My Seattle: Chris Cornell
Above/featured: Customers’ contributions on the walls of Beth’s Cafe in Seattle’s Phinney Ridge – 7 Mar 2020.
Where: Seattle, WA, USA.
Who: Chris Cornell.
Why: A search for traces he left behind in his birth city.
On 21 April 1991, an album of music both memorial and celebratory in nature was released, and changed not only the nature of rock at the time, but also the lives of many, both inside and outside the music industry. In the days and weeks after Andrew Wood’s death in March 1990, a group of people gathered to mourn and remember; they wrote new compositions and sang their songs. Temple of the Dog was born: the release of their self-titled album on that early-spring day in 1991 would be the only full-length album to the band’s name.
Decades later, the album’s 3rd track “Hunger Strike” is as compelling now as the first time the music video dropped in 1992 to grab my eyeballs and the harmony-melody-guitar-crunch latched onto my ears and brain. For lead singer Chris Cornell, intervening years included critical acclaim and success with Soundgarden and Audioslave, among solo efforts and other collaborations. Hours after performing on tour with Soundgarden, Cornell was found dead in his Detroit hotel room on 18 May 2017, shocking the community within Seattle and the community inside music at large; he was a young 52. Wherever they may be, that jam session with Cornell, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, and Andrew Wood has got to be one for the ages.
21 April 2021 is the 30th anniversary of the release of Temple of the Dog’s eponymous album.
On a short hop south from Vancouver, I’m in Seattle to explore, including a personal search for some of the places Cornell and others would’ve played and recorded, and from which they drew inspiration. Obviously, the following is not a complete list, but it’s what I found over a few days.
- “A Sound Garden“, next to NOAA Western Regional Center near Sand Point
- “Black Sun“, Volunteer Park in Capitol Hill
- Central Saloon, Pioneer Square district
- Chris Cornell statue, in front of MoPOP in Queen Anne
- The Crocodile, in Belltown
- Discovery Park, in Magnolia
- Easy Street Records and Cafe, at The Junction in West Seattle
- London Bridge Studio, in Shoreline
- Studio X, formerly in Belltown
- Belltown: The Crocodile, and Studio X‘s former location
- Capitol Hill: “Black Sun”
- Magnolia: Discovery Park
- Pioneer Square: Central Saloon
- Queen Anne: Chris Cornell statue
- Sand Point: “A Sound Garden“
- Shoreline: London Bridge Studio
- West Seattle: Easy Street Records and Cafe
This list includes public and/or commercial spaces. Although the location is easily found online, I’ve avoided including the apartment building where Cameron Crowe’s 1992 movie “Singles” was filmed, because the building is occupied by tenants who probably have little to no connection to the movie or the cultural scene at the time and who likely/ frankly don’t care.
“A Sound Garden”
The campus of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Western Regional Center is located at Sand Point, next to Magnuson Park. Weekday-only entry with public transport is typically restricted to NOAA employees or guests, but I notify the guards I’m here to see one specific sculpture on the property. They recognize why I’m here, and after registering my photo-identification, they immediately recommend the entirety of the NOAA Art Walk with several open-air sculptural works. Towards the east end of the walk is the 1982-1983 sculpture by Douglas Hollis. In 1984, Chris Cornell, Hiro Yamamoto, and Kim Thayil formed the band “Soundgarden,” named after Hollis’ installation at Sand Point.
The sculpture consists of hollow organ pipes and multiple steel towers with weathervanes. In the 85-second video below, you can pick up what I describe as “high-pitched hollow whistles and wails,” as moving air rotates each piece of the overall sculpture and pushes through the central vertical pipe and transverse gaps of an individual tower. Extraneous sounds include gusts picked up by the microphone; yaps and chirps from birds; barks from happy dogs at the no-leash park nearby; and the drone of float-planes overhead. There’s something transcendent about the experience, grounded to the earth like the towers while listening to music generated by moving air. However, under overcast conditions, the combined effect of low light and haunting sounds has been described by others as “creepy.”
Inside Volunteer Park in Capitol Hill, standing opposite the Asian Art Museum and looming over the park’s reservoir is the 1968 sculpture by Isamu Noguchi. The sculpture is a massive torus, carved from a single piece of Brazilian black granite. Measuring 9 feet across and weighing 12 tons, the sculpture is an expression of the artist’s interest in circular shapes.
I’ve not found a quote or reference by any of the band members directly connecting the Soundgarden song “Black Hole Sun” with Noguchi’s sculpture; it’s doubtful song and sculpture are connected. In a June 2014 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Cornell stated “Black Hole Sun” came from something he had heard mistakenly from the news, but the three-word phrase stuck and the mental images of that phrase inspired the subsequent melody and song. In an August 2014 interview with Uncut magazine, he added:
… What’s interesting to me is the combination of a black hole and a sun. A black hole is a billion times bigger than a sun, it’s a void, a giant circle of nothing, and then you have the sun, the giver of all life. It was this combination of bright and dark, this sense of hope and an underlying moodiness. I even liked the way the words looked written down. I liken it to Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, where there’s a happy veneer over something dark. It’s not something I can do on purpose but occasionally it will happen by accident.
This music bar in the Pioneer Square district has roots going back to 1892, cementing the bar’s claim as the oldest saloon in Seattle. That kind of history doesn’t simply pass without including a truck full of bands starting out and needing a place to play live and getting good words out into the streets. After all, this was well before the present age of on-demand streaming and YouTube with home-brewed, -produced, and -directed video. For me, the question is simple: can the band play live? Can they play their instruments and captivate a crowd? Many bands including Soundgarden would’ve gotten their licks in at places like The Central. This venue is also the last place Mother Love Bone played before singer Andrew Wood‘s death in 1990.
Chris Cornell statue
Next to the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) at Seattle Center is a bronze statue of Chris Cornell which was unveiled to the public on 7 October 2018. His widow Vicky Cornell commissioned artist Nick Marra to produce the sculpture which Vicky donated to museum and city. I’ve paraphrased the accompanying plaque:
Chris Cornell in Performance
Chris Cornell (1964-2017) was one of the most prolific songwriters and greatest voices of the modern rock era.
Born and raised in Seattle, Cornell discovered music at a young age. As a founding member and frontman of Soundgarden, he became one of the architects of the ‘Seattle sound’ movement in the late-1980s and early-1990s. His songs and voice ignited the alternative rock scene and helped put Seattle on the map as one of the world’s great music cities.
Cornell’s work with Soundgarden, as well as Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, and his own solo career, greatly impacted popular music and will continue to inspire future artists and bands for generations to come.
“I am not your rolling wheels
I am the highway
I am not your carpet ride
I am the sky”
– “I Am the Highway” (Audioslave).
Like The Central in Seattle’s Pioneer Square District, further north in Belltown is The Crocodile, one of the city’s foundation venues and mainstays in the music scene since the early 1990s, apart from a 2-year absence.
Update, 17 Nov 2020: According to IG:vanishingseattle, the Crocodile is moving after 30 years at their 2nd and Blanchard location. Fortunately, they’re staying in Belltown at their planned new location at 1st and Wall.
With surface area streching over 500 acres (over 2 square kilometres), Discovery Park in Magnolia is Seattle’s largest public park, which was once the site of indigenous village “paqácalcu” (brush spread on water) and, until 1973, the site for US Army base Fort Lawton. The park provided locations and backdrops for the 1992 video shoot of Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike.” Within the first couple of minutes, it’s easy to recognize the “sandy knoll” over Magnolia Bluff, and a short distance to South Beach (Fort Lawton Beach) and West Point Lighthouse.
South Beach (Fort Lawton Beach)
Easy Street Records & Cafe
Easy Street Records is a music hangout in West Seattle’s The Junction. On the store’s exterior wall facing south are two murals: a portrait mural of Chris Cornell by local artist Son Duong, and a mural of Mother Love Bone by Jeff Ament. Not only has Ament been with Pearl Jam since 1990, but he was a member of the bands Mother Love Bone and Temple of the Dog. Inside the store and cafe are valuable nuggets: music in classic long-form vinyl or special CD and DVD box sets; band merchandise including special design shirts, hats, stickers and buttons; a variety of art on the walls; and a bar to enjoy some coffee to take it all in and ponder about how best to alleviate the money burning a hole in your wallet. Thus, it is with great regret to inform you I did not purchase in-store the Pearl Jam “Needle” t-shirt designed like the old Seattle Supersonics logo. Someone out there’s gonna point out the obvious ease of online purchases, to which I will counter: going into a record store to converse with employees who’re also big music fans never goes out of style.
I also highlighted these in my description of (some) murals in West Seattle.
London Bridge Studio
You simply can’t tell this is a “ridiculously famous place”. Understandably, it’s a deliberate choice: a bland warehouse-like building in a commercial park at the northern end of metro Seattle is home to a studio that’s made big contributions to the music scene. London Bridge Studio remains an active recording studio and isn’t normally open to the public, but they’ll open their doors for a guided one-hour tour; online reservation and payment are required in advance.
I’m the only person on tour for the day, and I’ve got the entire place with studio co-owner and producer Jonathan Plum. Sitting at the studio’s primary Neve 8048 console where songs like “Hunger Strike”, “Even Flow”, and “Jeremy” were recorded and mixed to listen to individual instrument and final combined tracks is a tremendous thrill that borders on near-spiritual experience. And like other visitors from around the world who’ve been here before, I can finally admit coming here to this recording studio has become a kind of pilgrimage.
Among albums recorded at London Bridge Studio were:
• Mother Love Bone – “Shine” EP (1989).
• Soundgarden – “Louder Than Love” (1989).
• Mother Love Bone – “Apple” (1990).
• Alice in Chains – “Facelift” (1990).
• Temple of the Dog – “Temple of the Dog” (1991).
• Pearl Jam – “Ten” (1991).
• Alice in Chains – “Sap” (1992).
• “Singles”: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1992).
• Blind Melon – “Blind Melon” (1992).
• Alice in Chains – “Dirt” (1992).
• Alice in Chains – “Jar of Flies” (1994).
I’ve arrived to the address 2214 West 4th Avenue in Belltown. Google says there’s a company making radio jingles at this location, but there’s no signage out front. It’s as if nobody’s home.
This was once home to Studio X between 1997 and 2018. The studio began as Kaye-Smith Studios (owned by Steve Lawson), which became Bad Animals Studio in an ownership and management partnership with Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson from 1991 to 1997. I fondly remember Heart whose songs arrived on top-40 AM radio in the late-1970s; they were some of my first references to Seattle. But now, Studio X has pulled up stakes and moved to Capitol Hill in late-2018, and as I understand things, this half-block will be converted to condo-mania.
Maybe someday someone will put some kind of plaque here. I’ve taken a few moments to acknowledge that among the many albums recorded at this studio there were:
• Heart – “Little Queen” (1977).
• Soundgarden – “Superunknown” (1994), including “Black Hole Sun”.
• Pearl Jam – “Vitalogy” (1994).
• Neil Young – “Mirror Ball” (1995).
• R.E.M. – “New Adventures in Hi-Fi” (1996).
• Pearl Jam – “Yield” (1998).
• Pearl Jam – “Riot Act” (2002).
• Audioslave – “Audioslave” (2002), including “I Am The Highway”.
• Pearl Jam – “Pearl Jam” (2006).
• Pearl Jam – “Lightning Bolt” (2013).
I acknowledge my time on the traditional and ancestral land of the first people of Seattle, the Duwamish (Dxʷdəwʔabš) People past and present, and honour with gratitude the land itself and the Duwamish Tribe. I made all photos above with a Fujifilm X70 fixed-lens prime from 3 to 8 March 2020. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-gUQ.
More on Temple of the Dog
• Chad Childers, for Loudwire, 16 April 2019.
• George Garner, for Kerrang!, 16 April 2019.
6 Responses to “My Seattle: Chris Cornell”
[…] included London Bridge Studio in a description of Chris Cornell’s traces in Seattle. I made all images above on 5 Mar 2020 with a Fujifilm X70 fixed-lens prime. This post appears on […]
[…] On the south-facing exterior wall of Easy Street Records are the following two murals memorializing local musicians. At left is a Chris Cornell mural by local artist Son Duong, and at right is a mural of Mother Love Bone’s Andy Wood by musician Jeff Ament. I included this spot in my Seattle tour to find traces of Chris Cornell in his hometown. […]
[…] direct influence on one of Seattle’s top music exports, this art piece by Douglas Hollis is one of five in the sculpture garden adjacent to […]
[…] formed the Seattle band “Soundgarden,” named after Hollis’ installation. More here about Hollis’ […]
[…] sculpture with organ pipes and steel towers draws the most attention. In my piece about looking for traces of Chris Cornell, I […]
[…] “Hunger Strike” (West Point) – 4 Mar 2020 (X70). […]