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.
Following a whirlwind weekend where I flew out to Chicago for this year’s edition of Riot Fest to catch a reunion by the Misfits with Glenn Danzig, Social Distortion do their album White Light, White Heat, White Trash in full and a slew of other acts over a three-day period, I made a quick pit-stop in Philadelphia to visit with friends one night and witness what might very well be the final performance of AC/DC – ever – the following at the city’s Wells Fargo Center.
I had seen the band a few times before, but things have been pretty upside down in their world over the past year or so, culminating this past April when singer Brian Johnson had to abruptly leave the road or face total hearing loss. Dates were postponed on the lucrative Rock or Bust world tour, but the show went on with yet another singer, the incredibly unlikely choice of Axl Rose from Guns N’ Roses.
Honestly, as notoriously prickly as Rose can be – especially in a live setting – I’d never, ever dreamed I’d get to shoot him live. But, like I said, the unlikely has happened quite a bit lately surrounding him. Even his harshest critics have begrudgingly praised how he seamlessly stepped in and saved the AC/DC tour, and I for one hope they continue on in some form. Whether it’s taking a risk on new material or just touring every few years, there’s an undeniable chemistry between the singer and guitarist Angus Young.
Plus, not too many hardcore fans were complaining about long forgotten chestnuts like “Live Wire,” “Riff Raff” and – in Philadelphia – “Problem Child” getting pulled out of the treasure chest.