Reprinted without permission from KERRANG!, August 13,
TALES FROM THE CRYPT!
One minute he's robbing graves, the next he's a sex symbol! Yup, Chris Cornell is up to some weird shit in America's voodoo capital, New Orleans! Morat joins Cornell and Soundgarden as they journey into the superunknown!
Even on a Sunday night, the French Quarter of New Orleans has much to offer the curious stranger. Apparently, you have to know the right places to hear the Blues and Jazz that the town is famous for. Bad music pumps from the open windows of most bars; everything from ineptly played generic Blues to Karaoke renditions of 'Y.M.C.A.'! But considering this is a place where you can still purchase ivory keepsakes and alligator handbags, where pickpockets lurk and shoe-shine boys hassle you outside shops selling unutterably sexist T-shirts, New Orleans is surprisingly endearing. If nothing else, it has a lust for life.
Soundgarden's security guy Bill Sitkiewicz accompanies frontman Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil and I through these effervescent streets; past strip bars, bright lights, hustlers, pimps, a whole street of Harleys and then inadvertently into the gay section of town.
From a balcony full of men with large moustaches, a camp voice rings out above the music: "See you tomorrow, boys! Jesus Christ Pose!"
Cornell links arms with Bill, who puts his arm around the singer's shoulder as we continue walking.
"You come back here, Chris Cornell! I'll hug you anytime!" insists the man on the balcony.
All the world and his live-in lover recognise Soundgarden these days.
Onwards past fast food joints, more bars, a newsagent's - where Cornell looks for motorcycle magazines - and a voodoo shop that has a picture of Alice In Chains in the window.
Later, I ask Cornell for his views on the local magic.
"Well, you know what I think about voodoo!" he says mischievously. "I came here a few years ago with my buddies and we dug up graves!
"Al Jourgensen from Ministry told me you should never touch someone else's grave, but it's just bones, Al! It's just body parts and decay.
"I've gotten letters from people who've suggested that different things I may do or say may have some sort of metaphysical power over the future. I always toss them out and nothing ever comes out of it- or the fact that I dug somebody's false teeth out of a grave in New Orleans."
"It's all so stupid! It's the same thing as Christianity, Catholisism, Hinduism..."
"Did you say analism?!" Kim interrupts, grinning.
"Most religion is usually based on cheap sentiment and fear of the unknown," concludes Chris. So much for karma!
Several hours later, Cornell retires to his hotel room, apparently tired of being pestered by drunks, leaving Kim, Bill, Soundgarden roadie Jay and myself wandering the humid streets getting progressively more drunk. New Orleans is about the only place in the US where you can drink alcohol on the street.
The details are hazy, but somehow we pause outside a strip bar and someone suggests we go in. Kim has never been inside such an establishment before and insists he is not interested.
There is talk of it being a "learning experience". Someone else is paying for the beers. Suddenly, it's too late - we're inside.
A couple of the, er, exotic dancers recognise Kim and we're ushered to the best seats in the house. It's all rather embarrassing, and it gets far worse when the DJ makes a big deal of playing Soundgarden's 'Limo Wreck'.
Kim looks uncomfortable as a naked and somewhat bored girl hangs from the ceiling and goes through the motions.
"Hey, I wrote this; I should be onstage!" he jokes as we sit the song out and then try to leave. Kim has to spend about half-an-hour signing autographs before we can get out.
Later still, we sit on a balcony over looking the hubbub of Bourbon Street. Sammy Hagar and Kiss songs split the night air. It transpires that the reason Soundgarden weren't on the recent Kiss tribute album is because bassist Ben Shepherd hates them!
I get the feeling that the music was cranked up to the max for Kim's benefit. It's tough having people being nice to you all day, particularly when they get it so wrong. Joined by drummer Matt Cameron, we round the evening off in a Rock club called The Dungeon. We don't stay long.
The next night, after an explosive show at New Orleans' Uno Arena, Chris, Kim and I sit in the dressing room getting rapidly wasted on Jack Daniel's and beer.
Ben is skulking around the corridors looking dangerous and aggressive. He was hit in the face with an ice cube while onstage and promptly trashed all his gear. No one knows where Matt is.
Kim and Chris are discussing the hangers-on that schmooze around the Rock bands: people who are interested merely in what you are, not who you are.
Says Chris: "I've been in situations with my friends where there's been somebody I kinda knew and liked, thought they were pretty cool, then one of my really good friends would hate them. I'd say, 'That guy's really cool', and they go, 'No, they treat me like shit and don't even give me the time of day!'"
"I take it seriously because I don't have that many friends. I don't choose to, so the friends that I have are people I think are really special. There's been situations where that didn't occur to me until something like this happened. Then I realise they've just been cool to me."
"I generally don't trust people, but I'm nice to them because I'm not used to social exchanges," admits Thayil. "I practise being nice and then notice I'm in a situation where I don't like the person I'm dealing with. I get really snappy and irritable dealing with people who are a source of discomfort. I barely trust my friends, y'know, but I do trust them cos there's that kinda honour amongst thieves..."
"You know," Chris chuckles, "I have some polaroids of Kim naked if you want to see them later."
But later, when Kim is drunk and saying things that he shouldn't on tape, Cornell takes the tape out and smashes it! It was an act which could have earned him a smack in the teeth if it hadn't been such a touching move to protect a friend.
Soundgarden are not happy Rock stars, but they're philosophical about the hassle their celebrity brings.
"I asked for it," Chris shrugs. "I mean, we've wanted to sell records for 10 years. I'm not gonna say that somebody twisted my arm behind my back and said, 'Make a Rock video so people recognise you!'. We did it on purpose to sell our records."
"Our songs get played on the radio, which we didn't really try for. We didn't change our songs so people would like them, but obviously if they are played more you end up selling records - unless your main object is to not sell records! Our objective has always been to make records we like and sell tons of them! That's the best possible world; getting paid a ton of money for doing what you want to do."
"It's weird, sometimes awkward, and sometimes I hate it," Chris swigs on the JD, "but the worst part was four years ago when we'd put a record out and we were all fucking shit broke and never made a dime. We put all our money into one bank account and then we'd draw a cheque for 600 dollars a month, which is the least amount of money I'd ever made. And people would still recognise you!"
"So you're dirt poor and you can't go anywhere withoug getting fucked with! At least now we make money, so there's a trade-off. You can afford to secure your privacy."
Soundgarden decided to hire a security guy after a drunken incident in London's Camden involving Ben, Kim, various skinheads and some black cab drivers. Surely that had nothing to do with the band?
"It does just because of the kind of attitudes you might carry around," says Kim frankly. "You might be a little bit arrogant or cocky without knowing that. We might just carry ourselves differently or see ourselves differently."
"He isn't really a personal security guy," adds Cornell. "He's somebody to organise house security men at the shows. He's not the kind of security who will stand between you and somebody else. I don't think it's necessary to have somebody like that, because it probably causes more problems."
"It's not a desire for us to be separated from our audience," Thayil continues. "A lot of it has to do with the kind of personalities that Chris and I and Ben have. We get drunk, and we get ourselves in situations cos we're used to people serving us, rolling out the red carpet. So our security guy's there to protect us from ourselves, if nothing else!"
"Sometimes you're thinking, 'This would be bad for Chris if he whacks this guy because the guy's gonna come back with the sheriff and sue him'. I mean, we're not simply victims, we're people who provoke situations on occasion."
Says Chris: "If you're somebody who's likely to get recognised and hassled by some drunk idiot, you're going to be on guard, ready to punch somebody - even if you don't appear to be. So even if somebody doesn't know who you are and they say the wrong thing, you're already in this weird sort of of mental state ready to lash out."
"Maybe it's not that person's fault. Maybe it's a situation where a normal person wouldn't lash out, but you're in a situation most people aren't. And maybe you're not Prince and you don't have four wrestler security guards telling everyone not to look at your stupid stretch pants!"
"There's never been a time in my life when I would have approached a guy who was famous," ponders Cornell.
"The only thing that makes it unfair is television. It used to be that no one recognised you unless they bought your records and they were a fan, but nowadays people who don't give a shit know about you; people who don't buy your records and don't like your band will hassle you because they saw you on TV."
"Millions of people watch us and will never buy our fucking records. Probably 10 times as many people see us on TV than buy the records, and they respond to a guy they saw on TV. They think it's really cool to hassle you and then go home and tell their stupid wife or whatever. Well, good for him, but they're not fans."
"So you get hassled by as many people who aren't fans as people who are. When they're fans it doesn't seem like a hassle, but when they're not it's like this whole new thing. It's not fair."
And ultimately, you get something like the suicide of Kurt Cobain?
"I don't think anyone can safely resolve that's why Kurt Cobain killed himself," Chris shrugs. "I mean, I don't really bother theorising on suicides, but I'm sure it was more than that."
"It was common knowledge that Kurt had a serious fucking health problem and he had it for years, well before he was ever famous. Whenever people talk about drugs and death, they put Kurt in a category of drug death, which is not the case. The fact that he was taking drugs was also based on the fact that he had serious health problems that nobody could seem to help him out with. Drugs were one way of relieving pain."
"I'm sure there were also problems with the fact that he couldn't go anywhere. He felt self-conscious about being a teen idol, which was something he didn't want to be."
Chris sighs and pauses for a moment.
"And there was always that issue that he was sick - and that didn't necessarily have to do with drugs or the fact that he was famous."
"He was emotionally sick," says Kim. "He was married, he had a kid, he was a millionaire overnight and you've gotta cope with these things."
"It might not have been something that he wanted," argues Chris, "but at the same time, he made videos, y'know? Same as me. If he didn't wanna be in that situation, he didn't have to make another video after '... Teen Spirit'. It all points to something else. It wasn't just: this guy's a heroin addict and it made him crazy and he killed himself. Or: this guy gets bothered by teenagers and he hates it so he killed himself."
"That's probably the most romantic view, but it's not the most real view. You don't know what drives somebody to do that, but if I ever committed suicide, I would do it in a way that meant no one ever knew that it was suicide - because to me, the biggest fear of killing myself would be what it would do to my friends and family."
"If things are fucked enough that I want to kill myself, the last thing I want to do is go out and really fucking hurt a bunch of other people."
"Fuck it," Chris groans. "You can go and live in Monte Carlo where there's nothing but celebrities. I don't believe that money can't buy you a certain amount of security or privacy, because it can. But that's coming from somebody who isn't particularly social."
"I know people who have become pretty successful in terms of being Pop stars and are totally socially outgoing. They wanna be among people, and now they can't. That's a way worse situation than I'm in, because I wasn't really into it."
"If anything, I can use it as an excuse now to my friends and my wife," he confesses. "It's like, feel sorry for me, I don't really want to go there cos people are gonna hassle me - poor me! Before, if I wanted to do that I didn't really have an excuse. I've always been anti-social, and now they can sympathise with me, whereas before I was just a jerk.""
As the Jack Daniel's bottle is drained, Chris muses over his lonesome childhood.
"I wasn't particularly an outcast," muses Chris "I was sort of..."
"A fuck-up? A girlie?" Kim suggests helpfully.
"No, a mascot!" laughs Cornell. "I was a teeny-tiny baby-faced guy who looked like I was about 11 and who chain-smoked cigarettes and would do drugs! People thought I was cute cos I was this tiny guy who could out-drink the other guys."
"So I was a mascot, but it wasn't as if people necessarily cared about me or were true friends. And there's people who I haven't talked to in years who are now sending mail to our management company saying, 'Remember me? Let's go hang out'!"
"That kinda hurts. Why do you give a shit now?"
Chris is equally bemused by the fans who would carry him to the toilet if he so desired!
"That's true," hoots Chris. "I think all these fans should carry me around so I can piss wherever I want and never worry about where or when I piss!"
"It just doesn't make sense," he smiles. "I never wrote fan letters as a kid or deified anyone - which makes it difficult when people ask who your heroes are, and I never had one."
"It makes me think either there's something wrong with me or there's something wrong with people who have heroes. I'm not sure which.
"The people that I've been most in awe of in my entire life... if they'd have asked me to carry them to the toilet, I would have said to them, 'Fuck you'!"