I would say it has been a strange few weeks, but frankly these days it often feels like the whole world has gone mad, yet alone my little corner of it. I can’t tell you all that is going on because some of it is not my story to tell, but the ripples are spreading and it seems pertinent to the event I attended all the way back on the first of July.
I like many people have picked up different groups and pages in my Facebook and there was a message that you dread to see announcing that someone had died. It wasn’t someone I knew but a couple of my people were close to them and are hurting pretty bad right now. It feels like we’re not great at dealing with death at the best of times but in this age of fragmented local communities, overlapping digital spaces, and all the rest of modern life it is hard to manage that grieving process in a unified way to find some sense of closure.
The reason I’m writing about this is because on the first of July there were IMAX screenings around the world of the film Soundgarden: Live from the Artist Den.
I would say that I am a Soundgarden fan, but I am not the Soundgarden fan in my household as they are one my of partner’s favourite bands and she loves all things Chris Cornell so we were both incredibly upset when he died by suicide in 2017.
In fact we still are and so the start of this film was really jarring given that it opens with Cornell giving an introduction to the gig that we were about to watch. There he was in front of us, quite literally larger than life on an IMAX screen talking from beyond the grave about a preference for playing in intimate venues where you can look the audience in the eye.
We had been in such audiences on more than one occasion. Standing in theatres in the UK we had seen him sing with both Audioslave and Soundgarden when they reformed.
One of the impressive things about the reformed Soundgarden was that they didn’t just go out and play greatest hits sets, though they could have. No, they wrote an album called King Animal that is as good as anything they had previously put out, toured it, and were working on a new album. My partner and I were looking forward to new music; ready to go see the band again when they came back to the UK. That won’t happen now.
The Live from the Artist Den film is not the first thing of Cornell’s to be released after his death. However, the show that was shot back in 2013 at the end of the King Animal tour is legendary amongst Soundgarden fans even though they hadn’t seen the film and only a few had attended the show. The film was finally shown as part of the recent Cornell memorial concert and ahead of it being released at the end of the month; fans were given a chance to get the full viewing experience for one night only in various IMAX cinemas around the world.
And what a show. The band were on great form that night, playing songs from across their career including some they rarely played and one that had never been played lie before. I have always made sure that I was a drummer who didn’t just listen to drummers and Soundgarden really are a musician’s band. They play with song structure and time signatures without making a thing of it and have always been sonically interesting. I have always loved Kim Thyall’s guitar tone. The benefit of this being an intimate show is that we have close up views of the band without camera men being right up in the band’s face and you could get a real look at everyone playing. I absolutely looked up Thyall’s gigging rig on the way home having seen his use of a Mesa/Boogie combo amp, with a head stacked on top flanked by two cabs.
I am a drummer though, and watching Matt Cameron is always fun as he’s a really good player, who doesn’t dominate but enables Soundgarden to explore however they want. He, like a lot of the drummers that I am drawn to, has an interest in jazz and manages to play complex patterns and songs whilst singing backing vocals. Oh, and in case that wasn’t enough he also plays for Pearl Jam.
What I had forgotten was what a compelling, almost belligerent at times stage presence Ben Sheppard can be. Soundgarden were not a flashy band full of stage choreography but Sheppherd was the wildcard to Cornells centre stage charisma, stalking the stage with his bass as he provided so much more than the low end of the band.
The two obvious things with Chris Cornell are the voice and the song writing. So many good songs and yes the high vocal in Jesus Christ Pose is not the same, but once the band was going he carried them all night. However, sat watching this time capsule of a performance was so uncanny at times. After the jarring opening we have a straight ahead concert but it was a different viewing experience seeing it on the big screen with the cinema sound system.
It’s a beautiful performance, but whilst all shows are unique in their time and place – there can’t be another one with Chris and that is sad. It’s another reminder that he’s gone and as much as we wanted more music, there are friends and family who miss him.
Children who no longer have a father.
A hole in the world where a person should be.
Grief is a funny thing. I’m not sure it fades with time so much as lurks for the next reminder and maybe those get spaced out more but they still sneak up on you and hit you with the same power.
There’s a Toby Jug of the cricketer commentator Brian Johnston that I inherited from my gran as cricket was one of the interests we shared. It’s not a pretty thing (sorry Gran) but I love it a lot and it brings me happiness. When England recently won the cricket World Cup recently I shed tears several times in the aftermath, and partly that was the release of tension from following the tense conclusion of the game but also that my gran never got to see the turnaround of the one day team and this win that seemed so impossible only a few years ago. I think she would have enjoyed it despite her preference for test cricket (I confess I could be projecting my own feelings there).
There’s something about what the trigger is that affects how the latest wave of sadness hits. I’ve shed plenty of tears putting this post together, but I can listen to Soundgarden again. I can hear, ‘Nobody sings like you anymore’ and hold it together but then remembering this picture sets me off every time:
That picture was shared Tom Morello shortly after Cornell’s death and it gets me every time as they just look so damn happy.
That was the theme that kept cropping up in the aftermath of Cornell’s death. He was in a good place, he had plans, he was the last person you’d expect it from.
But the signs aren’t always that obvious. And sometimes it doesn’t take that much for someone to be gone.
I’m not sure we ever know what is going on in someone’s head.
I know people who are still with us despite past attempts and who are grateful they are. I know too many people hurt or wrestling with their own brains.
There are posts that I see on social media encouraging people to ask for help or check in on each other. Check in on the strong ones. The ones you might not expect as depression is too often hidden, skulking in the shadows and avoiding the follow up question we might never ask.
We should do all this.
I read a fascinating article in the New Statesman about how mindfulness has privatised a social problem. I believe it raises some really interesting wider questions, but sometimes we need to survive the environment we’re in. Given the news these days a change in social approach could be a ways off.
So whilst we be the change we want to see. We also have to stay afloat and look after ourselves as well. They are turning self-care into an industry just like mindfulness but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to take moments for ourselves so be a little kinder to each other. Check in on your friends as it is not always easy to reach out for help. They might feel like a burden even when they’re not and sitting with someone is more useful than trying to fix them.
Despite what some might tell you, humans are social creatures. We might need different sized clans around us but very few can survive alone. If you think that no one will miss you, it’s not true.
The ripples are out there.
The dance of life, death and taxes.
It’s the bits in between that are important.
Those infinitely varying links.
We can’t know what’s going on in somebody else’s head.
That’s why we have to ask.
In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.