Before this car I owned just two: an ’84 Thunderbird and a Toyota Celica I got for $500 and abandoned in Philadelphia. The Thunderbird was a gift for college graduation but I wasn’t responsible enough for a car and I knew it; I sold it under-market to a stoner who played Spanish guitar at the open mic I hosted, “Peter Sluk.” And Peter was under the car working on it, when it collapsed on him and he nearly died.
The Celica belonged to the owner of a new age shop next to the cafe I managed in Oakland, a neighborhood in Pittsburgh near Carnegie-Mellon and Pitt. He just wanted out of it. He asked if I could come up with $500 and I did, and though it was held together by bondo in the rear, inside it smelled of leather, and felt tough.
When we left Pittsburgh I drove across the state to Philadelphia and had a cassette of the band Soundgarden’s “Superunknown,” and played that tape for a year or two maybe, and then never again. So when I heard the singer Chris Cornell died last night and they started playing songs from that era it took me right back, as music can.
My friend Mike moved to Seattle before I did, in ’92. He’d mail me letters and music; Soundgarden was emblematic of the Seattle sound. They had this metal quality but seemed undecided if they were that, or punk. And the record stores (same problem with Pearl Jam) didn’t have a place to put them yet, so they got put in with Metallica and Guns n’ Roses, but they weren’t that, at all.
Of all of the rock and pop star deaths in recent years, Chris’s moved me the most. I was in our driveway on a foldout lawn chair when I heard it was confirmed as suicide, and I broke down. Maybe it’s the news of suicide, or that it’s on our psyche now, I don’t know…or perhaps for the first time I connected the dots on what was going on with his voice and the songs he wrote, it made sense in a new way…as really real.
There was an afternoon in West Seattle I was pumping gas at the 76 station on Fauntleroy I could have sworn I saw Chris Cornell there doing the same, in some impeccable late ’60s muscle car. The memory is bad: I see the car as tangerine colored, but maybe that’s the 76 logo that confuses things. He could have just been anyone made to look that way—but there’d be no one who could sound like he did, not ever again.
Now the crows are circling over the driveway because the cat’s got a mouse or vole in her mouth, and it’s become some ‘thing’ with the crows and the cat: it’s unclear if they’re corroborating or in conflict, but the crows are onto the fact our cat is a good hunter, and sloppy about the remains, so they come in as the cleaners. And I wonder what dark comment Chris Cornell would make about that, and his raspy laugh, and wish I could know.
Tonight, in an hour, the Space Needle will go dark from 9 – 10 as a tribute, and maybe there will be some who didn’t know him before who will know him now. Maybe that’s what we all want, on some level, to be known. From what I can tell about Chris, it wasn’t a commercial or fame-thing, but probably something a lot deeper.