As The P and I were turning the page on the New Year, word came trickling in from several friends that Soundgarden had reunited. This news ought to make me giddy as a schoolgirl – I’m grungy enough that I still wear a thrashed, ancient pair of Doc Martens to work every day, and as I’ve previously documented in this space, Soundgarden was one of my favorite bands of the 90’s. Their unexpected breakup in 1997 was a shocker that still kind of bugs me.
But a funny thing happened when I heard this particular bit of news – far from getting me excited, it left me feeling bitter and unsatisfied. I don’t begrudge them the opportunity to reunite and make a few bucks, but 13 years of this band’s lifecycle has washed away, and my bitterness has to do with all the music they didn’t make during that time. For those who haven’t seen them, I wish you a supremely enjoyable show, and hope Soundgarden delivers the Greatest Hits Revue of your dreams. But I saw them in concert three times, back in the days when they were on fire, and I have no intention of pushing my luck and possibly tarnishing good memories.
In its original 1997 article on the band’s breakup, Rolling Stone quoted an unnamed source (probably band manager Susan Silver) as saying that “the only thing keeping [lead singer] Chris [Cornell] from superstardom was that he was in a heavy-metal band. If he could somehow step out of it, he’s groomed for the mainstream.” It seems clear from that statement, as well as other clues, that Cornell wanted to move into the musical mainstream and become a superstar. Sadly, he and his handlers didn’t realize that the mainstream was moving towards Soundgarden, and 13 years later, Cornell is much less well known (and probably less well-regarded artistically) than he was during his grunge days. The surprising multi-platinum success of Nirvana and Pearl Jam led not only to the death of Kurt Cobain, but provided outsized commercial expectations that brought on the premature demise of Soundgarden and left the late-90’s field open to nu-metal suckdogs like Papa Roach and Nickelback.
In August of 2008, The Onion ran a hilarious article headlined “SOUNDGARDEN INADVERTENTLY REUNITES AT AREA CINNABON” that fooled a few of my friends into thinking the group was actually getting back together. But at that point, the members of the group had been sending off signals for more than a decade that they had no intention of doing any such thing.
Explaining why he was opposed to the idea of a reunion, Cornell told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2005 that “It’s almost like we sealed the lid and said, this is Soundgarden and this is its lifespan, and put it out there. And it looks really great to me. I think getting back together would take the lid off that and then could possibly change what… to me seems like the perfect lifespan of the band. I can’t think of any reason to mess with that.”
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