November 13, 2009

Chris Cornell's Like Suicide

This is an old post from 2006 that I'm resurrecting because I'm deep into a Cornell nostalgia kick lately, and because I just found a pretty incredible live video of the song.   The sound quality sucks a tad, but the performance is fan-freakin'-tastic.



The song "Like Suicide" (from the Soundgarden album, Superunkown) is arguably one of Chris Cornell's most beautiful and most poetic. The story goes that Chris was sitting at home working on the music that became the song when he heard the sound of something hitting the window in another room. His first thought was apparently that someone was trying to break in. He went outside, walked around the house, and found that a bird had flown into the window and was flopping around on the ground below with a broken neck. He apparently had to take a brick from the edge of the garden and finish her off, then he went back inside, sat down, and wrote the lyrics.

To me, that story makes total sense when compared to the lyrics. I read a post at some forum or another, though, in which some guy analyzed the song as being about heroin use. The dude went through the song line by line and explained all these metaphors that he saw as describing someone's experience with heroin. I think that interpretation really sells Chris Cornell short and I've felt compelled for a long time to rebut the guy's analysis of the song. So, here goes:

Heard it from another room
Eyes were waking up just to fall asleep
Love's like suicide
Dazed out in the garden bed
With a broken neck lays my broken gift
Just like suicide


So far, fits Chris's story exactly. The one line that I'm still not sure of the meaning of is "Eyes were waking up, just to fall asleep", but Soundgarden-era Cornell is chock full of damned obscure metaphors. The line "With a broken neck lays my broken gift" is a beautifully poignant description of what he found.

And my last ditch
Was my last brick
Lent to finish her
Finish her

Bit down on the bullet now
I had a taste so sour
I had to think of something sweet
Love's like suicide
Safe outside my gilded cage
With an ounce of pain
I wield a ton of rage
Just like suicide


Again, these verses describe the event Chris alleges the song is about. To take that brick and put the bird out of her misery was so difficult, it left "... a taste so sour, [he] had to think of something sweet." It was an act that couldn't be committed with detachment, it had to be fueled by the sadness and frustration stirred in him by the sight of the injured bird.

With eyes of blood
And bitter blue
How I feel for you
I feel for you

She lived like a murder
How she'd fly so sweetly
She lived like a murder
But she died
Just like suicide


I have to admit that I listened to the song for a year or so before I made the "murder/suicide" connection. Having read in the past that Cornell's a bit of a nature junkie, and being one myself, I finally realized what I think he meant by those references. To watch a creature like that fly can be so beautiful, it just kills you ("She lived like a murder, how she'd fly so sweetly"). For that same creature to die in such a way, both literally in the act of flinging herself against the window and figuratively in the unnecissariness of her death, feels senseless in the way that most suicides do.

To me, there's no question that Cornell's explanation of the song is valid and it says a lot about him as a person. That he could be so moved by the event to sit down and write such an incredibly touching description of it indicates that he's a more complex character than your stereotypical "rock star". By insisting that the song is about heroin use, the guy at that other forum seems to see Cornell as nothing but that stereotype. In doing so, the guy makes both himself and Chris Cornell seem sadly one-dimensional. Personally, reading Chris's explanation of this wonderful song gave me a lot of respect for him. But maybe I'm just naive.

8 comments:

matt said...

I dont think you're being naive about the lyrics being about what Chris said they were about. I think if the song was about using smack he'd have no problem admitting it.

My ex just wrote me on msn:

chantilly says:
just had to kill a teensy little bird...looked like a canary, someone's pet

chantilly says:
i still have the feeling of it's little body struggling in my hand while i wrung it's neck

. says:
thats what you did?

chantilly says:
yeah...it was on the sidewalk in front of the kitchen, gasping...picked it up and put it on it's feet and it flopped over, tried to fly...picked it up again and quickly wrung it's neck

chantilly says:
i feel awful

. says:
listen to Chris Cornell's "Like "Suicide"

. says:
why in your hands though

. says:
not knife?

chantilly says:
hands are faster w/ birds

. says:
anyway the song is on superunknown

chantilly says:
then i have it..will check later

How do we know said...

awesome boss!! this was just the kind of post that i wanted to read today.

KaliDurga said...

Well, I'm glad I dredged it up, then. Thanks.

Jon said...

I'm glad you dredged it up to! I was all over Soundgarden back in the day when the Seattle scene was tearing it up... think I'll see if I can find some more of their songs now and have a walk down memory lane. Maybe see if I can find some Days of the New as well...

human being said...

why different interpretations?
one reason perhaps is the background existing in the reader's or listerner's mind... (what a pity i cannot listen to this song)

my background:
late at night... or perhaps early in the morning... working on a text... getting tired... checking the mail and the reader... news... the world... my country... bad news... sad news...
people here sometimes do not commit suicide... others commit them suicide... see what i mean? they have witnessed something that should not be revealed... then... they commit suicide by others!!!

what do you do to wash away the sadness... you read your friends... coming to your name, i remember your flu... i remember your search for that iranian poet from whom i quoted a line... i decide to come and tell you that i want to...
what's this new post?!
OMG!

this is my version: (hey... consider it a Rashomon effect)
:D

-----------------------------------
she had a dream
a sweet one
to share with others

she had a dream
a sweet one
to live with

she flew high
she flew low
she flew everywhere
to share the dream

she flew with love in her heart
and trust in her wings

she flew high
she flew low
she flew everywhere

but she didn't know
through
she didn't know
through

she couldn't pass through a wall
that was invisible like a lie

she flew everywhere
but she couldn't pass through

she died
with the dream still in her heart
she died
not of not knowing
not of a wall
not of a lie
but of a tender heart who couldn't
trust two wounded wings to carry a heart

she was killed after the fall!
she was killed after the fall!
she couldn't pass through...
she couldn't pass through...
-----------------------------------

KaliDurga said...

@jon: It's always good to find another SG fan out there. I hope you enjoyed the nostalgia-fest :D

@humanbeing: I'm so sorry I didn't post your comment sooner, my intarwebs time has been limited this week. But I'm very glad that you were able to fly this way and share your beautiful inspiration!

You're very right about interpretation having to pass through the prism of the reader's mind and experience. That's exactly what makes poetry and song-lyrics so endlessly fascinating, especially when you go back and read the same work in a different mood and can see it in a new light.

The Crow said...

Thank you for this post, KD. Do you recall the furor about John Lennon's "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", that it supposedly referred to LSD use? His young son came home from preschool with a drawing he had made of a girl in his class, with sparkling stars in the sky. Julian told his father that it was a picture of his frined Lucy, flying in the sky that sparkled with diamonds.

Martha

KaliDurga said...

I do remember hearing that about the Beatles tune. You're right, it's the same situation-- Do we judge the lyrics by the artist's reputation for drug use or, perhaps naively, believe their innocent explanation? Ultimately it really doesn't matter because it's what the song means to each listener that's important. I'll stick with the non-cynical interpretations, with a wink at the possibility of the other.