Thursday, May 18, 2017

Chris Cornell and the Post-Show Letdown

Jeebus. When did this website turn into a bunch of reminiscences about dead musicians and friends? Life seems to be gunning for all of us. You'd think we're all not going to make it, in any sense.

Chris Cornell was the Real Deal. This is a guy who had a voice like a dirty Los Angeles angel, could play guitar like Ziggy, and wrote songs that managed to be both hooky, weird, and heavy. Rush couldn't even wrangle that.

Cornell's band Soundgarden went from indie darlings to major-label successes. Cornell's good looks gave the band the final thing they were missing, allowing them to roll on with the rest of the Grunge Class of The Early 90s: Nirvana (singer Kurt Cobain, dead), Alice In Chains (singer Layne Staley, dead), Mother Love Bone (singer Andrew Wood, dead), and Stone Temple Pilots (singer Scott Weiland, dead). PS Most of them are dead from drugs and/or complications from same. Don't do drugs.

But like pretty much every act that manages to "make it" to the big time, the big time eventually runs out on you. You can dodge the Smack Reaper, but you can't dodge the fickle Fan Reaper.

One day your new records stop selling. Eventually your old ones stop selling, too. Your band breaks up. Maybe you go solo. If/when that doesn't work, maybe you try to start a new band. To prove that it wasn't a fluke, or that you've still got it, or just because you're bored and have no idea what else to do with your life.

Then the entire genre you work in stops being cool. The kids are all listening to some new shit you don't understand. Maybe you try to update your sound with a hot producer. This almost never works, but again, what are you going to do? This is your career. You have people to take care of.

Maybe you saved enough money that you can just retire early and wait until the inevitable happens, and 20 years after you were first big, the Thing You Do starts being popular again. You get the band back together. You hit the road and play your old songs to old fans.

And I tell you what, it feels really, really good at first. When you get back on stage and start ripping through the hits, you remember how good it can be. There are still some hot people out there in the audience, and they seem reasonably interested in hearing a new song or two. Everybody's excited. YOU'RE BACK, BABY.

But after every show comes the Big Letdown.

It's well-known among performers. Being on stage is like a drug, and the comedown is terrible. It's depressing, hollowing, dark. Part of why bands string out long tours is to push off that comedown as much as possible. Sooner or later the show ends, or the tour ends, or both.

After the show, you're back in your hotel room, sweaty and tired and alone. Once you're at a certain age, you're almost certainly too smart, too married, or too scared to get tangled up with groupies. You just want some food and maybe a drink and a good night's sleep.

So you're there in your hotel room, by yourself. Maybe you look in the mirror and notice your thinning, graying hair. Or wrinkled skin. Or your paunch, which just don't seem to be going away no matter how much cardio you do or how few carbs you do. You wonder if your fans notice, too.

Your back hurts. You wonder if you're going to make another record, and if the best you can hope for is that people say it is "better than they expected" it to be.

That's all on top of whatever other damage you're carrying around by then, whether it's bad tattoos or bad memories or a bad childhood or bad relationships or all of the above.

Most people don't become musicians and artists because they're well-adjusted folk with stable lives and mental well-being. They do it because they're messed up in one or more ways, and making the art and finding validation in crowds of strangers is how they get by, if not get paid.

I can't say for sure why Chris Cornell took his own life. Or why my friend Gary did. Or Michael Hutchence. Or Michael Jackson. Or (arguably) Prince. Or any number of other people and musicians and artists you've never even heard of.

But I can imagine some scenarios, and I may have had a few long nights of staring into that black mirror myself, hoping that something would change in me or that someone would change me. And realizing it just wasn't going to happen.

The Show Must Go On. Until one day it just can't.

Thank you for the music, Chris. I miss you already.

***

Soundgarden's best qualities are all on display in "Fell On Black Days", perhaps my favorite song by them, and sadly prescient. And by the way, this is a live in-studio performance, not a recording. Hear how great Chris was:



Whatsoever I've feared has come to life
Whatsoever I've fought off became my life
Just when everyday seemed to greet me with a smile
Sunspots have faded and now I'm doing time
Now I'm doing time
'Cause I fell on black days
I fell on black days

Whomsoever I've cured, I've sickened now
And whomsoever I've cradled, I've put you down
I'm a search light soul they say
But I can't see it in the night

I'm only faking when I get it right

'Cause I fell on black days
I fell on black days

How would I know
That this could be my fate?

So what you wanted to see good
Has made you blind
And what you wanted to be yours
Has made it mine

Don't you lock up something
That you wanted to see fly
Hands are for shaking
No, not tying, no, not tying

I sure don't mind a change

'Cause I fell on black days

How would I know
That this could be my fate?

I sure don't mind a change

...and here's Chris doing one of his solo songs, the deep and powerful "Can't Change Me". People think this is a song about resilience. But it's really about resignation. He's NOT happy that he can't be changed. He's lamenting it. Again, solo, live, one take. There aren't too many people with these kinds of skills.

Now there's one fewer.