To fans, Cornel was as a co-conspirator, collaborator, friend
By Alistair Clout
It was the beginning of 1994 and a somewhat unholy constellation of the world’s best musical talent had descended upon the Gold Coast parklands.
Around 9:00pm, in the heat of a seemingly endless summer, a lone figure sat solemnly atop a toilet block toward the rear of the main stage and waited.
“Get down, NOW!” began the incessant refrain from a lone security guard below, amidst the din of a 6,0000-strong sea of expectation.
If the figure heard the call at all, he took no notice and when the lights dramatically dropped, a deafening roar began and the silhouette slowly arose.
As the members of Soundgarden assembled on stage, a single, piercing plug-in crack echoed across the field and the shadowy figure out front, leaned into the microphone, hard.
“Thank you for being here — we’re gonna play some new songs tonight. Hope you don’t mind … much.”
Brazen, I thought.
A spiralling Gibson SG lead guitar began the proceedings, followed by thunderous percussion and the first song slithered its way into existence:
If this isn’t what you seeeee/
It doesn’t make you blind/
Yea, if this doesn’t make you feeeeeel/
It doesn’t mean you’ve diiiiied…/
Alive in the Superunknown/
First it steals your mind/ then it steals your souuuuuuuuuul
This was the plaintiff wail of lead singer/guitarist Chris Cornell and the preacher had spoken.
The rooftop silhouette became a serpent, bopping, gyrating and writhing to the beat. He suddenly represented us all.
The sound level emanating from the stage was almost mortifying. Tinnitus was sent, express. To this day, I’ve never heard anything as crushing.
You simply could not hear the person screaming next to you, turning an endless sea of faces into a weird exasperation of seemingly silent mime-like ecstasy.
Three songs in and deafening got even louder.
With the arrival of Spoonman, the Big Day out turned into the sound of a Nuremberg night. Except no-one was supposed to know the songs.
The new record, Superunknown, was still over a month away and yet we were being … carried.
This was not a rock ‘n’ roll show anymore — it was a cultural exorcism, with lyrics filling our mouths before anyone had the time to even think.
I thought about the image of that lone silhouette when I heard the news that Cornell died at the unfathomably young age of 52.
Plenty will be written about the band, their legacy, media-imposed emblems as they were of Generation X, in the coming days and so I will dispense with all of that business here.
As part of the same generation and with these words, I’m simply hoping to remember the man as more spiritual brother than musician, for I’m certain it’s the way many will feel simply because Cornell felt like family, above all else.
This was intimacy delivered as grandiose statement and it perpetually pinched a raw nerve.
The six studio records Soundgarden made over the course of a quarter century together are more living monument to a collective feeling we all share than anything else, as is much of his solo work and many collaborations.
For above all, this was the very best kind of soundtrack, music that tapped into a certain kind of collective cultural malaise and repeatedly transcended it.
This was the personal made universal.
The best bands often have the most distinctive, emotive vocalists and in this, Cornell was par excellence.
His tone was deep, rich, full of soul and when he sang, it reached to the far corners, forging the head and the heart together and carrying you out of the humdrum of existence into the realm of the entirely spiritual.
In essence, you believed him and you felt as co-conspirator, collaborator. Friend.
Thoughts obviously go to his family and friends in this bleakest, most inexplicable of moments and so the many hours of majestic music remain, as testament to a unique talent and an inspiration.
For it is all that we are left with and it is what ultimately carries us all.
Alive in the Superunknown.
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