Sunday, August 17, 2008

I [Heart] Soundgarden...For Historical Reasons

Was breezing through the latest post on the Lefsetz Letter when I spotted a section called "Like Suicide." Since I've loved the word to music association game since high school like a fat kid loves cake, I jumped to the first reference that came to my head: "Like Suicide," the track from Superunknown. Turns out Bob and I were on the same page, because he was writing about the same song, how he'd just heard it for the first time because he'd given up on Soundgarden after Loud Love. How the song struck him like "Rooster," but not quite as strong.

What he said made me laugh for a few reasons. First: When I was in college, a friend of mine from high school IMed me. He was trying to convince his girlfriend at the time to give Alice in Chains another shot by making her a mix and wanted to know what song I thought he should leave out. "Rooster," I said. "It's their weakest song." I'm not sure I'd say the same today - the end of Facelift, for example, falls a little flat on the promise offered by the album's opening tracks - but in a list of favorites by AiC, "Rooster" still wouldn't come out on top.

Second: I bought Superunknown when it came out in 1994; when "Spoonman" and "Black Hole Sun" were in heavy rotation on the local rock radio stations. I was thirteen; I was not particularly sophisticated in my musical tastes. I didn't get the album at all; I remember wanting to skip "Superunknown" and "Head Down" (sacrilege for me; any album in the trial phase of new ownership should never have a track skipped and any album worthy of ownership should not have a track bad enough to need skipping. I have very weird standards when it comes to music) so I could get to the singles and get back to familiar ground.

Flash forward two years later. I start hanging out with that same friend who later asked me for mix CD advice. That friend loves Soundgarden; has all of their albums, comes up with theories about how the band changed after Hiro Yamamoto left, how "Hands All Over" is about arms limitations and "Superunknown" is about the experience of seeing Soundgarden live, thinks "Circle of Power" is one of the purest expressions of the rock 'n roll spirit ever recorded. Crazy, beautiful stuff that makes me dig deeper, see the band in a new light, fall in love with their sounds. I fill out my collection, put "4th of July" on a mix tape because it's the heaviest thing I've heard thus far. After we get our licenses, we drive around singing along to songs like "The Day I Tried to Live," "Fresh Tendrils," "Power Trip," and "Like Suicide," the ultimate bottom-heavy downer of an album closer. Soundgarden's music became an indelible part of my adolescence, so it's a little funny for me to read about someone much older than me discovering them for the first time. How could they miss something that good?

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