This is a love story. It is not unique. I’ve lived others like it, and so have you. Like many love stories, this one ends with tears, confusion, and a lot of reminiscing about its beginning. Where it began was 1991, a time in my memory that is strange, dark, and forever distorted by a thick layer of time and smoke. It was an unhappy time, immersed in anger, abuse, and large amounts of cheap booze. My mother and my boyfriend at the time had a weird and wildly inappropriate thing going on together. When I’d catch them in the act, they responded by telling me I was crazy. I felt crazy. This was compounded by the fact that we three lived in the same house. I wanted him to leave. She did not. Every day, I was furious and frustrated. But, one day, just as 1991 was nearly at an end, on a not so very special day in December, something on the TV caught my attention.
MTV was always on then. It was normal to leave it playing like a radio in the background, because it aired actual music videos. Sitting on my bedroom floor, hating everything my life had become, I glanced up at the TV. What I saw and heard reminded me everything does not suck, that there were still new things to get excited about. I fell in love instantly.
The situation came to a horrible end a few months later, in the spring of ’92. The boyfriend landed in jail. I ended up bruised and scarred, estranged from my mother, couch surfing with friends. But, it was okay. Things were better. I survived, and was only homeless for the summer. In the fall, armed with some books and small handful of cassette tapes, I moved from Colorado to Florida. It was lonely. There were few people who I meshed with; the sense of not belonging was constant. I felt most comfortable when I was in my room, face in a book, with my music. The Doors. Danzig IV. Van Halen’s Diver Down. Megadeth. Ten, the first album from Pearl Jam. Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger. Sounds to fit my isolation and teenage angst.
Those sounds, among many others helped to get me through until a year later, when I went home to Colorado. At first, this seemed like reason to celebrate. A big homecoming. Reuniting with all my friends back home. But, I was 19 years old and didn’t know anything. A couple of weeks before I left Florida, I received a phone call. Due to a series of fucked up events, my friend Drew was dead. He was shot during a domestic situation, and nothing in the world made sense to me. Going home didn’t help me to come to grips with anything. I returned to a scene I no longer fit into. Life had, of course, continued on without me and my place in the lives of other people had shifted. None of this was supposed to happen. I didn’t know how to process my grief and was prone to abrupt tearful outbursts at weird times. I was annoyed with my friends, and annoyed them in return. One of the only things that helped was to spend time alone with my pain, listening to it. It wasn’t only my hurt and mourning I listened to. I’m not that much of a weirdo.
I’d graduated from cassettes to CDs by then, and Temple of the Dog was on repeat for a very long time. It was what I needed – loud songs written in the key of grief. I fell in love again. I absorbed every word. Some wounds began to heal. Others remained open. I moved to the next town, realizing I couldn’t go back in time to the people we all used to be. I had to grow up. I had to mourn, get up, and get on with life. I had to move forward, even though it was difficult and I was still shitty and miserable. Time not spent working was spent on the couch doing bong hits. Black Hole Sun was in heavy rotation on MTV. The movie Singles was always on cable somewhere, if you just channel surfed a little.
A weird grunge effect was taking place and swallowing everything. In 1995, one of the hard rock stations in Denver suddenly changed its slogan from “KBPI Rocks the Rockies” to “The New Music Revolution,” and had stopped playing Metallica and AC/DC in favor of “alternative” music like Better Than Ezra and Smashing Pumpkins. (They changed their slogan back a few years later.)
Nirvana unfairly received most of the blame for killing the metal. I liked Nirvana, but they didn’t kick my ass like Stone Temple Pilots. They weren’t Alice in Chains. They didn’t rock your face off. They weren’t Soundgarden. After I moved to France, I met so many people who were nuts about Nirvana. Kurt Cobain changed everything, on and on. You’ve heard it. I always responded with, “But, Soundgarden…” or, “Sure, but Chris Cornell…” and, “Well, Soundgarden was first…” or maybe some snobby shit about Badmotorfinger or how Cornell was an objectively better singer, or something along those lines. You know how people get when they’re defending their music. (You do it, too. You know you do. I told you, this love story is not unique.)
Before I knew what hit me, I had morphed into a middle-aged person. I fell in love with new things. I forgot about others. From time to time, I’d pull some Soundgarden or Temple of the Dog from my iTunes or Spotify. Or Chris Cornell. Or Audioslave. Then, I’d go back to regular life. It was nice to know that those songs were still there for me when I needed them. Nicer still, was that he continued to make new songs. He was growing older, and so was I. He was no longer feral, screaming, and shirtless, back lit by flames. And I was no longer a young girl prone to giddiness at such things. There is something to be said for the experience of growing older along with your heroes.
Not long ago, while working on a novella I was writing, I hit a wall. My story went off the rails a bit, and I needed to right the ship. I couldn’t come up with a title, and had lost my grip on the story’s theme. I went back to the beginning of my book and began reading. The story takes place in 1991. In the opening chapter, the main characters are listening to Soundgarden. I set my manuscript aside, opened up Spotify, and started listening to Badmotorfinger again. I did nothing, aside from sitting there listening to each and every word, waiting to be transported to 1991. I had no lyric sheet. Instead, I had web sites devoted to song lyrics. I read along as I listened.
When I got to Mind Riot, I broke through the wall. Thanks to a line in the song, my story had a title. I wrapped both my hands tight around the story’s theme, and the first draft was finished soon after.
I’ll always maintain that Soundgarden helped me to finish that book. And yeah, I do realize that making a thing, then naming that thing based on a Soundgarden lyric isn’t exactly new.
Sometimes, too, I do copywriting. Small articles or blog posts for various clients for a little bit of money in between my own writing projects. Sometimes, these articles are often just informative or instructional, where I don’t get to play around much creatively. But, there are other times where I get to write about things I’m into. A couple of months ago, I got paid to write a biography of Soundgarden. And I was pretty happy about it, just to be able to read and write about them for an afternoon.
I don’t know why some people decide to tap out and make an exit. It makes me sad for a lot of reasons, some of which I can’t articulate well because they’re just too fucking hard and it’s too goddamn much. But, I don’t need to dissect reports of final moments, analyze footage of final performances, or listen to arguments and speculation about how or why. The bottom line is, when a life is cut short, it’s horrible, and causes shockwaves of pain. Art, books, music, these things are powerful. They fucking matter and sometimes, they save us, even if the person who created them could not save themselves. What saved us is still there. The thing that inspired us to make our own art stays behind. Everything we fell in love with remains.
But… you already know this. This love story isn’t unique. You’ve lived your own, much like this one.
Don’t try to do it
Don’t try to kill your time
You might do it
Then you can’t change your mind
You’ve got to hold on to your time
Till you break through these
Times of trouble