Home, Melbourne, 1991; The Palais, St Kilda, 2015
If music reminds you of a heart-soaring, gut-wrenching time and place, can your relationship to that music change?
My love affair began in 1991. My high school self watched Rage alone, at midnight. I was searching for something I couldn’t pinpoint.
A video flickered and biblical images flashed. A long-haired, shirtless Chris Cornell invited me into his world. His vocal range urged me to take a closer look.
Soundgarden was raw power. The rhythm, the voice, the energy… oh, the sound! It was heavy, it was gritty. It was… grungy. This Jesus Christ Pose song felt so underground and revolutionary I wanted to climb inside it. Life was opening up before me. I set my VCR to record so the song and the images couldn’t slip away.
In magazines, and through the radio, I learnt all I could about Soundgarden, and the Seattle grunge sound. I bought the Badmotorfinger album and discovered the sublime storm of Rusty Cage and Outshined. My heart beat to a new rhythm. I was a teenager, excited and waking up, shaking off the sweetness of childhood. Life was suddenly filled with euphoric promise.
For the next few years it would be Hard ‘n Fast at Chasers on a Wednesday night. There I found my Melbourne grunge tribe. I belonged because, you know, I liked something different to what the other eighteen year olds were in to. I belonged because I didn’t belong.
Suddenly my teenage self was attracted to boys in flannel shirts with shoulder length curls. Life was full of highs. All feelings were momentous. I had my Jesus Christ Pose moment, and then, within a few short months, I met Sean. I had my first true love moment.
If grunge was the promise, apparently love was the destination. I guess Sean was waking and shaking off childhood too. Our love, surely, was not fleeting. We fell, full throttle into it. Our feelings raw and powerful, like the music we loved.
It was ’94 when Soundgarden filled The Palace in St Kilda. Sean and I grabbed a quick bite from Acland St before we met our friends at the show. We’d been Sean-and-Imogen for three years by then, and I’d forgotten how to be apart.
The show was extraordinary. The air was electric. I was lifted from the mosh-pit, above the crowd. I had stripped to my navy bra, like it was a bikini. I was too sweat-soaked, euphoric and naive to care. I was my most alive self. Ever. I was with Soundgarden. I was in love. Nothing could ever be better than that moment.
And then, somewhere on the fuzzy journey home, my first love, my fellow Soundgarden devotee, told me he didn’t think he wanted to go out with me anymore.
“But I thought…” Well it turned out, I didn’t have any say. Lost in love, I had been unaware Sean was restless.
I sobbed with every inhale. I felt ripped apart. Food lost flavour and agony infiltrated work and play. Did he ever love me? Was it me? If my moment above the Soundgarden crowd was my best moment ever, these moments afterwards were my worst.
I thought I would never get over that boy. I needed him. If I could just convince him.
Seeing Sean’s new girlfriend put an end to such ideas. My tribe could no longer bring me solace, as they were so intertwined with Sean. I didn’t belong anymore. Years passed. Superunknown barely touched me. It didn’t have enough fury. In time, Hard ‘n Fast closed down.
Meanwhile Chris Cornell battled through re-finding himself over the years, until sobriety and music won in the end.
And then in 2015, 24 years after I discovered Chris Cornell’s music, my dear husband bought tickets to a Chris Cornell show at The Palais. Because he knew I loved Chris Cornell.
We left home as soon as the babysitter arrived and barely had time for a meal. Who would have the thought the same fast-food cafe in Acland St would be still be going? Who would have thought Sean would also choose that cafe?
Of course he was on his way to The Palais too.
My heart fluttered, but I held the hand of the father of my children and hesitated. The look on my husband’s face swayed my decision. My husband, who did not seek something better after three years. He, who just kept loving me.
I chose to look away and leave the memories where they were. I heard Sean’s familiar voice as he placed his order. I’ll never know if he saw me too.
Chris Cornell’s solo show seemed less raw, more refined than the Soundgarden concert from all those years ago. He had matured into the stability that suits those of us who have made it to middle age. My relationship to his music has changed. Energy-fueled promise has calmed to passionate reflection. And, in that light, an evening with Chris Cornell at The Palais, in 2015 was as close to a religious experience as I’ll ever get.
© Imogen Knight