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.

Chris Cornell in Toronto

Almost lost amidst the dual fever dreams of the Blue Jays’ playoff run and an utterly chaotic trip to the Middle East (oh hi from Dubai!), a Chris Cornell concert at Massey Hall, where Sam and I had most recently watched Matt Berninger throw wine into the audience and crawl around the floor like a dog. Anyway. This was my third time seeing Cornell’s Songbook tour, all of which have been magical. It was Sam’s first time seeing Cornell in any of his many iterations. Here’s what he played:

Set:

  • Before We Disappear
  • Can’t Change Me
  • Moonchild
  • The Times, They Are A-Changin’ [Bob Dylan] (reworked by Cornell as “The Times, They Are A-Changin’ Back”)
  • As Hope & Promise Fade
  • Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart
  • Fell on Black Days
  • Thank You [Led Zeppelin] (a highlight, although the version on the Songbook album remains definitive)
  • River of Deceit [Mad Season] (the highlight for me. Honestly, one of the very best things I’ve ever seen at a concert; also, while I know it’s not a Cornell lyric, the line “now I can grow a beautiful shell for all to see” is one of my favourite things that’s ever been written.)
  • Hunger Strike [Temple of the Dog] (helluva follow-up, although…I mean, I’ve seen Temple of the Dog do this, twice, so nothing compares, y’know?)
  • Doesn’t Remind Me
  • Blow Up the Outside World (not crazy about this version)
  • Let Your Eyes Wander
  • Call Me a Dog [Temple of the Dog]
  • To Love Somebody [The Bee Gees]
  • When I’m Down
  • Worried Moon
  • Rusty Cage (played in the style of the Johnny Cash cover!)
  • I Am the Highway
  • Black Hole Sun
  • Nothing Compares 2 U [Prince] (…which has turned into a kind of viral hit; it’s stunning)
  • Ave Maria [Schubert]
  • Wooden Jesus [Temple of the Dog]

Encore:

  • Josephine
  • I Threw It All Away [Bob Dylan] (!)
  • Higher Truth

The opener, Hemming, was great too. Check her out.

My Favourite Concerts of 2013

Let’s keep on wrapping 2013! Here are the first best concerts I saw last year, starting with one of the strangest nights in my life as a music fan:

Pearl Jam, 7/19 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Pearl Jam at Wrigley was memorable for all kinds of reasons–including the show itself, which was interrupted by a 2-3/4-hour rain delay and ended at the stroke of 2am. Pearl Jam fans have been bemoaning what might’ve been quite literally since the show ended (thanks in part to a t-shirt featuring the actual planned setlist), but as an experience, both good and bad, Wrigley was pretty unique. Plus, it featured an Ernie Banks cameo, two Lightning Bolt premieres, the first-ever solo accordion “Bugs,” a searing take of the Pink Floyd song “Mother,” a tear-jerking “Come Back” dedication, and Eddie Vedder looking so damned proud the entire night your heart wanted to explode.

(Video by thesignaturelibrary)

Soundgarden, 1/25 and 1/26 at the Sound Academy in Toronto. Again, it’s a source of wonder that I’ve now seen Soundgarden three times–two of them at a club! All told we got thirty-nine different songs; “Jesus Christ Pose” from night one was the best of the bunch, but I also loved the first night’s killer opening, “Incessant Mace,” “Loud Love,” and spending five hours thisclose to Matt Cameron and Chris Cornell.

(Video by kikijetu)

Nine Inch Nails, 11/25 in Calgary. NIN was, top-to-bottom, one of the best shows I’ve seen in years. I hadn’t seen them since the infamous Kool Haus concert of 2005, after which I declared I’d never see them again because that initial exposure to their live show was so perfect. I held fast for eight years, even missing their arena tour with Queens of the Stone Age and Death From Above 1979. But when NIN came to Calgary for the final date of their Hesitation Marks tour, I caved. I’m glad I did: in addition to a killer setlist (“Sanctified”! “I’m Afraid of Americans”!), not to mention the presence of Lisa Fischer and Pino Palladino, the light show was as spectacular as anything I’ve seen this side of U2.

(Video by Ryan Howatt)

AmericanaramA, 7/15 in Toronto. AmericanaramA–headlined by Bob Dylan, featuring Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Richard Thompson–was, top-to-bottom, as good a lineup as you’re likely to encounter…and that’s before mentioning the Feist cameo (on a freaking Leonard Cohen cover of all things). Dylan was stupidly good, but Wilco and MMJ matched him stride-for-stride (sorry, mom and dad, but you were literally the only people there who didn’t like MMJ). And the cross-breeding on stage was something to behold; MMJ and Wilco jamming on “Cinnamon Girl,” for instance, spoke to all of heaven’s possibilities.

Queens of the Stone Age, 8/8 in Calgary. This was my fourth time seeing QOTSA, yet my first time seeing them as a headliner (unless you count the time Flaming Red and I saw them at the MuchMusic environment; that was surreal). The band’s 2013 album …Like Clockwork was on every single year-end best-of list; live, it burned, the songs fitting perfectly with the rest of the Queens’ catalogue. Going in, I wanted …Like Clockwork front-to-back (they’d done it at least once on the tour) and “Millionaire” and “Song for the Dead.” And while the former didn’t quite happen, the latter certainly did–along with a delirious, off-the-cuff “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” in the encore.

(Video by Ryan Howatt. It’s shaky, but it’s freaking awesome.)

Here’s to an equally good 2014! First up: Neil Young with Diana Krall at the Jack Singer. Might well be all downhill from there.

Chris Cornell in Calgary

He’s just so frigging good.

Set:

  • As Hope and Promise Fade
  • Say Hello 2 Heaven [Temple of the Dog]
  • Scar on the Sky
  • Dandelion [Audioslave]
  • Silence the Voices
  • I Am The Highway [Audioslave]
  • Sunshower
  • The Original Fire [Audioslave]
  • #1 Zero [Audioslave]
  • Halfway There [Soundgarden]
  • Fell on Black Days [Soundgarden]
  • Seasons
  • The Day I Tried To Live [Soundgarden]
  • When I’m Down
  • Thank You [Led Zeppelin]
  • Wooden Jesus [Temple of the Dog]
  • Call Me A Dog [Temple of the Dog]
  • Hunger Strike [Temple of the Dog] (with Bhi Bhiman)
  • A Day in the Life [Beatles]
Encore:
  • Bend in the Road (new; it reminded me of “Square One” by Tom Petty)
  • Billie Jean [Michael Jackson]
  • Lock the Doors (improv)
  • Black Hole Sun [Soundgarden]
  • Imagine [John Lennon]
As for the couple sitting next to us, a couple pointers:
  1. It’s never necessary to show up to an acoustic concert and observe the passing of each thirty seconds by yelling, “Woo!”
  2. The Beatles didn’t write “Imagine.” A Beatle wrote imagine; not the Beatles. Big difference.
Apart from that, and them, it was a great night, even though I didn’t like the show as much as the one I saw in Medicine Hat in 2011. Six-and-a-half years ago I drove from Napanee to Toronto to see Cornell for the first time, thinking I might never get the chance again. Since then I’ve seen him a second time with his former touring band, twice on his Songbook tour, three times with Soundgarden, and twice at PJ20. I wonder where he’ll turn up next?

Soundgarden at the Sound Academy, Night 2

It’s still a matter of some wonderment that Stuff and Nonsense now includes setlists from three Soundgarden concerts that I’ve attended. Tonight’s was better than last night’s. Again, just a setlist for now.

Set:

  • Searching With My Good Eye Closed
  • Jesus Christ Pose
  • Spoonman
  • By Crooked Steps
  • Gun
  • Rhinosaur
  • Outshined
  • Taree
  • Fell On Black Days
  • Blow Up the Outside World
  • Halfway There
  • Eyelid’s Mouth
  • Non-State Actor
  • Drawing Flies
  • Hunted Down
  • Loud Love (arguably the night’s high point)
  • Worse Dreams
  • The Day I Tried To Live
  • Been Away Too Long
  • Head Down
  • Burden In My Hand
  • Superunknown
  • Fresh Tendrils
  • Blood on the Valley Floor (it baffles me that the same band that wrote “Outshined” wrote “Blood on the Valley Floor”…but there you have it, I suppose)
  • 4th of July
Set:
  • Flower
  • Dusty
  • Rusty Cage
  • Beyond the Wheel (monstrous version)

Soundgarden at the Sound Academy, Night 1

I saw Soundgarden…well, technically yesterday, which means I’m also seeing them tonight. Anyway! Just a setlist for now. This night absolutely smoked.

Set:

  • Been Away Too Long
  • My Wave
  • Spoonman
  • Searching With My Good Eye Closed
  • Jesus Christ Pose (my undisputed personal highlight of the night…)
  • Let Me Drown
  • By Crooked Steps
  • Taree
  • Blow Up the Outside World
  • Fell on Black Days
  • Non-State Actor
  • Drawing Flies
  • Hunted Down
  • Ugly Truth
  • Live to Rise
  • Halfway There
  • Hands All Over
  • Room A Thousand Years Wide
  • Rhinosaur
  • Superunknown
  • Fresh Tendrils
  • Black Hole Sun
  • Attrition
  • Rusty Cage
Encore:
  • Outshined (…although this was a close second)
  • Flower
  • Incessant Mace
  • Slaves & Bulldozers
    • Rowing (snippet)
More later. Sleep now.