of chris cornell and osama bin laden and chris cornell again (seattle, part 1)

So hey, I went to Seattle. See? This is me in Seattle:

me. in seattle.

(I was at the top of the Space Needle, because it was a sunny day, so of course, and also I like fast elevator rides that make me feel a little bit like barfing.) It was a very quick trip to the west coast, and if I’d been able to, I would’ve stayed for longer (grumble no vacation time grumble) but a quick trip is better than no trip at all. The idea was planted in my head about six weeks ago when a friend of mine (who I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade) posted on my Facebook wall: You know you want to come to Seattle and see Chris Cornell with me. And you know? I totally did. Normally, I would’ve just thought about how nice it would be to get away to a place I’d never been (to see my teenage rock ‘n’ roll fantasy, to boot) and left it at that, but instead of doing the boring thing, I booked some flights and went.

When I was a preteen, I saw Chris Cornell on MTV. I didn’t know who he was then, and my preteen tastes ran toward predictably safe, awful pop. So, seeing a man primal screaming on my television wasn’t really up my alley, yet I was transfixed. I remember the moment perfectly. My mouth fell open and I watched, silent, fascinated and also a bit scared. In my predictably safe, awful-pop-infused preteen world, I’d never encountered anything like that, and I certainly didn’t have the vocabulary for what I’d experienced, though now I understand that I had been shot with a jolt of instantaneous attraction. It wasn’t just because Chris Cornell is impossibly good-looking (though he was, and now I’ve seen him in person and I can say with certainty that OH MY GOD HE STILL IS), it was more than that. It was that voice, that music. It was dark and heavy and loud and masculine. Sexiness was not something my preteen self understood, but that didn’t make me immune to it. I didn’t get it then, but I knew one thing: I sure wanted to.

I can’t say that I immediately turned into a Soundgarden fan, because if I were to say that, I’d be lying. My tastes in music developed and changed throughout my adolescence (they still develop and change — there’s always something new to discover) and by the time I got into Soundgarden, they were on the verge of breaking up. It was a dark day in my life when I read that news. I was crushed when they split. So getting to see Chris Cornell live in his hometown — not really something I wanted to pass up.

Totally worth it, too. I had a great time in Seattle (more on that later; I’m definitely getting more than one post out of this trip), and I could easily spend a lot more time there. I’ve been to a lot of cities, and there’s a degree of cool in Seattle that I appreciate, a laid-back-ness that’s apparent even in the local accent. New York is great and exciting, but its energy always made me a bit tired; Seattle mellowed me right out, despite all the coffee.

Anyway. Chris Cornell. Bona fide rock god. You either got it or you don’t, and whatever the hell it even actually is, that man has it in abundance. The Seattle show was the last stop on an acoustic tour he’d been doing, and he played the Moore Theater, which isn’t exactly small, but is still a somewhat intimate venue perfectly suited for that type of show. And, for those of us not hip to Seattle music landmarks, the reason the Moore looks familiar on the inside is because that is where Pearl Jam shot the video for “Evenflow,” which is a video I saw about a million times back when one could actually watch music on Music Television. The guy who opened for him, William Elliott Whitmore, played a short set (he managed to get a huge sound out of a banjo and a bass drum), and there was a break before Chris Cornell came out for his set. I decided this would be a great time to hit the ladies’ room, because being so close to seeing Chris Cornell live made me so excited I had to pee, or maybe it was just that I’d had several cups of coffee that day. Either way, when I came back, it was a weird moment in American history.

I sat back down and got out my phone, intending to say something brilliant and clever on Facebook, something along the lines of OMGCHRISCORNELLOMG, and I could hear the crowd in the theater buzzing. I figured they were also having OMGCHRISCORNELLOMG moments as well, because, um, seriously, but I paused in my OMG-ing to listen. All the conversations around me were about Osama bin Laden. I finished logging into Facebook and looked at my news feed. Everything was about Osama bin Laden. I finally asked what was going on. Osama bin Laden had been killed. What? Oh. Exactly. Instead of any commentary on the event itself, I’d rather just mention that it was a bizarre experience. When I looked around me and saw nothing but a sea of glowing cell phones, every single one of them on Facebook or Twitter or Google or CNN, it drove home the fact that the world is different now. Everyone is always on. There’s no “I was at a concert so I didn’t hear the news.” You hear everything all the time. If I’d had my camera with me (I didn’t try to take it into the venue, because I only took my SLR and sometimes security is weird about letting those types of cameras in) I’d have taken a photo of it: that unending sea of news and connection. I’ve never seen anything like it before, because while I, like many people, am never really far away from the news or my email or social media outlets (I almost always have my phone with me, and for better or worse, I have become one of those people who looks at their phones all the time — I am constantly on the phone, whether I’m talking to anyone or not), but it’s rare to see all of that connectivity all in one place at one time, especially at the moment a news story breaks. I’ll probably never see anything like that again, to be honest, because what are the odds that the next time an event happens I’ll be in the middle of a crowd? I don’t know if it was cool; I think the best word for it is weird. It was weird. Of course the world never stops, and deep down we all know this. There are billions of us, after all, and there’s always life and death going on all the time. But there used to be a timelessness about certain things, not timeless in a sense of being classic, but timeless in the sense of being without time. Being at a performance is one of those things, where you’re in the middle of something outside of everything else, you detour for a bit off the timeline of every day, and then you jump back into the normal traffic of hours and minutes and the events that go along with them, but not anymore, I don’t suppose. There aren’t any detours from time anymore. I’m not going to editorialize that. It just is.

I used to get made fun of when I was in college for liking the loud, masculine rock that I liked, because I guess I should’ve been more into Lilith Fair, and oftentimes when I’d try to put on Soundgarden or the (at-the-time) new solo album by Chris Cornell, I’d get “No!” in response, but here’s the thing. Aside from the fact that he’s so good-looking it’s probably sinful, Chris Cornell’s selling point is his voice. That voice is, not to put too fine a point on it, pure sex. It isn’t smooth or pretty, and it’s not going to flirt or flatter. You either dig it or you don’t, but it hits you on a level you don’t even have to think about because it’s raw and filthy and you can feel it all the way down to your toes as they curl in the shoes you didn’t even bother taking off first. It’s rock ‘n’ roll so good you forget your own name. And without the backing band or the big arena, Chris Cornell proved that he is every inch a rock star. Just him and his guitars and that voice (a 22-song set and a 3-song encore), and he owned every minute of it. A lot of times, people are disappointing live, and/or they’ve destroyed their voices over the years, particularly those of the screamy rock variety, but even though he’s had a long career and is now in the second half of his 40s, Chris Cornell’s voice is still intact, and he sounds great live. He was in his hometown and he loved it and the crowd loved him back. It was an incredible show and I am so so glad I didn’t miss it.

My tastes have varied over the years, and I haven’t listened to a lot of that stuff that started me on the path away from predictably awful pop in a long time, but I’m grateful to those bands and those musicians (many of whom didn’t make it and aren’t around anymore) who saved me from a life of listening to Katy Perry. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to see if I can find my old Temple of the Dog CD.

Speaking of Temple of the Dog, here’s a classic that he performed Sunday night, “Call Me A Dog” — enjoy:

11 thoughts on “of chris cornell and osama bin laden and chris cornell again (seattle, part 1)

  1. what an amazing blog entry. I totally get that in the middle of a concert thing when suddenly everyone cellphones.

    For me it was a jazz concert, Archie Shepp, no less, and Tel Aviv had just had a suicide bombing – and everyone was checking to see if everyone else was safe.

    But, yeah, back to your blog post. Fabulous.
    Should be in Rolling Stone.

    -judih

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  2. Did he sit the whole time?

    I can’t say I know much about Chris Cornell (or Soundgarden for that matter)… for whatever reason, when there was a buzz about them, I didn’t look into them. So much music, so little time.

    I often am struck by how we are constantly connected these days. In the subway or on buses, couples will sit side by side and peck or scroll away at their iPhones without speaking for five or ten minutes. This is truly a strange phenomenon we’ve brought upon ourselves!

    One of the reasons I was slow to get a cell phone was that I didn’t want to be tethered to my phone; I wanted to be able to tell people that I had been out of the house (or out of town) when they called—that that’s why I didn’t get right back with them. I feel that with the cell, now, that there’s no excuse for not calling someone back right away.

    Similarly, I will probably fight off getting an internet-capable phone as I like being off the grid from time to time.

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    1. He didn’t sit the whole time, no. He sat a lot, but he also got up and moved around. He sure is a tall drink of water. Sigh. Anyway, Soundgarden is one of those bands that came out of Seattle at that time in the 90s when all the bands seemed to be coming out of Seattle, and I listened to all of them. I was really drawn to Nirvana first, and then got into a bunch of others, though Soundgarden became and remains my favorite. To me, finding music is a circular activity, akin to looking up related words in a dictionary — start at one place, then circle out and out and out — there’s much to be heard and can’t possibly hear it all, but one thing always leads to the next and it just keeps going.

      As for the cell phone thing, yeah, it’s weird. I was a late adopter to much of it, other than talk and text, but having all that convenience eventually won me over. Of course, I’ve never felt guilty about not calling people back right away — even if I’m reachable, that doesn’t make me available, and I am comfortable with that, though it may appear to be a contradiction on the surface, making the distinction is important to me.

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  3. We saw him solo in a small theater a few years ago. It was absolutely incredible with his sexy voice filling the room.
    Prior to that we saw him with Audioslave at Lollapalooza. Think Phoenix on a sweltering July evening. Think hot, sweaty, shirtless and perfect abs. Think 5 giant screens with close-ups of said abs. The entire crowd sings along at the top of their lungs to Like a Stone and I’m standing in the grass in general admission in a crowd of strangers having one of the best concert moments of my life. All thanks to Chris Cornell. ahhh

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    1. Think hot, sweaty, shirtless and perfect abs.

      I had a hard time concentrating for a minute there because I was thinking about that.

      Still thinking about it.

      Okay. Yeah. He does a great show, and it was cool to hear so many of his songs in a different way. It was a perfect night… even if I didn’t get to see his abs. Sigh.

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  4. I was a huge Soundgarden fan, thought Temple of the Dog was a genius collaboration that could’ve ruled the music world had they been so inclined. I think every one of his incarnations since, from solo to Audioslave, has been spectacular. He’s touched with just a wee bit of talent, that dude. My ex-girlfriend (Seattle; probably at the same concert) thought his voice was sex, same as you. She would actually say the word ‘swoon’ whenever she heard him sing.

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  5. Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder. Forget the “grunge” movement and all that jazz. Their voices are deliciousness. Like being (consentually) violated with your clothes on. Yummy…

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