The Moon is Glued to a Picture of Heaven: Ten Thoughts on Chris Cornell

Chris-Cornell-Web

i.

In Bull Durham, the cranky and overachieving Crash Davis, at once in awe and envious, explains to the preternaturally talented but callow Nuke LaLoosh why he should appreciate his good fortune. “When you were a baby,” he says, “the Gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt.”

When Chris Cornell was a baby, the Gods reached down and turned his vocal chords into a golden vessel of sound. The Gods made the baby a Golden God, or something. Cornell was straight-up central casting. First the hair. Then the eyes. The attitude and intelligence, always incidental to a mediocre rock star, seemed instinctive. And then the voice. That voice. It doesn’t matter whether or not he was the best vocalist of his generation. Suffice it to say, he’s on the short list.

ii.

I think one of the reasons grunge grated, lasted so briefly and, for the most part, has aged poorly, is how affected and solipsistic it often seemed. Dudes in flannel whining about how unfair life was. And worse, rich dudes in flannel whining about how unfair fame was. Wah. One of the reasons I’ve always loved hockey is because you hear any of those guys talk and they’ll acknowledge that if they weren’t playing the game they love, they’d be pumping gas or working in a coal mine. Maybe a little more acknowledgment of the minimum wage jobs Fate kept them from would have made Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain slightly more tolerable. Maybe not.

iii.

Is grunge all or nothing? No more than any genre is. Do we have to lump all prog rock bands together? All punk, etc.? Of course not, and the only people who do are usually attempting a facile dismissal of an era or aesthetic they never cared for or couldn’t understand. Still, it seems both fair and accurate to say grunge had more than its share of poseurs. Or maybe it was just the time: the early ‘90s were a transitional time in pop culture. Like the beginning, middle or end of any decade, only more so. Synth pop to hair metal to Hip Hop Lite (hello M.C. Hammer), and then, the earliest days of a new music mostly coming out of Seattle.

Two things. One, with the increased benefit of hindsight, it’s farcical to insist all these bands were copycats, stylistically. Taken with two decades and change of recycled fads and uninspired rock clichés, it’s very difficult to lump this flannel-covered vault of goodness (and badness, and ugliness) all together, or dismiss it out of hand. There’s as much variance and growth (even in a relatively short period of time) amongst bands like, say, Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden as could be found with any other “movement” bands. Soundgarden was never the biggest and likely will never be considered the best, but they always seemed least encumbered by whatever ethos grunge was supposed to attain, or attempt to mimic. They were at once above it and beyond it.

Two, while mileage will vary regarding the earnestness, opportunism, honesty and integrity of heavyweights like Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder (and middleweights like Layne Staley and Scott Weiland), there was never any faking it with Soundgarden in general and Cornell in particular. He was clever, literate and—importantly—self-aware enough to translate that unhappiness and intensity into something lasting.

iv.

Exhibit A:

Close your eyes and bow your head

I need a little sympathy

‘Cause fear is strong and love’s for everyone

Who isn’t me

So kill your health and kill yourself

And kill everything you love

And if you live you can fall to pieces

And suffer with my ghost…

You don’t write lyrics like this unless you’ve a more than casual acquaintance with pain. Anger boomeranging outward and in. That makes you mortal. To use that angst and your talent to make unique and uniquely urgent music? That’s art. Using your frailty to empower other people? That makes you a hero.

v.

Exhibit B:

Don’t you lock up something/That you wanted to see fly…

It saddens, and kind of sickens, me that we will always hear a song like this with an irretrievable regret and a sense of foreboding-in-hindsight. But I will continue to celebrate it as a very human, and awesome shout of defiance, and use it to help me in the battle.

vi.

Cobain. Staley. Weiland. Cornell. Any way you slice it, that’s a lot of anguish and a lot of exceptional men leaving the world entirely too soon.

vii.

The gifted, wounded Cornell checking out the same day as the fetid, corpulent and soulless husk of a human Roger Ailes seems like a necessary reminder, an admonition from the Universe: your mission, here, is to leave the world, if not better, at least kinder, happier and more expansive than it otherwise would have been. I can hardly conceive of two people who used their talents to such contradictory ends.

viii.

If he’d done nothing else, his contributions to this miniature epic (which, as time passes, seems certain to solidify its position as one of the best and most significant songs of the ‘90s), Cornell would demand attention and approbation.

ix.

Exhibit C:

Nothing seems to kill me no matter how hard I try

Nothing is closing my eyes Nothing can beat me down for your pain or delight

And nothing seems to break me No matter how hard I fall nothing can break me at all

Not one for giving up though not invincible I know…

Whatever the opposite of Jesus Christ pose is, that’s what Chris Cornell was. What he’ll always be.

x.

Would you cry for me, you sang. (You asked. You cried.) Of course we will. It’s the least we can do. More importantly, we’ll remember you. And celebrate all you left us with.

 

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The Immortal Wayne Cochran or, The Copycat Sex Machine

You know what the best part of that picture is?

Everything.

And now you are probably thinking: wow, is that guy for real?

Oh, he’s real. And we have footage. (Huge hat-tip to my partner in crime, beer genius and just plain genius, Jamey.)

I know.

I mean, I know.

There’s so much going on here one scarcely knows where to begin.

Like: who knew Jackie Gleason had a show? (I didn’t.)

And: Can you say “The White James Brown”? (or, as Wayne Cochran was drolly known, The White Knight of Soul). Seriously, every single move and mannerism is ripped wholesale from The O.G. (Original Godfather). What we have here is not an instance of someone using another artist and incorporating his own style or making it his own. This is complete and transparent larceny. And its shamelessness is what makes it tolerable. It even manages to make it, in a circus freakshow sort of way, irresistible.

(By the way, in case you had forgotten that James Brown is God or that the ’70s combined the words “epic” and “win” on a regular basis, feast your eyes on this bliss.)

(And just in case there were any questions, on any levels…)

Okay, getting back to Wayne Cochran. Who, I have to confess, I’ve gone my entire life without seeing in action. (That, of course, is what YouTube is for.) He was briefly –and amusingly– referred to in the classic “Maury Sline” sauna scene from The Blues Brothers.

Wait…I can’t believe you are actually reading this and not watching that video again (the first one).

Okay, so how about Jackie Gleason “spontaneously” lighting up his cig as the camera pans in? Suave.

And how about the (obviously paid and staged) people at the tables? In the first video it’s not quite as obvious (if you’re like me, your initial impression was: well, they were prepped and implored to “get into the spirit of the thing!”), but in the next video, it’s undeniable: look at them, dancing along and grooving. The only way honkies can approximate this type of synchronized movement is if they’ve been paid, or drugged. In this instance, it’s quite likely both.

Oh, yes. There is a second video.

Key takeaways:

1. Wow.

2. This is just EPIC late ’60s/early ’70s shlock.

3. This also reminds us that a bunch of wealthy, utterly out-of-touch, supremely dorky old white men were calling the shots in Hollywood back in the day. And let’s face it, not too much has changed. But don’t kid yourself: it could never get this bad –and by bad I mean bad and good, as only the late ’60s/early ’70s could ever be– again.

A video like that per day will keep the doctor away.

And speaking of apples, how you like these apples? (Eddie Vedder liked them well enough. Respect!)

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