Context – Finishing Neuromancer
I was a small, small child in 1990, which is to say I was just starting to form memories as the grunge movement took hold of America with the sonic onslaught that came in the form of Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam. By the time I was buying my own music, it never really occurred to me to pick up any of this music due to the sheer frequency of radio play these albums got over the years–if I wanted to hear grunge I didn’t exactly have to go looking for it, it had already been rolled into the cannon of rock history.
Given this background, I honestly thought “Hunger Strike” was a Soundgarden song. The singer sounds like Chris Cornell and the music sounds like a grunge ballad. It’s only today that I learned this is, in fact, a separate band. Although not unlike Conor Oberst’s projects or Jack White’s, why the distinction between Cornell’s projects is beyond me. All of the music he participates in ultimately sounds like one of his projects due to the overwhelming nature of his presence. I’m sure if I did a song-by-song comparison I’d come up with plenty of qualities that mark each project as unique, but it’s impossible to not focus on the power of his voice.
I’m not going to pretend to be a fan, though. Not unlike Brandon Boyd, I find that Cornell had a quality to his voice that didn’t always sit right with me. I don’t turn off “Black Hole Sun” or “Hunger Strike” when they come on the radio, but I find Audioslave to be an overall unpleasant listening experience. The man can hit a note, there’s no denying his talent. But much like my opinion of the trumpet, I find prolonged experience to the innate qualities of the thing exhausting and often annoying.
Most of my generation and our older siblings are in mourning in the wake of his sudden suicide, so it was no surprise that my social media feeds are swimming with concert footage and memorials right now. After watching this performance of “Hunger Strike” featuring Chester doesn’t-qualify-for-a-last-name from Linkin Park, it’s easy to see why. Cornell’s delivery is effortless to point of being almost lazy, which seems really disappointing until Chester comes on stage. Watching how hard Chester has to work in increasing the drama of his performance just to try to keep up with Cornell seemingly at his most apathetic helps put the impact of Cornell’s legacy into perspective.
This sheer amount of talent is what makes singing along to Cornell’s music so much fun, even to a resident hater like me. It’s like the alt-rock version of trying to karaoke Whitney’s “I Will Always Love You” or anything by Adele. My wife doesn’t like grunge: we live in a post-Mouse Rat world, so that Seattle-quality to 90’s alternative music will forever sound like “The Pit” to her. I don’t know when I learned all the words to “Hunger Strike”, but man is it fun to turn that up when and give her my best “heh-yyyyeeeeeaaaaaaa” in spite of her. May the Radio Gods bless us with more of these opportunities for years to come.
Rest easy, Chris Cornell. Music wouldn’t be the same without you, nor would my relationship to my wife. Cheers to you, mate.