I was only 8 years old when I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but thanks to my older brother and next door neighbor (every kid needs that older next door neighbor that shows you all the cool stuff), my eyes were opened to what would become known as “grunge” or the “Seattle Sound.”
Much to the chagrin of my mother, who wasn’t ready for me to put down my Sesame Street sing-along records, my older brother got me into heavy music a lot earlier than most people normally would. The first music video I remember seeing was Metallica’s “One,” followed shortly thereafter by Faith No More’s “Epic,” but my love for that sound at the time was driven purely by wanting to emulate my brother. It wasn’t until I discovered grunge that I had that spark go off in my brain that said, “this is my music.”
Growing up, Nirvana was cool and became this mythic thing after we lost Kurt Cobain in 94. Pearl Jam became the sound’s bridge to the mainstream, Alice in Chains was the bridge from grunge to the even heavier stuff, and then there was the explosion so many other bands that weren’t quite part of the “Big 4,” but definitely a part of the movement. But Soundgarden… Soundgarden was the grunge band that spent the most time in my Discman.
They were never a band that I’d point to and say “they’re my favorite band in the whole wide world,” but that trio of albums from the 90s – Badmotorfinger, Superunknown, and Down on the Upside – were just always so easy to go back to. They perfected that sound that dominated the radio at the time and while grunge came and went, their music never felt dated and they weren’t afraid to evolve with Down on the Upside, which would be their last album until 2012 and unfairly derided as a disappointment at the time.
I don’t remember the first time I heard Soundgarden – it may have been the “Rusty Cage” video, most likely on MTV’s Beavis & Butt-head or 120 Minutes – but I suspect I don’t remember because they were just always there as my music tastes took form. And while there were so many bands that sprung out of that scene, that tried to chase that sound – some good, some bad – none could ever duplicate the magic of Chris Cornell’s voice. When you heard that scream, you knew it was Soundgarden.
We lost a giant today.