What You're Not Listening To

What You're Not Listening To

Beyond the Grunge: Soundgarden

October 20, 2019

A band that came to represent the Grunge movement of the early 1990’s transcended it to create a new type of Classic Rock.

It totally used to be a thing, and by and large, it still is to this day: Metal kids don’t listen to Punk, and Punk kids don’t listen to Metal. Why yes, it does sound awfully juvenile, much like the saying that “girls listened to the Beatles, and the guys liked the Stones” back in the mid-1960’s.

However, it seems no one told the young people of the Pacific Northwest about this odd segregation in the 1980’s. Here, isolated from the rest of country geographically and in personality, the kids decided to take something from both of these music genres and greate a whole new beast that had been over a decade in gestation: Grunge.

Soundgarden, 2012: (l-r) Ben Shephard, Matt Cameron, Kim Thayil and Chris Cornell. Photo courtesy of the Universal Music Group.

Most associated with a city once best known for Boeing and Starbucks, Grunge was a branch of the music movement called Alternative Rock; Alt-Rock existed other parts of the U.S., but of course, Grunge being something completely unique to Northwest. It was anti-pop, anti-fashion, anti-art; a real Do-It-Yourself (D.I.Y) vibe with little to no money. Most importantly, have a good time while doing it.

Grunge wasn’t just music, but graphic design as well. A flyer for the Vogue club, 1987, that would be hung on telephone poles all over the Seattle metro area.

It also quickly became a cliche once it left the Pacific Northwest. The true Seattle scene, comprised of bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Mudhoney, ended when those bands took their new, hybrid sound across the map and broke with the Alternative genre mainstays of post-punk, goth, new wave-y synths and jangly guitars.

No matter what, I can’t sound like John Lennon. But I can do Tom Jones.Chris Cornell, vocalist for Soundgarden.

Of all of these bands, Soundgarden were the first signed to a major label, but they still wished to build indie credibility with releases on Sub Pop (Screaming Life) and SST (Ultramega OK). They soon found the narrow descriptions associated with the scene altogether blase by the early 1990’s when the little scene that could spawned a whole new subculture of cool sound and attitude, a rough and tumble design ethic and a Northwest mainstay thrift store fashion style. Of the latter, that meant right down to purchasing flannel shirts for outrageous prices in your local mall.

Grunge wasn’t just music, but clothing as well. A replica of the Pacific Northwest thrift store mainstay, the flannel shirt, was now everywhere with huge price tags.

After several years of steadily building their audience through touring and new releases on A&M records, Louder Than Love and Badmotorfinger, the band had released what is now considered a bona-fide all-time Classic Rock album, Superunknown in 1994, which also hit the pole position on the Billboard 200 LP’s chart in its first week. The cracks were forming, however, and by the time of their next release in 1996, Blow Up The Outside World, Soundgarden called it a day. Members would form other bands, start solo careers and all of the other trajectories such a break-up usually entails. They did, however, regroup and release one more album of new material, 2012’s King Animal.

The reunion would be short-lived: Chris Cornell, who often spoke of depression, death, choking and rope in his songs, died from suicide by hanging in 2017. Along the way, even with helping to develop a brand new musical trend, Soundgarden seemingly did the impossible: yes,