Although they were born in the 80’s, it was only six years later in 1990 that Grunge settled as the trend genre and Seattle as Music Capital. They were the first Grunge Act getting signed by a Big Record Label (A&M Records, 1988) and they were active in the industry for twenty two years, more than any other Grunge act. Chris Cornell, frontman and lead singer, and Kim Thayil, lead guitarist, were the only two original members of Soundgarden, a band that was considered by many one of the Greatest Hard Rock Acts Ever. Now, after last Wednesday event, Soundgarden, Audioslave and much probably Grunge died.
In the early beginnings of the 80’s there was this band called “The Shemps” in Seattle which had Chris as drummer and singer and Yiro Yamamoto as bassist. Later on, Thayil joined for the lead guitar and with him, Bruce Pavvit moved in Seattle. The latter would later be the man to release the first albums of Soundgarden, Nirvana and Mudhoney through the record label, SubPop, one of the greatest supporters and propellers of grunge. After some jamming, the trio formed Soundgarden, name inspired in a sound sculpture existent in the Magnuson Park in Seattle, with Cornell as drummer and vocalist, Thayil as lead guitarist and Yamamoto as bassist. One year after the initial formation, in 1985, Cornell decide to focus on the Vocals and left the drums for Sundquist. They would play their own songs as well as some covers of Grunge pioneers such as “Green River, “The Melvins” and “Skin Yard”. Their definitive drummer, Cameron, was actually from the latter band and joined Soundgarden in 1986.
In that same year recognition started to appear and they decided it was time to record their first originals. DJ Poneman immediately fell in love with Soundgarden from the first moment he heard them and made Tahyil a proposal. However the latter decided that Poneman should pair up with Pavvit and form a record label, that later would be SubPop. They released their first works with them until signing with SST Records in 1988, with whom they released their first album “Ultramega OK”. This was not the Grunge statement that Seattle was waiting for at the time, however it was enough to get them their first Overseas Tour.
Later on they decided that there was a need to sign with a greater label in order to really produce the sound they wanted, and that is when they signed with A&M Records. For many a shot of hypocrisy against all the Grunge/Punk values, it was in this fashion and under criticism of their greater fans that they release their first serious Album with “Louder than Love”. More a Metal kind of Album than Grunge and with not much participation of the band in the creative process with Cornell ending up writing everything himself. At this point, Soundgarden was touring with Guns & Roses, and for the first time reaching the BillBoard Top 200.
Only in 1991, after seven years of the initial formation, the band got their real music, message and philosophy through, with Yamamoto out of the band and Ben Shepherd stepping in for the bass. According to Cornell, this was a fundamental move for the band that at that point needed some freshness and a musician with songwriting skills. Just a few months after they released “Bad Motherfinger” their first Great work as a Grunge Band. This was also triggered with the release at the same time of “NeverMind” from Nirvana that made the whole Grunge scene in Seattle rise and with it all of the bands playing it. “Bad MF” ended up in the Top 100 most selling Albums of 1992 and it was the first recognised grunge landmark from Soundgarden that for the first time made prime lyrics and stepped down their metal attitude.
In the following couple of years SoundGarden toured with Guns and Roses opening their act as well as toured with Lollapalooza Tour alongside Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Pearl Jam and Ministry. Finally, in 1994, they release their greatest success ever with “Superunknown”, an album that contained “Black Hole Sun”, “Spoonman” and “Fell On Black Days”, all of them Grunge Hymns nowadays. This album immediately entered the Top 200 of BillBoard to occupy the first position. Grunge was more alive than ever. An album that “demonstrates far greater range than many bands manage in an entire career” according to Rolling Stone Magazine and still is their most successful ever with five Platinum certifications in the US.
Due to the intensity of his singing as well as the intensity of the Tour they did in Oceania and Japan in the beginning of 1994 and the US Tour afterwards, Cornell was diagnosed with “severally strained vocal cords”. Soundgarden had to cancel several shown in the end of the year coming back some months afterwards. In the three years that followed (95-98) the band released another studio album, this time totally self-produced which cause some tensions inside of the band, since Cornell wanted the band to drift towards less dark lyrics and more acoustical instruments, leaving the Heavy Metal Guitar Riffs that got them notoriety. Greatly accepted by the critics that found in “Down on the Upside” another great demonstration of versatility from the band, this album never got close to the recognition its predecessor got. Finally in 1998 they broke up, with Cornell going solo, and the rest of the members supporting projects alongside the grunge scene.
Only in 2010 they got reunited again and started working on new music again, with all the members turning to their latest album, “Down on the Upside” as base of inspiration, to pick up stuff where it was left. However only in 2012 they were able to release “King Animal”, their last Album to be produced. Never got the recognition of any of the other albums since it was a kind of “plastic grunge”, something that hardcore fans of Grunge never were fond of and that people from 2012 could not frame nor understand.
Since then they have been touring and even writing new songs this 2017, with Cornell being drug-free since 2003 and his mates Cameron and Thayil still playing with him around the World. Grunge fans would see in this Tour one of the last opportunities to get the real grunge feeling back from the 90’s, fast forwarded twenty years. Cornell passed away Wednesday and with him all the projects he ever lead, being the most tragic one, the Grunge Seattle scene.
As a final note, it is important not to just listen to the media and accept whatever they say. Vicky, Chris widow, always reinforced how he was now under control and taking “Ativan” a medication that would control his anxiety problems. However this drug also has as secondary effect “impaired judgement”. She believes, and personally I do as well, that this suicide was a consequence of this drug. We can not forget that Chris was always the “Good Boy” from the Seattle Grunge scene.Independently of how many drugs he did in the past, now he was a grown man with a fully functional family just touring the US around with his mates playing their old hits. Something surrounding his death does not add up… The problem is that, apart from the cause, the consequence is there.