Soundgarden and Chris Cornell were among the first to define grunge and the Seattle sound.
When Seattle first became a city of grunge-rock royalty, Chris Cornell and Soundgarden sat on the throne.
“Seattle is happening,” wrote Seattle Times music writer Patrick MacDonald in 1991, calling the city “a hotbed of rock creativity.”
Suddenly, Seattle was at MTV’s epicenter, and the flourishing local rock scene propelled some of its most promising names into history.
Soundgarden and Cornell’s success hardly came overnight. The band was nourished in a promising rock scene that it had a hand in cultivating.
How the band led Seattle’s rise:
1984 — Soundgarden forms from the remnants of The Shemps.
1987 — The scions behind Sub Pop Records, Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt, are introduced over their love of Soundgarden. They decided to start a label and sign the band. As The Seattle Times later reported:
“Poneman had been hooked on rock music as an 11-year-old, when his older brother put Steppenwolf’s ‘magic Carpet Ride’ on the turntable and the song’s fuzzy feedback kicked in. At KCMU he hosted a local music show called Audioasis. It made his pulse quicken all over again.
A Seattle group named Soundgarden practically sent him [Poneman] into cardiac arrest. He decided he wanted to put out an album for the band, and guitarist Kim Thayil put Poneman in touch with Pavitt. The pair cashed in their savings bonds and borrowed from friends and relatives.
In the summer of 1987 Sub Pop released a Soundgarden record and an EP by Green River.”
1988 — Soundgarden releases its first full-length album with California label SST.
1989 — Soundgarden starts a national tour with a performance at Seattle’s Moore Theater. “They’re thrashing their way to the top,” says The Seattle Times headline.
The album “Louder Than Love” would peak at 108th on U.S. charts.
1990 — Andrew Wood, 24-year-old lead singer of Mother Love Bone, dies of a heroin overdose. Wood was the roommate of Chris Cornell, and a flamboyant force on the Seattle scene.
Members of Mother Love Bone would soon join Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready to become Pearl Jam.
1991 — Cornell joins Mother Love Bone’s Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament on a tribute album to Andrew Wood called “Temple of the Dog.” Vedder and McCready are also featured on the album.
Times writer MacDonald said “brooding vocalist” Cornell sings “in his aggressive, emotional style” on the album, “an impressive piece of work.”
Soundgarden’s third full-length album Badmotorfinger rises to 39th on U.S. charts.
1992 — The Seattle scene gets its moment on the silver screen in Cameron Crowe’s “Singles.” Seattle bands Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone are all featured on the popular soundtrack, which was released that summer.
“But the most impressive cut is by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden,” writes MacDonald for The Seattle Times. “His ‘Seasons’ is a brooding, dark, powerful work with perhaps his softest recorded vocal.”
1994 — The Seattle sound is ascendant, and tops national charts for much of the year and Soundgarden’s release is among the feted.
For The Seattle Times, Melinda Bargreen writes:
“Soundgarden started it all for Seattle grunge, at least on a national level. Then the band saw itself eclipsed by the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains.
Now Soundgarden is on top again. Its new album on A&M Records, ‘Superunknown,’ released last week, leaped to No. 1 on the Billboard chart this week. That makes it four in a row for Seattle bands.”
The band’s hit “Spoonman” lionizes a long time Pike Place Market busker named Artis the Spoonman, whose instruments of choice were spoons.
“It is also a tribute to the uplifting and healing power of music,” writes Bargreen.
Then, tragedy. Just a month after Soundgarden’s release, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain commited suicide, plunging the Seattle scene into a dark period.
Cornell opens up to Rolling Stone in a wide-ranging interview at year’s end in which Seattle is described as “rock-tragedy central.”
Warning signs of suicideIf you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or have concerns about someone else who may be, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You will be routed to a local crisis center where professionals can talk you through a risk assessment and provide resources in your community. The more of the signs below that a person shows, the greater the risk of suicide.
- Talking about wanting to die
- Looking for a way to kill oneself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
“By all indicators the Seattle scene is over,” writes Alec Foege, for the magazine.
“It’s hard not to be a little bitter about it,” Cornell said, when asked for his take on what Rolling Stone described as rock’s Seattle years. “We lost good friends in the process. And all of a sudden you realize that it’s turned into something that’s considered a fashion statement. It’s like mining. It’s like somebody came into your city with bulldozers and water compressors and mined your own perfect mountain and excavated it and threw out what they didn’t want and left the rest to rot. It’s that bad.”
1995-2017 — Soundgarden would put out another album, “Down on the Upside,” before breaking up in 1997. Seattle musicians regaled the band’s reign.
“They’re genius,” Pearl Jam’s McCready told the Times. “They single-handedly destroyed the ’80s music. … They were true originators.”
“I’m saddened, but they’re all strong individuals, so I know they’ll do all right, they’ll move on,” said Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic.
Cornell went on to a luminary solo career, formed Audioslave in 2001 then reunited with Soundgarden this decade to release “King Animal,” a 2012 album.
Cornell died Wednesday of an “apparent suicide” at age 52.