Sunday, October 24, 2010

Soundgarden: a brief history of the band according to Heidi

In the late 1980s when I was pigging out on Led Zeppelin and Guns N Roses, something really cool was happening in Seattle, and I knew nothing about it.

Soundgarden was getting started.  There were a few line-up changes around this time, but Kim Thayil (with his long black hair and bushy beard) was the man with the guitar, and Chris Cornell (that gorgeous bare chested creature in the above photo), was playing guitar while trying out his incredible voice.  Drummer Matt Cameron joined around this time... and apparently hasn't aged since. Around 1990 Ben Shepherd joined up on bass and the permanent Soundgarden line up was solidified.  

They built up a following on the west coast, far away from a goofy teenager's awareness here in Ontario.   

Eventually I started to read about this band in the occasional music mag I'd pick up at the grocery store.  The name was catchy.  I heard cool words like ULTRAMEGA OK and BADMOTORFINGER.  You know I love words, so I took a bit of notice.  It took until 1991 for their music to reach me.  This was pre-internet, you know, the dark ages.  That summer I got married and moved to a place close to the big bad city.  I was listening to the Big Bad City radio station.  Ah, finally I got to hear some of these bands I'd only read about!  

Then I started college.  This was the month that Metallica unleashed their Black Album, and Nirvana gave us Nevermind and changed everything.  Also there were video screens in the Student Pub.  I looked up one day when I heard "Jesus Christ Pose" and kind of lost my ability to speak for a minute or three. 

This was a result of two things.  One, I am very easily distracted by good looking men.  Give them musical instruments and I'm finished.  And two, apparently this band was impoverished in those early days and could not afford to buy Chris any shirts.  Please refer back to point # 1.  

On top of that, the whole video was all flashing strobes of fast edits and over exposed colours.  Kinda blew my mind.

I got to see what the guys looked like. Ben Shepherd has one of the best chin-dimples in music.  That is more than a dimple; that's like, a valley.  He's nicely craggy.  Matt Cameron is boyishly cute - and remains that way twenty years later.  Kim Thayil is the coolest, haaviest vibing dude since Tony Iommi.  They both play Gibsons and appear to not ever break a sweat.  Now that's cool.  

I put Chris Cornell on my list of rock star crushes and have kept him there ever since.  He's not only gorgeous, he's got great singing technique and range and man he can write a song.  His lyrics knock me out.  

And yes, if you have been reading here for any length of time, I do have a type.   I married a dude with long dark hair and incredibly pretty eyes, and he played guitar. 

Anyways, BADMOTORFINGER gave the world three singles that were all heavy and huge, with lots of yowling vocals and mysterious lyrics, and some messed up time signatures.  I got a listen to the album at the occasional college house party.  

I was impoverished back in them days- not so much that I had to go shirtless, thankfully, but just enough that buying stacks of CDs was out of reach.  As a result, I was familiar with the songs on this album but only knew the titles of three of them.

 If I was lucky I'd catch "Rusty Cage" on the radio, turn up the crappy stereo in our Mercury Capri  and just rock the heck out while it was on.  

I love the following photo.  It goes like this: Cute, Mysterious, Allthatandyou'rewearingflanneltoo*swoon*  and Too Cool For Leather.

Well, eventually my beloved and I (my real, true life beloved) were the co-producers on this epic project called Our First Baby.  It was 1994, and SUPERUNKNOWN became the album that would be a huge hit for them.    The cover freaked me out.  I bought it anyways.

Seriously, wha??? Giant screaming elf ravages forest reflection?  

Chris had cut his hair short by this time.  He kept his Nefarious Frenchman facial hair so I was okay with that.  Matt continued to not age.

The first single, "Spoonman," jumped out of the speakers and grabbed me.  It had a similar effect on my unborn child, who - I am not kidding - danced in utero every time that song was on.  Every time.  I remember the two of us driving up the highway, in the dark, in the ol' Capri, and the baby was just thrashing away under my giant dress.  We called the baby our little Spoon Man.  

I know, isn't that funny?  We sure thought it was cute.  Turns out, it was really our Spoon Chickie and a year later, she was hanging onto the edge of her play pen and grinning while bouncing in time.  She was a little too young yet to learn how to throw the horns but she had the idea down.  

Soon we released out own follow-up, Baby the Second, and our small apartment was filled with the happy/ frightening sounds of a young family.  I dropped out of pop culture for a time there. If the TV was on, it was tuned into shows about puppets.  SUPERUNKNOWN was one of the albums I kept listening to, despite the toddler- induced social solitude and to be honest, a post-partum depression that was never really properly diagnosed or treated.  I had rock therapy.  I think it helped. (Thanks, guys.  I mean it.)

I finally managed to get my hands on a copy of BADMOTORFINGER too around that time.  Because I needed the extra dosage. Music was, and still is, the best medicine for me!!

DOWN ON THE UPSIDE was released in 1996 but I didn't really figure that out until about a year later.  We'd bought a house we couldn't afford in 1997 and again, buying discs wasn't happening for us.  One night I was up with the hungry baby and caught a live performance of "Pretty Noose" on Saturday Night Live.  Other than that I was back to catching songs on the radio, only now it was while driving the four door Dodge sedan through the subdivision on the way to the grocery store.  

It was also on the car radio, while rolling up to a stop sign, that I heard about the band's break-up announcement.  What a drag.  I mean, what a serious disappointment.  But even though I felt like it was the end of an era, I sort of got it.  They would not get to the Crappy Album Phase that so many bands go through.  They'd never put out the boring album made because they'd become complacent in their songwriting, and lazy in their performances.  They quit when things were still good.  They put a stop to the band before musical direction disagreements turned into full on fights.  They didn't start hating each other.

Anyways.  I love this picture too, because I'm all about clothes and they're wearing work boots, jeans, and canvas coats.  I'm in love.

So time went on and the guys all found stuff to do.  Each of them got busy with other bands and album projects, which I love, because I understand people who simply must make music.  Most famously, Matt Cameron joined Pearl Jam, and Chris Cornell collaborated with 3/4 of Rage Against The Machine to form a new group, Audioslave.  I loved that band.  I bought all three albums (we were down to one car at the time, so I didn't have to fork out at the gas station!) and when our kids were 11 and 9, we took them to Toronto for an Audioslave concert.  

Then that ended too.

Chris Cornell put together an intriguing solo album, his second, and then did a third one recently.

And then the rumours started. Soundgarden, back together?

I didn't pay much attention.  By this time, my life is pretty much informed by the internet, that wonderful and often totally unreliable source of everything.  

But... the rumours were true!

Again, driving.  This time, back home after taking a kid to early morning band practice.  Not only had Soundgarden re-formed for several concerts over the summer, but they'd put together a compilation and included a new, sort of newish, single!

And on top of all that, Chris let his hair grow out again.  *Swoon*

Because I'm truly a Breathless Fan kind of person, easily starstruck and stupidly loyal, I am really excited about this reunion.  I don't know if they plan anything ongoing and at this point don't care - I'll just soak this up while I can.  

I've been having fun digging up new pictures of the band.  Imagine how pleased I am at how great these guys look, almost twenty years after the crush started.

Ben, with his hair back and looking werewolfy.  Chris, still all pretty-eyed and curly-haired.  Kim, looking like he should have had that silver beard all along, to set off those big dark eyes.  And Matt, appearing to be all of twenty-nine years old now that everybody else is in the 45- 50 range.  Wow man, hanging around with Eddie Vedder must be the fountain of youth!

Found some great live shots.

Shepherd demonstrates how great bass players hold the instrument.  It's gotta be darn near knee level, and that's the family rule in my house.  The only guys allowed to play any kind of guitar up under their armpits are?  Let's hear it kids: Flea, Tim Commerford, and That Guy From Level 42.  If you are not any of those guys, get that thing close to the floor.

Thayil's taken up hat wearing.  I'm cool with that.  

Cornell demonstrates the Jesus Christ Pose.  Like he's been carrying the load.

And yet hasn't forgotten how to do the Classic Frontman Guitar Position #3.

Meahnwhile, Dorian Gray Matt Cameron here has one of the best drummer pictures EVER.  He's just doing his thing, man, and has enough time to sort of look over his shoulder to say hi.

I have never seen them live.  I figured I never would.  Could I be so lucky some day?

TELEPHANTASM includes a DVD of videos.  I'd only seen two of them.  Mind you, there weren't many shirts involved in the two I had seen.

The kids and I have done some studying and have come up with a formula for making a Soundgarden video.


Flashing lights

Throwing around of long hair, also known as "windmilling"


deserts (or sand if the location budget is tight)

very fast edits

individual shots of each band member

things melting and burning



things that are the colour of flames.

It's been a blast to listen to this double CD set, because I missed out on so much of the earlier work.  The liner notes are fun too.  Just don't leave the first disc in the stereo of your Mom's car.  She won't think the lyrics to "Big Dumb Sex" are very funny.  You've been warned.

Now sit yourself down to enjoy some videos!

"Fell On Black Days"

(I love this song.  The black and white video is stark and gorgeous- and doesn't follow the formula!)

(deserts, flames, things that are the colour of flames, individual shots)

...and because everything about this song ROCKS...

(very fast edits, flashing things, flames, individual shots, copious amounts of hair flinging, PLUS, oh my gosh, flannel, irate villagers, insanity face (on both an irate dude as well as Chris) dogs, a shack, and a nasty old Chevy truck.  It could be the best video ever made!)

Later dudes.  I have some rockin' out to do.