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Death is DUMB returns - featuring Soundgarden & Chris Cornell

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Welcome to WEEK 250 of MUSIC is not a GENRE (Video #76 & S4Ep9)

Death is DUMB Volume 7: Soundgarden – The Epic Voice of Modern Opera

The voice is it for me. When it comes to any popular music, it’s the lead singer who makes or breaks it. The absolute best band or music powered by a vocalist I don’t click with may as well be telephone hold music.

Two perfect examples: Some people can’t stand the Cure because Robert Smith’s voice grates on them. I happen to love them in large part BECAUSE of his voice. Some people find Billie Eilish’s music haunting, intimate & enchanting. Her songs are so well done & her voice is wonderful, but it doesn’t move me at all.

Which brings us to Soundgarden. They were many things - grunge metal punk progressive psychedelic classic rock pop. They were incredible for many reasons - songwriting, the above mix of styles, live performance, and Kim Thayil’s genius. But to me they were legendary because of Chris Cornell. No voice in the last 40 years has come close to being as epically powerful, yet nuanced & beautiful, as his.

I call Soundgarden’s music modern opera because it’s what opera should be. What it’s meant to be. Wrung with emotion, running the full dynamic spectrum, technically sound yet not confined by rules. Cornell was able to convey complete abandon and total control all at once - over a vocal range and intricacy of melody that would confound, or worse constrict, even the best opera singers.

You could feel the angst and the vulnerability equally. The struggle and the triumph. The weakness and the strength to endure. Which is what we all thought was happening until 2017. You could say Kurt Cobain’s death was a shock. Or Layne Staley. Jim Morrison or Janis Joplin. But what they all had in common was that A. They were relatively young; and B. They were still in the heat of their worst addictions, recoveries notwithstanding. Cornell’s death was much more of a shock because we all thought he was out of the woods. Like Philip Seymour Hoffman, we all thought he’d exorcised his demons and found a stable path forward. We thought we’d see him age into one of the great modern elder statesmen.

Nope. He’s dead. And it sucks. Mostly for him & his family & friends. Also for his band. His fans. And all of music. I can’t say there will never be a voice of his caliber again, but we will never get to hear HIS voice again. Whether in Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave or his solo work, he left us with a tortured beauty both rawer and more polished than Led Zeppelin. And deeper than any metal predecessors who influenced him.

As for Soundgarden’s influence on me, it may not be readily evident. But it’s there. All the vocal expression. All the power & complexity of the music. The bluntly poetic lyrics. This is kind of a left field pick, but if you focus in on the lyrics, the emotion & especially the chorus & solo sections, you’ll hear the connection:

NICK – “Xylophone Ways” (from the album Your EP)

Also, as part of my acoustic tribute to grunge, I covered their song “Fell on Black Days”. I’m including it here as a bonus:

Nick DeMatteo – “Fell on Black Days” (live acoustic performance)

Do you know Soundgarden’s music? We’re you a fan? Did Chris Cornell’s voice captivate you the way it did me? What other bands do you love because of the lead vocalist? Discuss dammit!


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