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.

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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’ve hardly 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. The thoughts about him haven’t been coherent, which I guess 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 casino hotel bathroom. He changed the world; he changed me. And he died alone, by his own hand.

I’ve never been suicidal, 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. However, when someone kills themselves, especially someone rich and famous, someone else will almost invariably offer the opinion 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 was a rock star worth an estimate $60-million. 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; it used that against him, actually. 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 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.

Where Giants Roam the Earth

Sam and I spent the weekend in New York, mostly so we could see musicals that end with the shows’ titular characters dying by gunshot wounds. We also went to our favourite bookstore, the Strand, on three separate occasions, and during the second visit something genuinely surreal occurred.

Some context. We were staying at an Airbnb on St. Marks Place, just down from #96-98 – which feature on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti record (as well as the Rolling Stones video “Waiting on a Friend”). We’d actually sought the buildings out during a previous trip, and when we walked passed them on Friday we wondered aloud why Zeppelin had chosen those two seemingly nondescript apartments from the tens of thousands of other ones in New York. Later in the Strand, perhaps subconsciously searching for an answer, I made my way to the music section and…

I ran into Jimmy Page.

Again: I ran into Jimmy Page. The context made it even weirder, but…I mean, it was Jimmy Page and he was book-browsing at the Strand like a normal person, which he is not, because he is Jimmy Page. I very casually walked upstairs, found Sam, put my arms around her neck, gazed deep into her beautiful eyes, and whispered: “Sam. Jimmy Page is downstairs.” Are you sure? she asked. Two thousand percent, I told her. And so back down we went–and sure enough there he was, now browsing in (I’m not making this up: it’s too perfect) MYTHOLOGY & OCCULT – Divination – Mythology/Folklore.

Sam and I spent the next fifteen minutes mulling over the appropriate move. In the end we decided no move was the best move: he was with his girlfriend, and it would’ve been obtrusive, and besides which neither of us is the world’s biggest Zeppelin fan (although her dad might be). And then Jimmy and his girlfriend – Scarlett Sabet – ambled over to the record section…and he pulled out a copy of Physical Graffiti and inspected the cover.

We were both too flabbergasted to react.

I’m usually able to play it pretty cool around famous people: they are, after all, just people, and I’ve worked around them off-and-on since I was 21. Of course, only three people on earth were in Led Zeppelin. One of them was standing next to me on Friday, and for one of the few times in my life I was rendered completely speechless.

And we still don’t know why they picked those two buildings.