It was 1994 and the majority of my musical diet consisted of mostly everything my grandparents wouldn’t be into. If it didn’t involve a pit, encouragement to jump on and launch myself off a stage in a concert setting, I was likely spinning it less regularly. The songs that would emanate from my upstairs bedroom at their house upon waking, showering, heading out for the afternoon or the night were tailor made for driving neighbors nuts, as well as the home where I was residing.
How was it tolerated then?
Well, said grandparents had seven children before I came into this world, and they had heard it all before. My uncles blasted The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen. My aunts did the same with The Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues and The Doors. Me thinking I was pushing the envelope with Pantera elicited yawns.
It’s been two weeks since the death of Chris Cornell and still I’m not settled over getting my thoughts about it out. When John Lennon died, I was too young to grasp the…not importance, because I somehow knew it was a big deal that my favorite band ever (as a child and until now) was truly done, but the pain of those congregating outside the Dakota where the ex-Beatle lived and died was something I wasn’t mature enough to comprehend. I saw the tears in everyone’s eyes, but couldn’t join them in mourning.
Kurt Cobain was next, who retroactively got labeled the spokesman – and “John Lennon” – for my generation, but like the Dallas Cowboys being tagged “America’s Team,” that wasn’t something which everyone agreed. I know I didn’t. Few people remember, in fact, that Nirvana’s then fresh release In Utero was polarizing at the time, and the band’s popularity was waning while Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins were blowing up. Jump ahead past to the not-so-shocking deaths of Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley in 2002 and Scott Weiland in 2015, while also realizing Bowie had been sick and Prince was on another level of stardom, Chris Cornell hit differently. Harder. Like, this was my John Lennon if there had to be a simple, tied-in-a-bow descriptive.
Soundgarden, however, had been around longer than any of those acts, were signed to a major label before them, and bridged the gap between 70s and 90s hard rock for both incoming grunge fans and leftover lovers of cock-rock. Cornell was a shirtless, lion-maned rock God without coming across as cheesy, and the guys could drop metal riffs and Beatles-esque melodies with equal effortlessness. Lyrically, Cornell’s words resonated not just because of their authenticity, but because anyone who ever went through the doldrums could identify with them. Nothing was bright and sunny; hell, the most popular song of theirs is titled “Black Hole Sun.”
One of the musical acts I’ve been into for a couple years now is Sleaford Mods, an inventive duo out of England. Stripped down, it’s observational punk hip-hop with frontman Jason Williamson spouting off about working class struggles with a mixture of humor, anger and disbelief backed by the laptop created beats from Andrew Fearn. It’s brilliant. Iggy Pop himself has dubbed them, “The world’s greatest rock and roll band.”
I caught Sleaford Mods at Iceland Airwaves 2015, and despite the guys themselves being unhappy with the gig for a variety of reasons, it was one of the best times I’ve had at the festival since I started going each year.
Afterward, I got the chance to meet and talk with Fearn, who immediately enthused how my mate and I Rich were “havin’ it.” We were right up front, bouncing about and I, for one, was yelling out the lyrics to every song and Fearn was as entertained by us as we were by him.
“I am with the whole team right now. We want to know who you are writing for and where we can follow up and find your stories at.
Are you on assignment or can you get assigned by one of your publications.
Please let me know asap.
I received that message from Van Halen’s publicist – Eddie Van Halen’s wife Janie – in the middle of the afternoon five years ago today. Immediately I responded with my editor’s contact information for the Boston Phoenix, who I would be covering the invite only show for by the band at the tiny basement club Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village. The day before, I had been told that I was on the wait list. Now it was looking like I might actually have a shot at attending.
Eight minutes later, this message came through:
“Ok my friend, we will see this evening.
There are no plus ones at all so please come alone.
Thanks and look forward to seeing u tonight!”