Reprinted without permission from Select, June
THE THINK TANK
Soundgarden's Chris Cornell muses on alcohol, nuns and The Presidents of The United States of America.
Q: You were reputedly a problem child, expelled from school for fighting and drug taking. How much truth is in this story?
A: I wasn't more troublesome or violent than anybody else. I just had kind of a big mouth. Both my parents were intelligent and I was never kept down from thinking for myself. So when a nun told me what to do and it didn't make any sense, I was questioning everything. And they didn't really have any answers. I was causing problems so my mom pulled me out of that school and away from the Catholic Church. After that, I got straight into drugs and ignored school altogether. I don't remember doing much. I could get away with it because I looked so young and innocent. I remember going to classes high as a kite, and teachers wouldn't notice at all, but the other students would go 'Jesus, your wasted!' The stuff I did as a kid was the typical vandalism and stealing and drugs - it's what everyone does.
Q: Have you really got such a big gob? For a rock singer, you're quite introverted.
A: Sometimes I get really mouthy. I went through a period where I drank a lot. I'd get really confrontational and regret it so much the next day when I'd sobered up. Then something started clicking inside me, a mechanism that started shutting my mouth for me when I'd had too many drinks. The problem is, for the last two years I've ended up drinking way too much, and the reason I didn't quit is because I'd never do anything drastically wrong. I'd never crash my car or get into fights or say something bad about someone I cared about.
Q: Is riding motorcycles still a big rush for you?
A: If you get on a motorcycle and start driving fast, there's no way you can think about anything other than what you're doing because you have to concentrate, so it's a great way to clear your head and forget about everything. It's better than alcohol. Alcohol is a more dangerous drug than pot. There's a big campaign in the US saying that marijuana leads to other drugs. I've never seen that ever. I always figure that alcohol leads to other drugs, because when you get drunk, you're fearless and you'll try anything.
Q: What do you make of Seattle's current music scene? Does the rise of a fun band like POTUSOA signal the death of grunge?
A: I don't think that's the case. The scene that Soundgarden came out of in the mid '80s had a lot of different styles of music which The Presidents could have easily fitted into. Not all the music in Seattle was entirely guitar-based hard rock, fuzzy guitars and punk rock. There was a lot of arty music that was really big, post-punk bands that were big on The Birthday Party and The Cramps. When certain Seattle bands started getting all that attention, they were the rock bands, the moodier and more cynical bands, because at the time everybody was so fed up with the party rock of the '80s - Poison, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi. Everyone was really refreshed by this cynicism, probably in the same way that people are refreshed by Britpop. So a lot of bands got overlooked, bands that could have been comparable to The Presidents.
Q: Speaking of Britpop, did you enjoy Cockergate?
A: I thought it was great. I really don't understand why Michael Jackson gets any support from the music industry at all. I don't know who his fans are. He's certainly not vital. Somebody's gotta shoot him down. He's putting his ass out there waiting for somebody to do it. His ego is so over the top, it's amazing that someone didn't mess with him sooner.
Q: Would you have done what Jarvis did given half a chance and a couple of drinks inside you?
A: Absolutely. Jarvis probably had more than a couple of drinks inside him when he did it, but hats off to him. It's nice to see somebody with a certain degree of intelligence have the balls to make a statement like that. You never know what you're getting into when you screw with someone like Michael Jackson in public. It's probably not much different to beating the hell out of Prince William. That's what Michael Jackson thins he is: a royal. That's why he pays hundreds of thousands of dollars for statues of himself to be sent all over the world so people can see him. But it's a really bad pop star who wants to change his race - openly. He's turned into a really ugly white woman. Then again, I guess there's been several generations of white rock guys trying to be perceived as black. They just didn't wear shoe polish on their faces.
Q: You were one of the first rock stars to cut off their hair at the turn of the '90s. It was said that you were distancing yourself from the likes of Eddie Vedder. Was it really such a symbolic gesture?
A: Everybody gets tired of the way they look. One day I just cut my hair off. I was at home alone writing songs. Everybody was out of town. I was being really reclusive. Got bored. I never liked having haircuts, which is why I had long hair in the first place, but it's not much of a challenge to shave your head.
Q: You're married to Soundgarden's manager, Susan Silver. How do you keep from cutting each other's heads off?
A: We're both pretty good at avoiding things we don't want to deal with. The only time it causes problems is when we get into arguments, which we do often. You're angry with each other, which makes it difficult to say, 'OK, that discussion's over, now we're married people.' You just can't shut off that anger, but we do about as good as you can do with that. We don't really hold grudges. It's not personal, it's business. There are a lot of pluses too. She's always going to know where I'm coming from and I'm always going to let her know where the band's coming from. I'll champion the band as much as her. I'm in a privileged position. I can be sympathetic to both sides. Sometimes I'm a go-between, but at least I know what's going on.
Q: Most people think of Soundgarden as deadly serious, all very grunge noir. But you've recorded some amusing little tunes, like 665-667 from the cheekily-titled first album Ultramega OK. Is Soundgarden humour just too oblique, Chris?
A: Maybe. With Ultramega OK we really liked the songs on that record but we were disappointed in the production. We were sort of making fun of the finished product. It was 'Ultramega Alright'. 'Ultramega could have been better but not bad.'
Q: It's not all misery in Soundgarden then?
A: No. And don't forget we also did a cover of John Lennon's One Minute Of Silence. And we actually recorded our version, we didn't just leave one second of silence on the record. We might have done a couple of takes of it too.