Guest Post, Ephraim Scott Sommers: The People We Were and Chris Cornell Are Dead


Remember when we used to buy albums?

Before Cainan and Ryan died, before push-button DJs and lip-synching, before cellphones and pitch-shifters, before GPS, and even before the internet, remember when there was a word, and the word was ‘Grunge,’ and the sound of grit was God, and we worshipped by slamming our grimy heads through the drywall?

And the word was God because the sound was fuck your money, because fuck a corporation and its gelled hair and its fat tie, and fuck your banking model, because the sound was all of us getting kicked out of the Wildflower Festival in 2006 for screaming, “Fuck capitalism,” because the sound was each of us stepping into our Levi’s full of the holes we worked into them ourselves down at the Shell station, or Frank’s paint and drywall, or on the grounds crew, or doing knee slides across the bar on a Saturday night at the Frog & Peach while sweating atomic bombs.

Yes, old friends, the sound was pour alcohol all over the work-week, wrench the electric guitars all the way down to C#, crank the mains, and send our punches through the ceiling.

And there was a voice named Chris Cornell lording over all of this, and the voice was big enough to fit all of us inside it, and—in certain moments of nuclear drunkenness—we could almost fit his skyscraper inside us, too, if only for the length of a lightning bolt, though when we jumped as high as we could, we could never come down with all of his notes in our hands, our throats demolished.

And, old friends, how holy those moments were when we failed at being Chris Cornell together, in the backyard, lobbing knives into the willow tree’s insides, when we launched our elbows through the windshields of all the dead cars in the salvage yard next door, when I saw Chris Cornell stop his set and swing on a dude in the pit for flipping him off at Lollapalooza, or when I got arrested twice for alcohol in 2003.

We started a band.

I kept drinking.

Chris Cornell quit Soundgarden and dropped a solo record, and beside the freeway on Monday nights, as a remedy for loneliness, I went jogging in gigantic headphones and sang along, so my rudimentary voice would be lost to the never-ending hum of machine and wheel.

Remember when all of us wanted to be somewhere other than where we were? Don’t we still?

I remember one afternoon, in a bedroom in a yellow house, while that solo record played, I told a woman I cheated, and she cut the white inside of her arm open with a kitchen knife right there in front of me.

Then, she told me to get rid of all the drugs in the house, and I did.

I did them all.

And the band we were in played and made albums and drank, and we danced as happy as jazz buffoons, and we talked shit, and we practiced, and we shot arrows at the sunrise with a professional bow our drummer stole, and Chris Cornell joined Audioslave, and we spent entire days like river stones on the floor of the band house while those albums washed all over us.

And we watched our band practices on a VCR, and we had frogs in our shower, and I cheated on my girlfriend a second time.

Old friends, you have always been my religion. I never prayed for my sins, but music was God, and we worshipped in the keys of groove rock and head butts and recklessness.

And we bought a white van and glued a bobble-head Jesus to the dash for luck.

And I fucked over people that I loved.

And Audioslave broke up, and we went on a national tour, and I forgot about Chris Cornell.

And then…

And then ten years.

Then Chris Cornell died in Detroit, where my fiancé grew up, while I was grading papers in South Carolina, and when he did, and when I looked up, I no longer knew what the holy word was and why the word had held me together for so long because I no longer lived in California with my electric guitar, and when Chris Cornell died, something I was a part of had already died, but I didn’t even know it.

And I didn’t know how to mourn the death of the music we were, so I walked up to the mirror and said to the world, “My arrow missed the sunrise. I am no longer in a band.”

Old friends, will we spend our futures staring at our past together?

Will we grow tired of hearing ourselves, tired of hearing the stories?

I can’t say for certain.

Give me a call and let me know…because the moments we shoved against each other while singing along have turned to so much salvage, and I am just one more cellphone face a long way back from the stage, listening from my place in the crowd, now, with my long hair long gone, with my new job, and my retirement worries, and my shitty lower back. But, damn, we were alive together in the word once, weren’t we, old friends?

And the word was good.

And even though I ache to sing back to life the sound of the people we were in California again, I don’t do it.

I go back to the bar in South Carolina and order another beer.

I pay my $8.50.

I swallow the death of Chris Cornell.

Ephraim Scott Sommers
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