Chris Cornell as a Sunday morning accompaniment
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
It was Sunday morning, about a week ago. It was one of those where I was up and at my desk and just wanting something to listen to. Nothing to heavy, probably acoustic, something to fit the mood.
And a quick scan through the shelf landed on the “C”s, and Chris Cornell. Songbook would hit all those checkmarks, surely. It’s an excellent representation of Cornell’s solo shows, and his songs were so strong that they were given new life stripped back down to his voice and guitar. Excellent choice, glad I own it, decision made.
Except there was a little resistance to the whole process. Listening to anything by Chris Cornell is still a bit of an issue. Acoustic or not, it’s still such a heavy process. It’s been the better part of a year now since he died, and after that initial and immediate binge on everything he’d recorded, I sort of put his work back on the shelf. More often than not, music is an escape, and it was impossible to escape the reality here.
That morning felt nice, though. There he was in my speakers again, telling jokes and reinventing his catalog and covering fellow giants like Led Zeppelin and John Lennon. Just as it had been so many times before, the Songbook record was an intimate gesture committed to vinyl and shared with anyone who was willing to listen.
Later that day, I went ice skating — a hobby I’d recently picked back up after finding a nearby rink that didn’t seem to get too busy. I had the idea of bringing an iPod along and listening along to something while I went along with circles and tried to stay upright, and when I got my skates on and started spinning through, I landed on a Cornell playlist I’d made. Soundgarden’s “Birth Ritual” and Temple of the Dog’s “Reach Down” might not seem like ideal tunes for taking a twirl around the rink, but they did the job. It might’ve been the mild weather that weekend, or the Olympics getting everyone ice-hyper, but this session only lasted about 20 minutes – the rink was swarming with kids who were clearly learning, and dodging all the little bodies scattered around kind of drained the moment.
But listening to Cornell again, that stuck. On my way into work the next day, I pulled up a recording of his show at Benaroya Hall in Seattle from Sept. 29, 2015, while I waited for my bus. And in my head, I flew back to sitting on a train to New York in October that year, with this very show that I’d been saving specifically for the four hours I’d spend alone on the quiet car.
He’s on stage in his hometown, and he’s cracking left and right with the crowd — making up stories about his accompanying musician Bryan Gibson, confessing to stealing ideas from Neil Young, ribbing guest guitarist Mike McCready about his classical record. Interspersed, of course, are song after song, each one delivered with soul and spirit. There are all the expected turns through Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and Audioslave, plus solo gems from his past and his then-new album Higher Truth. I listened to all this while the trees and roads and seaside docks of southern New England passed by. Through 3,000 miles and the hidden microphone of a taper in the Seattle venue, the music translated from the stage to my headphones. More than two years later, it came through again. And it was all delivered with a sense of immediacy and grace and the feeling that he’d made it. It had been a tumultuous path getting there, but he had survived.
He had for a time, at least. His battle was a constant one and it ended suddenly last May. Even if the music is still here and the work is available to calm and comfort when it’s needed, he’s gone and that reality is going to be forever unavoidable.
Since those days of rediscovery, his work is kind of slipping back into the gradual rotation that all my music seems to live within — favorites revisited, new stuff explored, and repeat. His work has always lived within the “favorites,” and there it’ll stay. It’s what we have, and it’s important to make the most of it.
Feb. 19, 2018
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org