Drove out of northern Kentucky today in the freezing slush and snow, and decided to put on the solo works of one Chris Cornell. I’ve thought about him a lot in the past year, and I still don’t quite understand it. But yet, I get it. I have had times in my life where I fell on black days and wanted nothing but to blow up the outside world. No one will ever know what was going through his mind the night he attached that “pretty noose” around his neck, but it’s clear he was harboring feelings of depression and melancholy for years, and prescription drugs (ironically anti-depressives) probably played a part. In retrospect, the entire Seattle/Grunge era feels tinged with death. It began with death, when Mother Love Bone singer and rising star Andrew Wood overdosed on heroin in 1990. Many thought he would be the breakout star of that scene, but it was not to be. He was also Chris Cornell’s roommate and best friend. But in the wake of his death, Cornell formed Temple of the Dog, a one-off band with future members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden that only released one album, but that one album is a classic. It also marked the rise of another star in Eddie Vedder, who is now the only surviving lead singer of the “Big 4” Seattle bands. We know what happened to Cobain, Layne Staley, Shannon Hoon and Scott Weiland. Not part of that scene but also a talented vocalist and great friend of Cornell, Chester Bennington, would die of suicide months after his friend. Dying young is not a new phenomenon among artists. There is a “27 club” after all of musicians who have passed away at that tragically young age – Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, etc. Kurt Cobain is part of that club. When he died I was 12 years old and had just begun to play guitar. I didn’t get it then, but I get it a little more now. It was an event that probably shaped my generation as much as Columbine and 9/11 later did. Each of those events seemed shocking at the time; they don’t anymore. They have become commonplace. We live in an increasingly complicated and dangerous world. And yet, it’s always been that way. 100 years ago people were dying of polio. Last century brought the two most destructive wars ever known to man. Things are bad now, things were bad then. Things are good now, and things were good then. All we can do is live our lives. There doesn’t seem to be any way that one person can make a change, but we can all aspire to be the change we wish to see in the world if we make the effort. What I do is put music into the world (well that and drink and make sarcastic comments, also important imo). With the music business in the shape that it’s in and everything else going on in the world, that might not seem like that significant of a contribution. But I believe it is because I know that music has changed me, and music has kept me alive. And whatever demons may live inside me or any other musician, I believe that music is the most pure part about that person. (It cuts the other way too – if your music sucks then you must really suck as a person! But I digress…) When I first heard Cornell, Cobain, Staley and the rest, it gave me life. It gave me a purpose. The fact that they couldn’t make it through this life is proof that fame doesn’t solve one’s problems and we all need to be conscious of the warning signs among our friends and family and ourselves. I saw Chris Cornell with Soundgarden in Memphis about a month before his death. I had never seen Soundgarden, one of my all-time favorite bands, and something told me I wouldn’t get the chance again anytime soon. The show was incredible and Chris seemed especially animated and happy. I didn’t know, and probably few around him truly knew how he was feeling on the inside. Shortly after his death I was driving around Nashville when an idea for a song came to me. I drove home and finished it, putting down a raw acoustic demo. The recording for our album was already done and we had plenty of material, but I felt this song needed to be heard. I asked the guys and they felt the same. Rory Faciane did what he does, which is put down the exact right part for the song on the first try, and Doug Mug Swanson then came to my house a few weeks later and put his signature low end on the rest. My good friend Renato Buchert also added some string sounds to make it sound as epic as it originally did in my head. It became the last song on the album, titled “Suicide Dive.” The song itself doesn’t present any answers, and neither do I. All I know is I believe in the song, I’m lucky to have such friends to make music with, and I’m lucky to be sitting here drinking a tequila sunrise and writing this to all of you. As I drove south, the snow stopped, the rain turned to mist, the mist turned to fog, and the temperature began to lift. A sign appeared up ahead that read “Welcome to Tennessee,” and as always, I took a sigh of relief and realized, I’m almost home…. “Everything dies baby that’s a fact, but maybe everything that dies someday comes back…”
I recently finished re-watching Ken Burns’ “Jazz” documentary, and one thing that struck me was the debate over what “jazz” actually is as the genre grew and expanded over the years. There were those that at first didn’t consider be-bop artists like Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie to be “real jazz,” then so on with avant-garde acts like Ornette Coleman and later psychedelic and fusion acts. It kind of reminded me of the constant debate about what is “real country.” People have been arguing about that at least since the 50s when Chet Atkins and others began to put strings on everything to “sweeten” the sound, up to Alabama and Garth, Shania and now of course with “bro country.” The key difference between the debates between genres, though, is that nearly every evolution of jazz was made with little to no commercial consideration, while basically every update to the country sound has been to make it more commercial and palatable to the mainstream. Jazz expanded its palette to be more musically open, while country merely assimilated elements of other genres that were already proven popular. In spirit, one can trace a line from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to Ornette Coleman rather easily, at least in retrospect. But what line is there from FGL and Sam Hunt to Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family other than maybe a southern accent and some vague talk about dirt? (For that matter, I’m not sure what line you can draw from REO Speedwagon back to Chuck Berry, but I digress…) Anyway, just struck me as interesting. I might have a little dirt on my boots, but I’m taking you uptown to the jazz club with its $40 minimum tonight.