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Remembering Old Histories and Saying Goodbye

It’s been less than a week since Chris died, and as has been the case on too many occasions before this, I find myself trying to find meaning in a senseless event that will never provide me with one. It’s an emotional state of disarray and is all pretty rough and raw – more than I would have ever imagined. My thoughts are scattered and I cannot shake the sadness I’m feeling.

I am spending a lot of time introspecting, reflecting and unearthing old memories of an old friend with whom I once shared part in a strange cultural phenomenon which later came to be known as Grunge.

I remember the first time I saw Soundgarden. I believe it was late 1984 or early 1985. A bunch of us were going to see the debut show from a new band that featured members of the Shemps, a fun band that played mostly covers that I hadn’t been overly impressed by, but with whom I was friends with. The show was at a venue called Top of the Court. It was a weird little place on West Queen Anne that none of us had ever heard of before. I think the place was a part time gallery and probably booked punk rock gigs to help pay the rent. I don’t remember it being around for long. Back then, venues would pop up and disappear with pretty reliable frequency.

It was a small scene back then; we pretty much all knew each other and attended each other’s shows. I had been in a band around the same time as the Shemps called FEEdbACK and had played a gig together with them (at Morningtown Pizza if my memory serves). By the time Soundgarden played at Top of the Court, feedback was already a thing of the past and I had started a new band with the drummer of feedback—Matt Cameron—and a guitarist named Jack Endino. We didn’t have a singer or a name yet, but would eventually call ourselves Skin Yard.

The first thing that struck me about Soundgarden was that they didn’t have a front man. They were a three-piece, Kim on Guitar, Hiro on Bass and Chris on Drums and vocals – ala Hüsker Dü.  Soundgarden however was nothing like the Shemps. Like at all. This was something new. Their music was urgent and menacing. They played an incendiary set of songs that while still rough, was imbued with an exciting angst and an undeniable ferocity.

In fairly short order, SG found a new drummer with Scott Sundquist and Chris moved to front the band. That decision was what was needed – it transformed them into an entirely different animal. No longer being tethered by a drum kit, Chris could fully unleash his voice. And oh shit, what a voice. Comparisons to Robert Plant were commonplace and well deserved, and while many meant it as a slight, I couldn’t think of a more complimentary comparison to make. That however was just one piece of the package. Chris was a veritable Adonis, something that men and woman all were in agreement on. He was also charming, funny and down to earth. That was the thing about Chris – he was all of those things, and I don’t think that ever changed. That was who he was, on stage and off. Genuine and warm, Chris was also a fairly private person, keeping to himself a lot of the time. These were qualities I’ve always understood and ultimately appreciated.

Soundgarden & Skin Yard - Tuesday, July 30, 1985

On June 5th, 1985, we (Skin Yard) played our first show opening for U-Men.  From there we began getting a lot of gigs. The following month, July 30, Soundgarden and Skin Yard played our first show together at the Rainbow. There were many shared bills together after that. Soundgarden was beginning to get a lot of high profile opening spots. We were getting a lot of good opening spots too, but SG were invariably the first ask, however they were always smart and mindful about not playing out too much.

Deep Six record release show(s) March 21st & 22nd, 1986

In early 1986, Deep Six was released on C/Z in a limited vinyl release of 1,000. While it contains the only Skin Yard recordings that (still) make me cringe, it was our first release, and I imagine our history would have been quite different had it not been for our inclusion on that record. It was also the first release of Soundgarden. The other Seattle bands on that compilation were U-Men, Green River, Melvins and Malfunkshun. I still consider this ground zero for our scene that was going to metastasize in the years to come. The Deep Six two-night release show took place on March 21 & 22, 1986. Both nights were glorious and are certainly etched into the memories of those who attended.

Skin Yard with Matt at Deep Six Record Release

Skin Yard released our first self-titled record early in 1987 on C/Z. It wasn’t long after that, that Matt quit Skin Yard. That was tough. Then he joined Soundgarden. That was totally understandable.

Melvins released Gluey Porch Treatments. Green River released Dry as a Bone in June.  Soundgarden’s Screaming Life EP was released in October. Matt was on those recordings. That EP record was cold sweat pressed on vinyl, the promise of everything one would hope that Soundgarden would deliver on record. This was a big deal. Something was in the air and it was electric.

After Soundgarden released the follow-up Fopp EP on Sup-Pop, they made the jump to SST. That was a clear marker that things were gaining a momentum. Ultramega OK was released in 1988, but sadly, sounded flat and was poorly produced. At around the same time we released our second record, Hallowed Ground. By this point our two bands were often considered as sister bands as we had shared a drummer, had shared the bill on a number of occasions and were playing with similar musical ideas. The big difference of course, is that Soundgarden was going to be part of the grand narrative of the International Seattle explosion that would transform the global musical landscape. We would garner a decent following, and enough acclaim to tour nationally several times before calling it quits, but we never broke through as many of our brothers did.

The following year (1989), Soundgarden released their major label debut, Louder than Love on A&M. They were the first band from our scene to get signed to a major. I’ve always thought of this as the match that got the fire started. Louder than Love fulfilled the promise that Ultramega OK failed to deliver on. That same year Nirvana released Bleach, Mudhoney releasedtheir self-titled Mudhoney and TAD released God’s Balls – ALL stunning and crushing debut records. Sub Pop (where I had started working the year before) was cemented as the label representing this new “Seattle sound” that was beginning to get notice around the country. It seemed like something was in the water.

After Louder was released, the Seattle P-I published two side-by-side reviews of the A&M record on the front page of their entertainment section. One could not find the words to praise the record highly enough, while the other was about as awful as a bad review could be. I know at that moment that they were going to be huge. No mediocrity: Visceral responses on both ends of the spectrum. I think that everyone sensed the same thing.

From that point, Soundgarden started to become part of the major-label machine. They were becoming rock-stars and would find themselves being surrounded by a whole new team of people. Soundgarden was becoming an industry, and for many of us, casually hanging out with our old friends would become an increasingly infrequent thing. This is not intended as a slight to any of the guys in the band; this is simply what happens with celebrity and stardom. The band gets hurled into an entirely new world and is surrounded by a virtual organization whose purpose is to keep the machine well oiled and always moving forward. And as their fame gets bigger and bigger, fandom becomes obsession and everyone wants a piece of you. Your mega-fans think that they know you, because they “understand you through your music.” Their understanding is -of course- unique. I completely get the need to isolate and seek refuge in your family and with the very closest of friends. It must feel overwhelming. I do not speak from experience, but instead from observation. It’s the burden of fame.

Soundgarden - BadMotorFinger

Fast forward to 1991. The fuse had been burning for a couple of years, and the bomb finally went off – Seattle became the musical story around the globe. Nirvana releases Nevermind, Pearl Jam releases Ten and Soundgarden releases Badmotorfinger. Alice in Chains hits the scene and releases their debut, Screaming Trees releases their major label debut, Uncle Anesthesia and Temple of the Dog is released on A&M. This was the same year that Skin Yard released 1000 Smiling Knuckles, easily the bands best record. It was fertile, and things were getting really nuts.

Skin Yard - 1000 Smiling Knuckles

I played my last show on Feb 21, 1991, essentially a release show for Knuckles. Bad timing I suppose, but it was time for me anyway. The band made a final run after that, but broke up for good in 1992, releasing one last record posthumously, in 1993. I focused on the running of C/Z Records, and released records until 2001.

And here we are. 2017. I’ve kept in touch with many of my friends from those old days. It’s been great to see Soundgarden regroup these last few years. King Animal was a stellar release. I’ve seen them perform twice. They still shred.  We go back over 30 years, but Chris and I have not seen much of each other much for the last couple of decades. I’ve seen Kim and Matt on a few occasions, but our lives rarely intersect. I live in L.A. and they’re still up in Seattle. I’ll be seeing them both in a couple of days for Chris’s funeral, the saddest of occasions.

Over this last week, I’ve been talking with a lot of old friends. It’s made me fully take stock in the fact that our friends and our love for each other is really the most important thing that any of us have. Once you strip all the trappings and bullshit away, all we have is love and each other. I sincerely hope that the next time we all see each other next, it will just be to spend time and reminisce, and not to mourn the passing of another friend from our shared history.

Love to you all – my friends, my friend’s friends, and to the extended family of Soundgarden and most of all, to you Chris.

Peace to you and yours.

Posted in Music, Personal Ramblings.

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2 Responses

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  1. Beaux Bartron says

    Thanks for this, Daniel. Ben and Chris were two singular voices.

    I still listen to Knuckles weekly.

  2. Shel Van Taylor says

    So many things flooding in. Especially times at Naf hanging with everyone. Great read. Thanks for your thoughtfulness. Peace. SVT

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