!!

      • Olga Stewart

        Aw but that is so sweet of you. :).

        • makingconnections

          Yes, a cosmic gift! I’m sure it would have looked good on him.

      • Trovoid

        Thanks for thinking of me! Sounds like you’re finding some cool things to do near your new home, unless you went on a trip or something. I’m sure that shirt would fit my style; I’d be looking California and feeling Minnesota 🙂

        • makingconnections

          Oh you’re the clever one! Yes, you’d look good in it I’m certain. Not much fun–a trip to my mother’s birthday party. She does live in a beautiful place where they allow cruel people to lead their lives. I survived her though.

          I haven’t explored this new place much, except the parks…trying to get us settled in the house with my husband being away. My biggest challenge is trying to not allow my strong dog to pull my arm off trying to chase all the little dogs that everyone seems to have here!

          • Trovoid

            Ahh, I’m glad you were able to survive her. And I sure hope your dog doesn’t send you flying!

            Despite some of the issues, hopefully you’re able to make the best of it there. People can be annoying but the environment/nature aspect seems to be a plus, so at least there’s that!

          • makingconnections

            I had an amazing experience today…looked up what to do here and there was an “open house” at a Buddhist Temple just l5 minutes from my house. It was like a coming home experience…an amazing beautiful Temple in the woods….prayer flags blowing in the wind….one of the Dali Lama’s monks there always….I volunteered to weed the garden. The people I met were like-minded and there were even teens walking around. I felt quiet, not the way I’ve been feeling lately.

            My dog did send me flying a few weeks ago and I was battered up, but not hurt. As I went down I could see the old couple I was talking to looking shocked, especially when I grabbed my dog by the scruff and pulled her down and yelled at her. She’s improving, but I have a treat bag around my neck constantly. I told my husband, I’ve only been here a few weeks and I’m wrestling with my dog on the sidewalk. Haha!

  • Antionettesees

    Good article I enjoyed it.

  • MWPP294

    Alternative Nation is dead because it’s a shitty ass site run by shitty ass people.