I was spending all my writing time on the novel when Chris Cornell, the lead singer of Soundgarden and former lead singer of Audioslave, died a couple months ago. That was a sad day, and I am still saddened by the loss.
Many metalheads from the 80s didn’t embrace the music that came out of Seattle in the early-90s, but I was not one of them.
For me, the lack of conscience and embracing of hedonism that defined 80s culture and music was fine for the 80s, but by the time Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released, in 1991, I had more conscience and self-awareness than I did in those latter years of my prolonged youth. I had more guilt too. As such, the dark and introspective natures of grunge fit my mid-20s well.
When I first heard “Teen Spirit,” it was similar to hearing “Welcome to the Jungle” for the first time; neither song had finished before I was thinking, “These are the guys, who are going to bring around what comes next.” Indeed they were.
Still, as much as I liked the Nirvana tune, and as groundbreaking as I recognized it to be, it wasn’t until I heard “Alive,” by Pearl Jam, that I heard a grunge song that I could say I really loved.
These days, I don’t think “Alive” is a better song than “Teen Spirit,” but it spoke to me more at the time because it is crafted as a more serious song, where the Nirvana tune was more tongue in cheek.
And we got all up into it; to say that we were partying a lot is a major understatement, and music was always on. There was a lot of our old favorites, Floyd, Zeppelin, Metallica, and the Seattle bands slipped right into the stream.
Wikipedia recognizes the five main acts of grunge rock to be Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots–if memory serves, that is the chronological order of how we got them.
I think one more band needs to be mentioned when we talk about just who was necessary to complete the core of grunge rock, the Seattle sound, and that is Mother Love Bone, which was a precursor to these other bands and included Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, who would go on to be founding members of Pearl Jam.
Mother Love Bone never got the opportunity to reach its potential, as lead singer Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose just days before the release of the band’s debut album, Apple.
You could now say that Andy Wood is just another dead Seattle singer, but then he was the only one. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, Scott Weiland of STP, and now Chris Cornell of Soundgarden have all joined him in becoming dead Seattle singers.
And that leaves Eddie Vedder, of Pearl Jam. Of the six bands at the heart of this music, he is the only lead singer who is, like that debut single said, “still alive.” I know how sad it is that the others have gone, but the bottom line is, Eddie hasn’t.
And not only is Eddie still alive, but Pearl Jam is making some of the best music of their career. They had a bit of a down spell around the turn of the millennium–Binaural probably isn’t their best effort–but their last three releases, 2006’s self-titled album (the avocado album), 2009’s Backspacer, and 2013’s Lightning Bolt are all more than strong efforts. Lightning Bolt is a freaking masterpiece.
No, these albums aren’t Ten, Vs., or Vitalogy, but the music of men in their 40s and 50s is never the same as music of men in their 20s.
Not only has Eddie continued to record and tour with Pearl Jam, but he has also released a solo album, 2011’s Ukulele Songs, and he contributed an album’s worth of songs to the soundtrack of the 2007 movie, Into the Wild.
So, it’s easy and understandable to lament the rockers who are dead, but we shouldn’t forget to embrace the ones who are still alive. Pearl Jam will be putting out another album at some point in the future, and you should check it out. I’m betting it’s going to be a great one.