November 11, 2007

It's done: From Cornell... (Part I)

This is the first of what will be two long, rambling babblings about music, so if you're not into Incubus or Chris Cornell you may want to skip both of them. Unless, of course, you find my writing incredibly compelling, in which case, read on…

On 11/9, I drove 4 hours from DC up to Allentown, PA, with the two-fold purpose of seeing Chris Cornell perform at the Crocodile Rock Café and to meet a bunch of people from the Cornell forum. Leading up to the show, I realized that I was more excited about meeting the forum folks than I was about seeing Chris. Since getting into Incubus over the summer, I haven't even listened to Cornell for the last two months. No Soundgarden, no Temple of the Dog, no Euphoria Morning. But I was still expecting to be entranced and transported once he walked onstage.

So, all of us forum folk found each other in line at the Croc, and we all managed to get right up at the front of the stage, directly below one of the speaker stacks hanging from the low ceiling. Some of us had seen Chris at least few times this year, and some hadn't seen him perform for a handful of years. Every one of us was fairly giddy with anticipation as we waited through the opening act and the set change.

And then it began. The lights dropped, the band members filed out and began playing on stage, and I craned my neck to watch for Chris to emerge from the backstage door. I could see a tall shadow reflected on the wall and knew it was him, and the disagreeable thought flashed through my mind that Chris Cornell was making us wait so that he could have a grand entrance. That thought was disregarded, though, once he finally strolled out and hit the stage to tear into "Let Me Drown" and "Outshined". The one-two punch of those ripping SG tunes had me banging my head and dancing as much as was possible in the confines of the crowd, even after I realized that I couldn't hear a single note of what Chris was singing. Now, everyone says that the sound is always terrible right up front, but I swear I could hear every screaming note from the two guitar players. They were mixed so loudly, though, that I heard nothing of The Voice. The music was ridiculously loud. Through the first several songs, the guitars shredded my ears and the bass literally had my guts quivering to the point of nausea. For a while, though, it didn't matter, since I recognized the music, I could hear the people around me singing the same words I was singing, I could see Chris mouthing those words, and it got me excited. When the band left the stage for Chris' acoustic set, I finally was able to somewhat hear the golden tones I came for. And that was the turning point. One of the tunes he played acoustically was "I Am the Highway", which for the past few years has been my theme song, if you will. I had my hands up, swaying along with the song, and I gradually became aware that I really wasn't feeling the rapturous emotional response to Chris' singing that I felt in Baltimore and Philly earlier this year. I realized that I was just going through the motions. That and the twisted sensations in my gut suddenly left me subdued. There were a few points further on when I felt a nostalgic exhilaration in response to an old SG tune or two, but for the most part I just did not enjoy the show.

When it was all over, the crowd began filing slowly towards the exit. The forum folk all stopped to re-group near the swag table, and a few expressed interest in the t-shirts. Now, I generally don't wear clothing that advertises anything, not even the music that I'm into. And the fact that every single one of the Cornell shirts incorporated his illegible signature into the design was slightly distasteful to me. I don't know whether it was an impulse brought on by sheep mentality or what, though, but I ended up shelling out $20 for a shirt with one of the cooler, more obscure designs.

Afterwards, we all headed to a local diner to grab some food and hang out. I felt like crap and couldn't bring myself to consume more than a cup of soup and some tea. After a while, the conversation became targeted on how skinny, haggard and unhealthy Chris had looked during the show. Was it the clothes he was wearing, was he tired out by non-stop touring since March..? None of us had a real clue, of course, but we were all disturbed by it. The talk continued as people brought up things that had struck them about his facial expressions and antics on the stage and then, as will happen when you get a group of fanatical music fans together, we began to analyze various examples of Chris' bizarre behavior as represented in the media over the last several months. Photos of his home in a recent issue of In Style, an interview in a Turkish mag that included photos of him and his wife Vicky lounging around and having a pillow fight on their hotel bed, the cancellation of a couple of shows so that he could perform at a media event for Paris Hilton… Based on postings at the CC forum, things of this nature have many of his fans confused, and have blatantly turned off many others. At one point during the conversation, I posed the question that I've considered many times over this past year: What would the 20-something punk rock Chris Cornell of Soundgarden think of what he's recently become? The general consensus around the table was that the early Cornell would be scornful of the actions of the current one. But what do we know, really? We're just a bunch of fans basing our opinions on what we see and read, much of which is either taken out of context, misquoted, or totally created by the media. What I do know, though, is that the t-shirt I bought after the show is now a symbol of my nostalgic love of what Chris Cornell was and the music he once made. I am no longer a fan of the new Chris Cornell. **

That said, I've also been considering lately what it is about Incubus that I responded to so strongly this past summer. As I've mentioned before, I've known of the band for several years and never gave them a serious listen. I've written already about what made a couple of particular tunes jump out and grab my attention a few months ago, but as I began buying and listening to the rest of their catalog, I began to think about which elements of their music turned my initial reaction into a full-blown addiction. As with every other band with which I've been obsessed over the years, it comes down to the same two things: Words and a voice. (See part II, if you're so inclined)

** I feel that I should add some kind of caveat to the statement that I'm no longer a fan of Chris Cornell, since it was very hard to write that. As my Incubus obsession levels off, I know that I will definitely continue listening to Soundgarden and other Cornell music previous to the second Audioslave album. And if I hear that the guy transforms again and quits acting like such a fucking Rock Star, I'll certainly give his next album a fair listen. Until then, I am a confirmed Incubus addict.

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