SOUNDGARDEN
ARTICLES

Reprinted without permission from Melody Maker, March 28, 1992

SOUNDGARDEN
by Ted Mico

DIVINE MADNESS
On the LA hotel TV it "Smells like teen spirit!". In Kim Thayil's hotel room, it smells like ... well, it smells like rotting carcasses.

"That's Divine," the Soundgarden guitarist explains.

No, it's not. It's revolting.

"No, it's Divine," the bearded Kim repeats. "Divine the transvestite, the John Waters movie star, died here, in this room and obviously some of he, she or it is still in the ventilation system. Do you think a corpse wearing a dress smells worse?"

I think it's time to move on.

When Marilyn Monroe committed suicide, the US suicide rate went up by 15 percent for four weeks after the event. It's surely beyond coincidence that the suicide rate last October dropped 10 percent -- the same month Soundgarden released their staggering album "Badmotorfinger". Most people were too busy having their craniums compacted by the Seattle four-piece even to be alert enough to consider ending it all. Six months later, the album's still climbing the US charts and hospital reports suggest that concussions are on the increase.

"Do you think Divine is still losing weight?" Kim asks, staring up at the heating vent.

I think it's time to move on.

RIFLE TOWERS
Last September, Soundgarden were asked to support Guns N'Roses on their October tour. October soon became November and still Axl was postponing dates. November became December, the phone never rang and the band found themselves starring in "Waiting for Axl". When it did finally happen, Soundgarden found themselves feeling the full force of the Guns N'Roses maelstrom. The headline band refused to go on stage until at least two hours after Soundgarden, Axl would have the backstage cleared before he even entered the enormo-domes. "Just in case someone looked at him and his head exploded," Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd says sarcastically. Even the hotel lobbies where Guns were staying on the tour had to be cleared for them whenever they deigned to make an appearance.

Now, Soundgarden are known as a ...

"An alternative underground punk rock metal band?"

Yeah, thank you Kim. And a band who have never exactly loved rock'n'roll excess. In short, they're to osmart to buy into most of "Hammer Of The Gods" and end up collecting bad attitudes and bad drug habits like so many of their compatriots.

The prospect of touring with the masters of debauchery must have brought fears of corruption.

"Most of it's tedious," explains vocalist Chris Cornell. "We just thought most of the stories surrounding Guns N'Roses were media generated -- people looking for a story. Nothing spectacular ever happened."

So the story about you being found naked with a llama, a pregnant donkey and a family size jar of Hellman's mayonnaise was completely fictitious?

"Oh no," Chris says. "That was completely true."

"I thought you were found with Mario Cuomo?" Kim enquires.

"No, he was choking on my vomit while you were simultaneously sticking your thumb up your ass and fending off Ben's big toe."

Clearly, Soundgarden are more comfortable as a headline act than a supporting attraction.

"It's kinda cool headlining," Cornell agrees. "Because we can now play a theatre and we have a recognisable audience that know all the lyrics."

"Sometimes," Kim interrupts, "I can hear the audience more than I can hear Chris who's standing right next to me. We also get to see how each different city chants Soundgarden -- the fateful three-syllable band. In Florida, they just go, "Garden, Garden." In Germany, they stress each syllable with equal ferocity. In Britain, they just go "Mud-hon-ey."

It must be time to move on.

HELL OR NIRVANA
The release of "Badmotorfinger" coincided with a time when the walls of a strictly compartmentalised US music business were tumbling down. Metallica had just stormed in at Number One and Nirvana were just about to follow suit. The greater depth and colour and the rib-cage kicking riffs of "Badmotorfinger" were, however, more rewarding than either "Metallica" or "Nevermind" and went a long way to fulfilling the band's original slogan "Total Fucking Godhead".

"It was bound to happen," Chris claims. "Bands like Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails have been embraced by either TV or radio because younger people have moved into positions of power. And as far as Guns N'Roses are concerned, there were people who wanted more than just another corporate rock band. I'm sure the industry is surprised that any of these bands are successful. The only issue was how many times you had to hit the music business here over the head before they finally realizes they were marketing the wrong groups to the wrong audience."

"From Metallica to Jane's Addiction, gradually the walls are getting kicked down," Kim concludes. "I take great pleasure in the fact that an awful lot of big-budget corporate rock acts have been failing to sell any tickets, because it means that the industry has failed in its conception of what the audience wants."

"And believe me," Chris adds, "this industry needed a slap in the face because it should never have been allowed to produce so much commercially contrived music in the first place. Music driven by money deserves to fail. Somehow people have managed to create a production standard that makes everything sound inhuman and horrible. The bands that are now bustin' through have records that sound like they've been made by human beings. I believe anything formulaic will eventually be recognised as that, which is good news for the likes of Perry Farrell and Kurt Cobain, who despite their success, refuse to allow people to put anchors around them."

Soundgarden have always treated the record industry with a combination of distance, distrust and disgust. Even at the beginning of their career, the major labels who sent white limos to pick up the band in an attempt to impress them were rudely awakened when the band gobbed over the vehicles. Although doors have always opened for Soundgarden, they've always been wary about what's on the other side and they seem all too aware that success tweaks the synapse gaps. It's said that Elvis would fly to Texas just for a milk shake and then fly straight back home.

"That could never happen to us," Chris retorts, "largely because we hate to fly. Although I see us as able to have million-selling records, I can never see us as a Top 10 middle of the road band. There's nothing we do that's that accessible."

Although the new single, "Jesus Christ Pose", is an attack on fashion magazines using images of persecution rather than a more controversial anti-religious rant, Soundgarden's uncompromising stance matches their fearful guitar caterwaul of sound.

"If you're in the Top 10 in America, a lot of your audience has to be housewives and accountants and I don't really think we speak for those people," Kim says. "I certainly don't understand them. In fact I don't really understand anyone except me and even that I can't figure out sometime."

"I think young people are more likely to like us than housewives, who don't usually go for organic rock," Chris continues. "Young people don't like to be told what to like, although they can certainly be tricked into it.

"We hear a lot of shit now, especially in the US, about censorship and parental rights groups. I was on an artists panel and there was this guy sounding off about how terrible it was that pressure groups were always enforcing negative stuff about metal, but the fact is, a 16-year-old kid wouldn't buy the Soundgarden album if he thought his parents would approve. If it was a pretty picture painted by music, it wouldn't be rock'n'roll, it'd be elevator music."

Somehow, I can't imagine hearing Soundgarden in a lift.

"If we put Soundgarden in elevators," Kim adds, "more people would take the stairs!"

Time to move up.

HIDE AND SEEK
Soundgarden are still ambitious. Make no mistake: these people want to clean up.

"As far as Soundgarden are concerned," says Kim, "I think I speak for all of us when I say our sole ambition is to have a huge hit, make a shitload of money and then hide. As a functioning member of society, my whole goal is to remove myself from it. That's why Michael Jackson had a race change operation -- so he could hide in Beverly Hills."

"What about not selling any records, making no money and working for the peace corps, Kim?" Chris asks. The suggestion goes down like the Hindenberg.

"That would mean I'd be serving people and I don't want to do anything except for myself."

"If murder was legal, Kim, who would you take out to dinner next Thursday?" Chris asks.

"If property was theft, who would I rob blind?" Kim rambles, as voluble as ever. "Or what would I own? Ignorance is slavery, war is bliss, freedom is cleanliness, four legs: good. Three legs: hmmm, better..."

It's difficult to tell what colour the sky is in Kim's world, but it ain't blue.

"If Soundgarden were a food, would you serve a white wine, red wine or port with it?" Chris asks.

"A hand," Ben Shepherd answers. He's smiling, but unfortunately, he doesn't look like he's joking. I think it's time to move on.

SEX MARKS THE SPOT
As singers go, Chris Cornell's charisma goes a long way. He's a good looking guy. Very good looking. Obscenely good looking. He's pursued by thousands of girls, yet has little time for his role as sex god ("It's so annoying that most of the interviews I do are with women who always say things like, "I'd like to get to know the real you" and then ask dumb questions like what colour underwear I've got on!"). The band may be proud of the fact that a couple fucked during a recent gig in Cleveland, yet Soundgarden's sexual politics are supremely right on for a metal band (ie, they engage women in conversation, not just ask, "Do you swallow?) and the quartet are often thought to be dour and humourless despite the fact they're one of the few metal bands with an IQ bigger than their hat size.

"People still wonder if we have a sense of humour, even though we do songs like "Big Dumb Sex," Chris complains. "People never get the wit. We get a lot of mail from fans thanking us, saying, "You seem to understand what I'm going through." Sometimes I am trying to say something, and sometimes I'm not saying a damn thing! And people still can't understand why we're really rude to women after the show who assume we're open for business."

"Although sexually, we wouldn't mind some bimbette riding on top of us, intellectually, we couldn't cope," Kim adds. "And besides, who wants to see their syphilitic scars? "Nice wound you got there, bitch." Morons come in both sexes, though. The guys go, "What strings do you use" and I just think, "It ain't gonna help _you_." Most of our fans are really intelligent, but those aren't the type of people who hang out backstage. And as far as humour is concerned, we'd have to dress up like The Tubes before people thought anything we did was wry or funny."

Is "Badmotorfinger" a record you can have sex to without causing permanent injuries?

"I think it's strictly a shaggable record for the more athletic and creative," Kim offers. "That's what Soundgarden is all about; it makes people go, 'I really want to do this, but I have absolutely no idea how, it's 69 minus 32 and page 17 of the Karma Sutra...'"

I think it's time to move on.

WASHINGTON STATES
Although technically Soundgarden used to be a Sub Pop band (their first release was through the label), the band are now heartily sick of questions about Sub Pop, Seattle and how wonderful it must be to come from such a musically fecund city.

This probably has a lot to do with the animosity they've recently provoked among their former peers. They were recently dismissed by Mudhoney's Mark Arm, for instance, as the Rush of Seattle (it should have been the Sabbath) and there's obviously little love lost between them, Mudhoney and Nirvana.

At Soundgarden's recent Underworld show, Chris introduced the band saying, "We're Soundgarden, we come from Nirva ... sorry, Seattle." The big difference between Soundgarden and the other two bands is that Soundgarden are a rock band (Nirvana are a power pop band) and they're also the band that put the art into articulate.

"We could have come from anywhere," Cornell explains. "We've had the cards stacked against us more than any other band from the city because we got attention before Sub Pop and national and international before anyone else. It wasn't that we were lucky coming from Seattle, it was because of us and a few other bands not changing and gaining success that any kind of scene exists there now. Now people from Kansas want to move, form a band in Seattle and sound like Tad. And it's just my dumb luck that I keep running into them when I'm home."

In fact, Soundgarden have more in common with the relentles and merciless barrage of Killing Joke than any Sub Pop grunge.

"It was the primal metalness of Killing Joke that first attracted me," Cornell explains, "and in the early Eighties, even the word metal was laughable in the new music movement of the time. I was a metal fan in the late Seventies -- bands like Sabbath and Zeppelin, but I hated the giant arena rock shit with lasers and make up and kimonos. Even Robert Plant was guilty of going way off in that pouting direction. Killing Joke were the band that brought me back to rock again. I think we've paid our musical dues."

They may have paid their dues, but they've never starved. As Chris rightly points out, "We're too smart to starve. Anybody can get food, that's easy."

"Preparing it and finding a fine wine to accompany it is where things get a little tricky," Kim adds.

I think it's time to move on. Soundgarden already have and are merely waiting for everyone else to catch up. Hurry now.