No One Sings Like You Anymore

Today, for the first time in exactly two months, I was able to listen to Chris Cornell’s voice and remain relatively unaffected. I knew it’d be tough; I honestly didn’t think it’d be this tough.

The week he died I erased almost all my Chris Cornell and Soundgarden related writing in a fit of grief-stricken pique – a decision I now regret. I won’t erase this. It’s hard listening, but dammit I won’t lose this man’s music or his voice from my life. And so I’ll continue to listen, continue to mourn, until I’m able to forget how he died and remember instead what he gave me and millions of other people while he was still alive.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers in Toronto

Set:

  • Rockin’ Around (With You)
  • Mary Jane’s Last Dance
  • You Don’t Know How It Feels
  • Forgotten Man
  • I Won’t Back Down
  • Free Fallin’
  • Walls
  • Don’t Come Around Here No More
  • It’s Good to Be King
  • Crawling Back to You
  • Wildflowers
  • Learning to Fly
  • Yer So Bad
  • I Should Have Known It
  • Refugee (which, alas, didn’t really turn into a Mike Campbell firework display; his playing last night, while brilliant, was understated)
  • Runnin’ Down a Dream

Encore:

  • You Wreck Me
  • American Girl

Next up: Blondie (with Garbage!) and X.

U2 in Toronto

More later. Promise.

Set:

  • Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • New Year’s Day
  • Bad
    • Suzanne [Leonard Cohen] (this was superlative; also, in the name of full disclosure, for the second straight time the opening notes of “Bad” reduced me to tears)
  • Pride (In the Name of Love)

The Joshua Tree:

  • Where the Streets Have No Name
  • I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
  • With or Without You
  • Bullet the Blue Sky
  • Running to Stand Still
  • Red Mill Mining Town
  • In God’s Country
  • Trip Through Your Wire
  • One Tree Hill
  • Exit
  • Mothers of the Disappeared

Encore:

  • Miss Sarajevo
  • Beautiful Day
  • Elevation (surprisingly awesome!)
  • Vertigo (surprisingly really awesome!)
  • Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
  • One

…and then Bono shouted, “One more!” and…

  • I Will Follow

It wasn’t quite Moncton or Vancouver 2015…but it was damn close, and The Joshua Tree live was incredible top-to-bottom.

Tool in Hamilton

Better late than never, it’s the setlist from last week’s killer Tool show at Copps Coliseum FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton, where I’d previously seen them (along with Mike Patton’s penis) in 2002.

Set:

  • The Grudge (first time since that aforementioned 2002 show!)
  • Parabol (ditto!)
  • Parabola (ditto!)
  • Schism
  • Opiate
  • Ænema
  • Descending (an instrumental song which, apparently, represents new Tool music?)
  • Jambi
  • Third Eye (highlight of the night; I was not expecting this, especially not in the back end of the set)
  • Forty-Six & 2

Encore (the band left the stage after “Forty-Six & 2” and a neon “Intermission” sign was lowered):

  • Drum solo
  • Vicarious
  • Sweat
  • (-) Ions
    • Stinkfist

The visuals alone were worth the price of admission. Now about that new album…

There’s Just One Thing Left to Be Said

Chris Cornell is dead – those words still don’t make sense – and I haven’t stopped thinking about him since I got HLP Paul’s text (which read, simply, “Chris Cornell,” followed by the shocked emoji) and became catatonic early Thursday. At first I avoided his voice (and music in general), then actively sought it out: I listened to Temple of the Dog, which helped, then “Seasons,” which didn’t, before moving onto Audioslave for the first time in ages. I’ve been avoiding it again this weekend. The thoughts, meanwhile, have been non-stop but incoherent, which I suppose is inevitable when someone who’s been in your life for twenty years, suddenly passes away.

One thought, though, has stuck, and that’s the awful image of his final moments on this earth: Chris Cornell – husband, father, beloved rock star, and my favourite singer of all-time – dead in a hotel bathroom. He changed the world; he changed me. And he died alone, almost certainly by his own hand.

I’ve never been suicidal, and so I can’t imagine the sort of hell Chris Cornell must’ve been occupying in order to consider ending his life, let alone acting on those thoughts. His lyrics offer the best clues (see “When I’m Down” from Euphoria Mourning, for instance), but beyond empathizing with his plight we can’t know what he was thinking or feeling when he arrived back at the MGM Grand Detroit following Soundgarden’s concert at the Fox Theatre. But whenever someone kills themselves, especially someone rich and famous, someone else will almost invariably offer the option that he (or she) shouldn’t have been depressed because he (or she) was rich and famous. That opinion is bullshit. And that’s because mental illness doesn’t. give. a. shit.

Mental illness didn’t give a shit that Chris Cornell and his band were scheduled to play Columbus Friday night. Mental illness didn’t give a shit that Robin Williams was funny. Mental illness didn’t give a shit that Kurt Cobain had been crowned as the voice of his generation; in fact, mental illness used that against him. Mental illness didn’t care about those men; it didn’t care about their wives or kids or careers or money. It doesn’t care about me. And it doesn’t care about you, either.

That, to me, is the lesson to be drawn from Cornell’s death. To borrow from Lin-Manuel Miranda: mental illness doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints. Thinking that it does is how stigma metastasizes. Rich Larson, who wrote a far more eloquent Cornell eulogy than mine, nailed this point to the wall when he wrote:

Cornell is speaking to us all one last time. This isn’t something we left behind with our twenties. This isn’t something cured by age or financial security. This isn’t something you “outgrow.” If it’s allowed to fester, depression is stronger than wisdom. Depression is insidious and tenacious. Depression can get to anybody. It can make you feel like an old man at 27. It can make you feel lost as a child at 52.

Chris Cornell was sick. In some cases, depression is little more than a blip in a person’s life. In others, it can be fatal if left untreated. Please: don’t let it get to that point. Reach out (or reach down, if you prefer). Don’t assume mental illness can be outrun, because in a lot of instances it can’t. But it can be managed, and that starts with a single conversation. If there’s a silver lining to Chris Cornell’s death – and I have to believe there is – it’s that it might help one single person open up. And that’s something to cling to, even as we continue to mourn.

On Last Night’s Bike Ride

Last week I slashed my antidepressant dosage by a third, from 15mg a day to 10. My OCD’s at a point where it hardly ever affects me: I haven’t had a flare-up since last October, if not last July, and while that doesn’t mean I’m “cured” or anything (since there is no cure) it’s still a wonderful development.

But. Psychotropic drugs are meant to mess with your body, and any sort of adjustment, big or small, is going to have an impact. I’ve felt “off” since last week, and yesterday I was so lethargic I could hardly sit upright, let alone stand. Nonetheless, after work I came home, hopped on the bike, and went for a ride. We’re just a little over three weeks out from the Ride to Conquer Cancer; I need to get my miles in, withdrawal symptoms be damned. On my way back, riding alongside Lake Ontario into a brilliant early-evening sunset, I passed the Molson Amphitheatre, whose new corporate name I refuse to use.

I started thinking about some of the shows I’d seen there. Weezer. Aerosmith. Oasis and Pearl Jam twice each. Tom Petty. Robert Plant. Black Sabbath. And then another thought occurred to me: in spite of all I’ve seen there I’d never seen a truly transcendent Amphitheatre show. It’s my least-favourite major venue in Toronto. I don’t like the amphitheatre-style setup to begin with; the chore of entering and (especially) exiting the venue puts a damper on pre-show anticipation and gnaws away at any lingering post-concert bliss. It’s a tough room.

And then I realized: “Hey, this is where I saw Soundgarden for the first time!” It was one of the most special nights in my life as a music fan, the thing I dreamed would one day happen but that didn’t seem possible until I was actually down in the pit looking up at Kim Thayil, Ben Shepherd, Matt Cameron, and Chris Cornell. Isn’t Soundgarden playing Detroit tonight? I thought to myself. Sherkin and I had talked about getting tickets, but neither of us was sure if we’d be able to make it and then let the subject go.

And so I biked home, ate dinner, and went to bed. When I woke up, Chris Cornell had died of suicide, aged 52.

Hamilton

Bumping into Jimmy Page at the Strand was cool, but by no means was it the highlight of mine and Sam’s trip to New York. On Saturday, we finally saw Hamilton.

By now you likely know at least two things about Hamilton: it’s the biggest hit (and I don’t think this is an exaggeration) in Broadway history and tickets are both outlandishly expensive and incredibly difficult to procure. It’d become a mini saga for us. I had a chance to see Hamilton a month after its Broadway opening but balked at the asking price ($200; oh, if only I’d known). Later that year Sam and I toyed with the idea of doing the ticket lottery – front row, $10 – before deciding against standing out on 46th Street in the dead of winter for a minuscule chance at getting in (we threw away our shot, as it were). We thought we’d succeeded through Ticketmaster last January, only to have our seats swiped out from under us. In June, finally, we pulled it off. We didn’t pay nearly as much as you might assume, but they were still comfortably the most expensive tickets we’ve ever bought.

IMG_6753

Two people donating their wedding budget to Lin-Manuel Miranda

Also: we ordered them in June, which means we had to wait for it (as it were) for almost a year. And after that build-up…I won’t actually say much about the show, since I know not many of you will have seen it yet. (I’d been in Hamilton blackout since January, when I stopped listening to both the cast recording and The Hamilton Mixtape.) I will, however, say this: as excited as we were, Hamilton blew our expectations away, and it blew them away almost immediately. “My Shot,” which is the second song in the show, is also one of my least-favourites; the line “I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry” makes me cringe. When it ended I burst into laughter, uttered a four-letter epithet, and teared up. It was simply overwhelming, and both of us were done for. And that’s how I reacted to a song I didn’t like. You should’ve seen me during “The Room Where it Happened.”

I’ve long maintained that Hamilton might actually be underrated: it’s become such a cultural juggernaut that it’s easy to forget it won the Pulitzer. Seeing the show reinforced that idea. When it was over Sam and I had two immediate reactions. The first was to burst into giggles before wandering, dazed, from the Richard Rogers Theatre. The second was to look at one another and say, “Now what?” Not as in “what do we want to do with the rest of our night?” but “what do we want to do with the rest of our lives?” Only Tommy‘s ever had a similar impact. And that, coming from me, is the ultimate compliment.