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.

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.

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.

My Favourite Concerts of 2011

It’s time for the Nonsense Year in Review, starting with my favourite concerts from 2011. I’ve learned to spend my money more discriminatingly (largely because ticket prices are spiralling uncontrollably), and 2011 proved to be a banner year. It was dominated by U2 and Pearl Jam and Chris Cornell; it featured one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, the fulfillment of a dream, two famous cameos, and lots of Mother Love Bone covers. I think you’ll agree I did quite well.

U2 w/Arcade Fire and Carney (“Magnetic Hill Music Festival”), 7/30 at Magnetic Hill in Moncton, NB. The final night of U2’s record-breaking 360° Tour brought “the Claw” to the bottom of a giant hill in Atlantic Canada, thousands of miles both literally and figuratively from where I’d first seen the tour back in April. La Plata and, later, Edmonton were both memorable–but Moncton, which also featured an hour-long opening set by Arcade Fire, is one of my all-time pantheon concerts. A truly special night.

Video: “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” (from JiffySpook). Also worth watching: this proshot video of “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)” which ends with Bono improvising a moving verse about the tour’s end.

Soundgarden w/Coheed and Cambria, 7/2 at Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto, ON. Seeing Soundgarden was, in many respects, the realization of my ultimate rock n’ roll fantasy. I barely allowed myself to dream it might one day happen–but when it actually did, and when the second song was “Searching With My Good Eye Closed,” my response was predictably ecstatic. And that’s before I saw Matt Cameron play “Jesus Christ Pose” live.

Video: “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” (from leblancdaniel469)

PJ20, 9/3-4 at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, WI. Pearl Jam threw itself a weekend-long birthday bash in rural Wisconsin–and remarkably, I didn’t even decide to go till earlier that same week. I’m glad I did: the entire weekend was memorable, and apart from Pearl Jam (more on them in a second) we got two impressive nights from Queens of the Stone Age. As for the headliners, the six hours of Pearl Jam were obviously great–but what pushed the performances over the top were two guest appearances from Chris Cornell, two resurrections of Temple of the Dog…and on night one, with Sherkin and I looking on in astonishment, a cover of “Stardog Champion” by Mother Love Bone. The other highlight? “Release,” Pearl Jam’s first song of the weekend, against which all future versions of “Release” will be measured and found wanting.

Video: “Stardog Champion” with Chris Cornell (from JeffgardenConcerts). A quick note on “Stardog Champion”: if, before the weekend, you’d have let me draw up a dream scenario for the festival it’d have been this. Seriously.

Chris Cornell, 4/27 at Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre in Medicine Hat, AB. Chris Cornell skipped Calgary on his recent Songbook tour, opting instead to play three hours away at the gorgeous 700-seat Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre in Medicine Hat. No matter: I’d have driven twice as far to see my favourite singer, especially with the promise of him without any accompaniment. Two songs in particular–an electric guitar version of the Badmotorfinger song “Mind Riot” and an acoustic take of Mother Love Bone’s “Man of Golden Words”–left my mouth, quite literally, agape.

Video: “Mind Riot” (from KeithVids1)

Pearl Jam w/Mudhoney, 9/11 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, ON. Night one of Pearl Jam’s two-night Toronto stand would’ve qualified as a nice, solid Pearl Jam concert had it not been for the second encore–but the debut of “Chloe Dancer” (which led seamlessly into the band’s cover of the Mother Love Bone song “Crown of Thorns”) and, two songs later, a twelve-minute “Rockin’ in the Free World” in which Neil Young himself ambled onto the stage with Mike McCready’s guitar strapped around his shoulder turned it into something much more memorable.

Video: “Rockin’ in the Free World” with Neil Young (from cls1974). Fast-forward to the 3:19 mark, when Eddie Vedder becomes aware of what’s happening. Watch his reaction. Priceless.

Honourable mention: U2 w/Muse in La Plata, the Black Keys w/Cage the Elephant in Calgary, Pearl Jam w/Mudhoney in Calgary

Favourite songs? Got those too, in rough chronological order:

  • U2, “Return of the Stingray Guitar” into “Beautiful Day” and “Bad” (La Plata); “Even Better Than The Real Thing” (Edmonton); “Even Better Than The Real Thing” and “The Fly” (Moncton); “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” at all three 360° Tour shows I saw in 2011. Also, while it wasn’t part of the set per se, the nightly “Space Oddity” introduction was brilliantly executed.
  • Chris Cornell, “Mind Riot” and “Man of Golden Words”
  • Soundgarden, “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” and “Beyond the Wheel”
  • Arcade Fire, “Month of May” (Dartmouth)
  • Queens of the Stone Age, “Song for the Dead”
  • The Strokes, “Juicebox” with Eddie Vedder
  • Pearl Jam, “Release,” “Better Man,” and “Stardog Champion” (PJ20 Night 1); “Long Road,” “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns,” and “Rockin’ in the Free World” with Neil Young (Toronto Night 1); “Rearviewmirror” (Ottawa); “Search and Destroy” and “Fuckin’ Up” (Calgary); the end of the first encore and the entire second encore in Edmonton
  • Temple of the Dog. I’m not picking favourites.
  • The Headstones, “Tweeter and the Monkey Man”

Theatre and sports to follow!

Top 5 Concerts I Never Got to See

No, this isn’t a “damn, I wish I could have been at the original Woodstock!” kind of list…but still, having listed five songs I’ll forever feel privileged for having witnessed live, I figured I should balance it out with a list of five bands I’ll always regret not having seen. It’s like the Greeks said: “Everything in moderation.” Or was that Gord Downie? Whatever–here ’tis:

  1. Soundgarden. The highest-ranking band on my “favourite bands of all-time” list that I haven’t seen. They broke up before I really got into them…and since I’ve seen Matt Cameron twelve times with Pearl Jam, I figure that means I’ve technically seen them three times. (Song I’d kill to hear: “Jesus Christ Pose”)
  2. The Who with Keith Moon. Sure, I’ve seen a version of the Who three times…but I’m talking Live at Leeds era Who, where every show positively bristled with potential armegeddon. (Song I’d kill to hear: a fifteen-minute “My Generation”)
  3. Led Zeppelin. Right now Paul is looking for the nearest gallow’s pole from which to hang himself. (Song I’d kill to hear: Do I even need to say it? “No Quarter”, a.k.a. the 1970s’ most important contribution to the future of the species)
  4. Rage Against the Machine. In haiku: “I was going to go / But then guess who broke his leg? / My life partner Paul.” And when Paul wasn’t busy careening into opposing teams’ goalkeepers, Mike D of the Beastie Boys was busy falling off his bike and dislocating his shoulder, thus forcing their co-headlining tour with Rage to be cancelled and my tickets to see said tour null and void. (Song I’d kill to hear: “Know Your Enemy”)
  5. Mother Love Bone. Oh, what the hell. (Song I’d kill to hear: “Crown of Thorns”)

And that’s it. Man, these haikus are gonna have to stop…it’s becoming more cliched than rocking against Bush.