Reprinted without permission from KERRANG!, Octover
THE SOUL OF THE SEATTLE SCENE
That's Chris Cornell. As Soundgarden begin to add commercial success to critical acclaim, Temple of the Dog - the one off Andrew Wood tribute band - are celebrating a platinum album. As years go, Cornell hasn't had a bad one. DON KAY'S hoping the magic will rub off on him...
As Soundgarden prepare to rest after a year's road-hogging in support of the perpetually-selling Badmotorfinger, they can look back with satisfaction.
From that first tour with Guns 'N' Roses to the climatic run on the Lollapalooza II juggernaut, and the US radio and video airplay afforded to the brutal Outshined single, things never really went wrong for the hellishly heavy and unorthodox quartet. The brilliant Temple of the Dog LP, a fragile and poetic tribute to late Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood, has finally hit over a year after its release. More than one million copies have been sold, helped by a huge hit single in Hunger Strike - and to a lesser extent - the new mystique surrounding the tragic yet talented figure of Wood, Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell's close friend.
The Singles movie, now opening to rave reviews in the States, focuses even more attention on the Seattle music scene that acts as the film's backdrop. Singles director Cameron Crowe calls Chris Cornell 'the soul of the Seattle scene'.
As we crouch in an abandoned, waterlogged tunnel at the Jones Beach Amphitheatre, with Lollapalooza II roaring above, Cornell reflects on the last 12 absurdly momentous months.
Temple of the Dog...
"We weren't planning on re-releasing the record, it was like, 'fuck, this thing sold 750,000 records.' But there was obviously an audience out there for it, so we put it out again. It was re-released in more or less the same manner it was released in the first place, which was like, not a lot of hype or anything, not a poster of both bands or something like that.
"A lot of people were surprised by the idea that I would do something so different, you know, than how Soundgarden are. But I think some of the reaction has been stifled now, due to the fact that a lot of people know who Pearl Jam are.
"People were more surprised when it first came out,because no one knew who Pearl Jam were, no one knew any of those guys really, so it seemd more like the Chris Cornell solo project. But now those guys are so well known that people are perceiving it more as a collaborative effort and not so much this thing driven by me, which is cool."
What about his myth that seems to have built up around Andrew Wood? With the inevitable re-release of MLB's debut album Apple he's been elevated to this legendary status.
"I got that the first week after the guy died," says Cornell thoughtfully. "When I went to his funeral...there were tons of people there who didn't know him, who were just, like, fans, and that were coming up to me and saying that they knew how I felt and how awful it was. It was really ridiculous. I mean, they didn't know how I felt, they didn't know anything. They were just rock fans, basically, going to a show.
"And the idea that Andy was perfect, you know, is pretty laughable. I mean, he had a lot of serious problems, like we all do. But something about a person dying, especially someone in the entertainment industry, always elevates who they were and what they did into this other space."
Cornell IS a star now, no question. A big face on the the big scene in American music.
"It's impossible for me to step back and really understand or know what impact I've had, and how it is that I'm perceived by the average fan who does or doesn't like me. For the band, as well, I can't really tell where Soundgarden fit into music or how Soundgarden are really perceived.
"A lot of people get it and a lot of people want to get it and they don't. We don't have Top 40 singles, we don't have that type of atmosphere around us, but at the same time, we're selling a lot of records and getting tons of press. And it's really difficult to know what that leaves."
But all in Sub Pop heaven is not rosy. People all over the city are on smack. Pearl Jam and Nirvana have a bloody and public feud. Everyone and their mates are now world famous.
"It's just continuing to get more and more hype. I think it's just the fact that there was such a small focus, or non-focus, on Seattle, and now it's such a big thing, and pop culture loves to take something and just push it through the roof."
Seattle madness lumbers on, but surely it will end in a bitter backlash? Cornell senses a retreat by older Soundgarden fans, now that 'their' band has hit it big.
"Sure, I see that. I would imagine it would happen anyway. Honestly, if I was a Soundgarden fan, I'd probably get off at some point and start checking other stuff out just simply to do it."
Lollapalooza II has raised the issue of just who the audience are. Are they at the frontline of a new, alternative culture, or just the suburban mall dwellers hooked by MTV? Was Lollapalooza II a true gathering of the tribes?
"I think it was the alternative culture coming together for a non-alternative audience to check out. I don't think the audience we're getting is an alternative audience."
It's no coincidence, and plenty ironic, that the seeds of an alternative culture in the US are replanted at a time of great social unrest. With the country, its structure, and its economy unravelling at the seams, it's hardly a surprise that baffled politicians have begun pointing fingers at music, films and TV shows with increasing hysteria.
Soundgarden don't like that. They're fighting new legislation in Washington State that prohibits the sale of 'erotic music' to anyone under 18 years of age.
Also, boldly, the band have incorporated Body Count's notorious anti-authoritarian anthem Cop Killer into their live show after police threats and unprecedented rhetoric from George Bush led to the song's removal from the Body Count album.
"Here's a song that people are afraid of, and it's just a song. And I'm gonna play it. I don't care who's afraid of it or not. It seems like people are really afraid of the wrong things."