It Is Still Beautiful. Chris Cornell.

Grunge is the music that my generation created, whether the label of “grunge” is one that was met with approval or acceptance or not. Passionately philosophically divested in many ways from the heavy metal and “pretty” hair bands and glam bands of the heyday of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” of previous generations, the “heavy” in “Grunge” was born not only of a complete love of music, but of an emotional intensity extracted from a dissatisfied, sometimes bored, sometimes angry, raw, emotion, that infested not only the musical content itself, but the lyrics, which range from the poignantly poetic, the depressed and angry, to the sarcastic and sardonic, to the socially aware. Drawing on influences from both the punk sound and the likes of Black Sabbath, Grunge was music that was, and is, awake. Grunge said that whatever propaganda it was that the world was selling, they weren’t buying it, because it “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

“People were wearing flannel here long before grunge came out. It’s cold here. It’s a cheap and effective clothing apparatus for living in the Northwest. I don’t even associate it with a fashion statement or lack thereof. Eddie Vedder did more for flannel than anybody.” ~ Tad Doyle, from Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge by Mark Yam

“I think it’s come to mean alternative (grunge) in a way. I saw a grunge compilation album with a picture of a flannel shirt on the cover, and only half the bands were from Seattle. Now it seems like that word embraces anything that’s popular. You can watch a Tony! Toni! Tone! video and most of the people in there are wearing their version of grunge fashion. They look like they’re from Seattle, yet it’s an R&B song. So grunge has become an easy marketing reference, a handle for people who aren’t particularly interested in listening to music or what the bands do.” ~ Chris Cornell, Interview Magazine, 1994

What I remember about the beginnings of the stirrings of grunge, as it filtered down from the Pacific Northwest, was that it was only being played on alternative radio, or college stations. I remember hearing something about “grunge” having some claim on flannel shirt wearing and thermals and thinking, “We wear those here too (when it’s cold), well, some of us.” And no one quite being tuned into the fact that what was happening was a huge shift in our culture, this was music that was counter-culture. This was music that cared so much that it couldn’t care anymore what anyone thought of it.  It was a generation rejecting a post 1980’s pretension that it couldn’t sink its teeth into as any kind of a viable reality, certainly not an affordable one, and what’s more, it didn’t want to. “Grunge” didn’t want to be labeled as anything other than music. It took the garage band to the warehouse and then on to the stadium. It wasn’t stoner-hippie music, it was “damn the man” music coming from my generation, a generation that wasn’t sure it was ready for that when only moments before we’d been tuned into Miami Vice, Magnum P.I., and Family Ties. Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” and Pearl Jam’s “Ten,” broke in 1991, and so did Soundgarden’s “Badmotofinger,” and the tribute album, “Temple of the Dog.” While Nirvana and Pearl Jam stormed the airways into the mainstream with big hits there was something different about the voice of Chris Cornell, from the very beginning. This wasn’t music that was just willing to be dark, this was music that had jumped headlong into the primordial muck to mosh and try to body-surf through the ages. Balls to the wall, Grunge was the ultimate trust-fall. The song that stuck with me, that still stays with me from that time, that I’ve many a night before dinner said/sung, “Well, it’s on the table…” is Temple of the Dog’s, “Hunger Strike.” Then there was “Outshined,” with heavy lines that sound like a dirge and then it melodically takes flight, “it gives me the butterflies…” and traverses the depths again just as quickly.

The soulful anguish, the raw ache, the depth of emotion of Chris Cornell’s voice is at the beginnings of a musical revolution. If Kurt Cobain burned out, and Eddie Vedder became, to some, something of a musical statesman, if Dave Grohl became the embodiment of no-nonsense getting up and getting on with it while still having a good time, Chris Cornell became the poet laureate of grunge. To say now that some of his lyrics are haunting is obvious and redundant, his lyrics and vocals were always haunting.

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“I’m not a lyric writer to make statements. What I enjoy doing is making paintings with lyrics, creating colorful images. I think that’s more what music and entertainment should be.” ~ Chris Cornell

Is fifty-two years old, young? Is fifty-two years old, old?

Fifty-two years old is a person in my peer group, completely my generation. Chris Cornell had gotten sober. I’ve noticed lately that’s kind of a thing with my generation, if you’re of my generation and you partied as a teenager, or in your twenties, drank your way through your thirties, at some point in your forties, you run up against sobriety. In the 80’s we used to sometimes jokingly say, for one reason or another, “It was all the drugs I did in the 60’s.” even though, or because, that’s when we were born. Now, as middle-aged adults, we can say, “Well, it was the 80’s” and that passes as a cultural definition of excess. Grunge was the antidote for the 80’s, a coming of age emotional release, that for many of my generation has ultimately given way to sobriety becoming its own kind of rebellion. I think my generation fluctuates between, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” and “This World Is Hard, Don’t Bullshit Me.” Does it ever turn out the way that any generation thinks that it will? I’m finding my peace through the acceptance of this world is hard, but it is still beautiful.

I’m upset about the death of Chris Cornell in a way that I can’t quite explain. I think that I’ve listened to “I am the Highway” about I don’t even know how many times now, I love that song. I’m looking at the world starkly, that’s what works for me, I’m not a puppies and kittens and rainbows kind of gal, I’m the other side of that coin, even though I am certainly a romantic. The world needs both, balance. But I’m thinking about that too, the world, and what are any of us doing here. Earlier today, I saw a news story about how Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is flattered by those who think he really should run for president, how “popular” an idea that is to some, and that he, The Rock, told GQ magazine that a bid for the White House is “A real possibility.” I don’t think that’s even the least bit funny or amusing. I thought it was deep down sad that that is where the mindset of anyone in this country is at, not that former actors haven’t taken up political office before, and not that I don’t like The Rock, as an actor, and hey, he might even be great at being president if that were to happen, but it’s this idea that celebrity, that “popularity,” rules the day. It’s boneheaded. I was thinking about how, in the same interview from 1994 where Chris Cornell talked about how you could watch a Tony! Toni! Tone! video and see a grunge fashion statement, Kim Thayil said that they had taken to avoiding wearing flannel in order to try to help distance themselves from what had become cliché, because it had become popular in the mainstream. What was the very antithesis of fashion, became fashion, and then the people for whom it was a usual mode of dress, they abandoned it, I was thinking how messed up that is. I was thinking that it’s awful that not even six months into the current administration the fighting between political parties has reached epic proportions and it is beyond pathetic to the point of being ludicrous. Everyone has an opinion, including me, and I thought, that’s it, this is it, the exact moment when I ceased to engage in political discourse, the moment when I heard that The Rock was seriously considering a run at the White House. I thought of the movie “Idiocracy” and of Flint, Michigan, and Brawndo, it’s popular, it’s what plants crave. Everyone seems to be feeling instead of THINKING. Has the world always been this crazy? Has the world always been this dumb? I think, it’s important to remember to find healthy ways to keep from feeling overwhelmed and to disengage from the din.

The last thing that I read about the death of Chris Cornell was that he may have taken an extra Ativan or two. ( Rolling Stone.) Ativan is used to treat anxiety. You never know what someone else is going through. Addiction is a big demon. You think, the guy had everything. But there’s no judging that, for anyone, what is everything? I think, am of a mind, to say, stick around, fight, see what happens, to hell with ’em! But there’s no judging that for anyone either. I don’t want to descend into a discourse on battling dark times, just, there’s no judging what it’s like for any other human who isn’t feeling great or well or thinking clearly. Reports of his last show in Detroit have been that something wasn’t quite right with him. I haven’t watched the concert footage and don’t know if I will. I thought about, wondered about, how far away do those guys get from where they started? How far away does anyone get from who they began as, if they get where they think they wanted to go? It seemed to me that Chris Cornell stayed pretty true.

I made up my mind not to watch anymore news today, I don’t know if I’ll watch any tomorrow either. Am I obligated to? Am I obligated to pay attention to the mess or to be a voice for anything? I straightened up my house, did laundry, made some food. I looked at a catalog, thought about ways to decorate, about how much I like flannel shirts and don’t give a flying fig if they’re fashionable or not, ever. I thought about the irony of the fact that the renaissance of coffee-house culture was spawned at the birth of grunge, the Seattle Sound, and how that gave way to the very corporate Starbucks, something that is the antithesis of everything grunge was about. Grunge, though, outgrew the label, the terminology, and grew into itself from those roots, the bands and musicians that emerged from that era, are the creators of the musical landscape of my generation. I gathered up some cd’s, made a plate of chicken and rice and sat down to write something about it all.

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Chris Cornell’s music has seen me through many a long night writing, and, providing that I have anything to say about it, it will see me through many more seasons to come. An important artistic voice of my generation, a musician, a poet, a soulful singing prince with an intense Jesus gaze and flowing locks, an originator and innovator, of not only musical change but of a cultural shift in awareness, Chris Cornell left us with many gifts, he will be missed. The world is a hard place, but it is still beautiful.

Carry on, my friends. Get up. Go on.

Teri

The Promise Lyrics

If I had nothing to my name
But photographs of you
Rescued from the flames
That is all I would ever need
As long as I can read
What’s written on your face
The strength that shines
Behind your eyes
The hope and light
That will never die

And one promise you made
one promise that always remains
No matter the price
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive
As we’ve always done

And you said
“The poison in a kiss
Is the lie upon the lips”
Truer words were never shared
When I feel
Like lies are all I hear
I pull my memories near
The one thing they can’t take

And one promise you made
one promise that always remains
No matter the price
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive
As you’ve always done

The books still open
on the table
The bells still ringing
in the air
The dreams still clinging
to the pillow
The songs still singing
in a prayer

Now my soul
Is stretching through the roots
To memories of you
Back through time and space
To carry home
the faces and the names
And these photographs of you
Rescued from the flames

And one promise you made
one promise that always remains
No matter the price
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive
And dare to rise once more
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive
And fill the world with life
As we’ve always done

Quotes from Chris Cornell.

Resilience. Carrie Fisher. The New Modern. How To Be Yourself.

So, I’m uploading/importing files to Kindle Direct and, apparently, that can take a minute, unless I start typing something else, I figure, and never mind that I need to vacuum and dust, and I thought, I’ll write that post now.

Last night I watched the HBO sort of documentary, it was more personal than that, “Bright Lights,” about Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. It was an exceptionally well done, intimate, revealing, glimpse into the lives of these two enigmatic, iconic, stars. That sounds canned.

I grew up watching old movies, was a fan of the Golden Age of Hollywood. There was the glamour of it, of course, but I was drawn to the stories behind the stories, how the “movie stars” became movie stars. In those days, the Hollywood studio system controlled every aspect of the lives of the actors and actresses under contract to them. Everything was about the canned image, the keeping up of appearances. Love affairs and scandals were kept from public view, as much as possible, and nonetheless, became the stuff of legend. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato, Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rosellini, Elizabeth Taylor and, well, Eddie Fisher, the husband of Debbie Reynolds, for one, among others.

I read quite a few movie star biographies because so many of them were “rags to riches” stories, the kind of thing that got so many naive young ladies to get on a bus and head out to Hollywood back in the day, however, what it was that appealed to me about those stories was that there was always a strength of character presented, presented, as in, a lot of those stories are loaded with fabrications as well, because that’s what they did, they put the best face it on it all that they could. There’s something to be said for that, there’s a lot to be said for that sometimes. Debbie Reynolds was a product of that Old Hollywood system, and that made for some tough dames. The old school, “Never let ’em see you sweat, kid.” I’ve known women like that, women who said things to me, in my youth, like, “That’s when you really know you’ve got ’em by the balls!” But, only as an aside, you’d have never in a million years heard them utter such a thing in “public” or in polite company. Stoic. There’s great strength in that.

Debbie Reynolds personified this kind of stoic strength, putting the best face on it, right to the end. In this documentary, it is so there at the surface as she’s telling Carrie how they should be seen, how they should appear to be while they are in public, as they’re going to an awards show where she will be the recipient of the SAG Life Achievement Award, even though she’s barely well enough to be there. It’s apparent after her final show appearance on stage, as she’s carting around a casino afterwards saying that you can’t let life get you down because life is hard and if you do, it’ll kill you, you’ve got to keep going. It’s there in her making light of her “bad” marriages right to the end, because it’s how she owned it and controlled it. I was reminded of why I read those old biographies, because those women had great big balls to go play in the rough and tumble world that is Hollywood, especially back in those days, they had moxie, they had independent spirit, they had intestinal fortitude, and they had backbone for days. The show must go on! I took strength from those examples, what they said to me was, Yes, life’s a total bitch sometimes. This is how you do it! And that was Debbie Reynolds, without ever saying the word “bitch,” that you know of.

Enter Carrie Fisher. The prodigal daughter of Old Hollywood, the opposite of her mother in so many ways. At the very beginning of the documentary, she’s taking a soufflé that she has made out of her own oven in her very lived in kitchen and she’s spewing the words, “Fucking criminy.” She chain drinks Coca-Cola’s like they’re going out of style, she smokes, splashes herself with glitter, has a player piano in her bathroom. The walls are green, purple, blue, red, whatever, and on them are such delights as a painting that she describes as “A very unhappy woman who looks like Kevin Spacey.” When she appeared in her first movie role in the film “Shampoo,” her mother didn’t want her to say the line, “Want to f____k?” wanting her to use the word “screw” instead. Warren Beatty went to the house to talk to Carrie Fisher’s mother about that, the f-bomb stayed. Carrie Fisher, the daughter who had to find the strength to say, “I can’t do it your way. I can’t do it the old way.” And in that, showing everyone a different kind of strength, a different kind of resilience and backbone.

It was an incredibly moving portrait to be able to understand the depth of meaning that was on display in this representation of a true changing of the guard, the transitioning from not only one generation to the next, but from one era to the next. It occurred to me that I was raised with so many of those old ways because they weren’t just the ways of Old Hollywood, they were the ways of the world, the old social mores, not just about the way that a woman or a lady should behave, but about the way that people in general should behave, like not sitting down at a table, to eat, without taking your hat off. It wasn’t a matter of being phony or fake, keeping up something of a facade for “the sake of appearances,” though some certainly used that to be fake and to hide horrible things, it was that the world was a different place, people understood things in terms of there being no point in wallowing in it or focusing on the ugly because yes, life was hard, but it went on, and best to get on with it. They also understood the great buffer that manners and a mannerly society can often provide, for everyone. BUT, I was always of a mind of, I can’t do it your way.

I understand Debbie Reynolds stoicism. I understand Carrie Fisher’s, “Fucking criminy.”I realized, that has been so much of my own struggle, and I’m sure that of many other women of my generation.

As I watched, I realized that there are a couple of generations now to whom those old ways are completely unknown, and to whom they must seem patently ridiculous, if not unfathomable, not only as ideology, but in practice. Actress Loretta Young, who was single at the time, had a child with actor Clark Gable, hid the pregnancy, gave the child up for adoption, so that she could adopt it back as her own, without the public ever knowing, in order to protect their careers as Gable was married to Maria Langham. Who now would ever think of such a thing? Or try it if they did?

I think of Carrie Fisher in “The Blues Brothers,” as the mystery woman with her arsenal, just blowing shit up.

This is how social structures are rebuilt, reformed, as though they were fashion, and in some ways, they are.

I was moved by the revelation of this relationship, enduring friendship, between mother and daughter. I thought it was wonderful to get to see inside the homes of two great stars who very obviously actually lived in their houses, that were essentially only a walkway from one another. The sterile super-mod glass, chrome, polished marbles of celebrity mansions so often presented to us these days are complete bores, totally lacking in creativity, by comparison. Debbie Reynolds went into debt collecting up old movie memorabilia in the hopes of building a museum to share and preserve it, though that never happened, her affection for, and care of, this time in movie history was completely admirable, filled with affection and sentimentality. Carrie Fisher’s home was filled with things that she loved seemingly without a moment’s thought for whether or not any of it “went together,” or what anyone might think of it, and it was amazing.

There was something so exceedingly normal here, at one moment they’re all standing around in formal wear in the driveway, Carrie, her daughter, actress Billie Lourd ( Scream Queens), Carrie’s brother Todd, his wife, actress Catherine Hickland, limousines waiting to take them all to an awards show, and they’re waiting on grandma, Debbie Reynolds. They could have all been heading to Bingo together for the fanfare involved, except that they weren’t. What struck me about it was that it was less staged, less fake, than any A-list star wafting by in their sunglasses, looking at the ground, that you’ll see anywhere today. Secure in themselves, so famous that it was normal, and they were over it. Carrie Fisher was completely over being famous, and that’s famous. But there’s a lesson in that for everyone, about how to be.

These two women, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, gave us two completely different examples of resilience, and strength, of backbone par excellence, they did it right. I think that Carrie Fisher personified, in so many ways, a new kind of modern which is, simply put, being and embracing oneself. Completely inspirational.

T.S.

What Happens When I Read

Catching up on that reading. Laird Barron’s “Occultation and Other Stories” is quite good. Should you find that you like scary stories, then I highly recommend this book of them. I like his prose, his use of vocabulary, and there’s a bit of a sense of humor, if not a little bit of a sense of the ridiculous, to some of the stories as well, as illustrated by the title story, “Occultation”, which will, none the less, scare you.

I was reading some of this last night before setting it aside to watch some television, as I’d been reading for hours and could no longer focus on the pages. I started watching a film, which I realized I would have to finish watching today, and then decided to begin watching a documentary series, produced by CNN, about the 1960’s, aptly titled, “The Sixties.” It is available on The Netflix instant. The first episode was quite good, if not enlightening. I know that I will finish the series and then, watch the one about “The Seventies,” even though I said that I was done with my study of the seventies, apparently, I am not. I very much enjoy learning things. I think that I got hooked on documentaries during those times when I’ve not been able to read. I tend toward cultural and historical type documentaries. I’ve read biographies and auto-biographies, memoirs, since I was a girl, along with the fiction. I think that as a writer, I’ve found some other creative types to be fascinating at times. How do they do it? Georgia O’Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz, or the courage and resilience of Frida Kahlo, or Katharine Hepburn wearing pants when women did not wear pants and doing exactly as she damn well pleased, or the struggles and immense talent of Nina Simone. I’ve read two biographies about Jack Kerouac. I watch travel shows sometimes too. The ways in which the artist/writer/musician, reporter, event, story, the way these things weave together in the world, creating history while we are present, is fascinating to me. I’ve been known to become enthralled with a subject. So, I started watching that documentary series. Then I picked up a magazine, after the first episode, because I’m behind on my magazine reading too.

With trepidation, I read an article by director William Friedkin, about a real exorcism that he witnessed and filmed. I’ve not ever seen the film “The Exorcist”, in its entirety, and I’ve no plans to. To each their own, you go right ahead. ( I’ve since watched it, I wrote a review if it that got deleted and I may or may not rewrite. It’s a disgusting movie, as in gross and grossly unappealing, however it manages to be frightening on some level in spite of itself.) I am not, however, at all unfamiliar with Friedkin’s work. I’ve long said that the car chase in “To Live and Die in L.A.” is, in my opinion, the best movie car chase of all time. We own copies of both “The French Connection”, a seventies classic, ( though in my opinion, kind of overrated), I am something of a Roy Scheider fan, and “To Live and Die in L.A.” ( The car chase in The Seven Ups is quite excellent as well, that was directed by Philip D’Antoni, who was the producer on Bullitt, directed by Peter Yates, and Friedkin’s The French Connection.) I’ve even seen the version of “To Live and Die in L.A.” with the alternate ending, where Chance and Vukovich survive and get sent to Alaska, which is really terrible. Vukovich going to see Ruth at the end of the original is far more fitting. I think the latest of his, Friedkin’s, that I watched was “Killer Joe”, which, frankly, I thought was awful, over acted, if not reaching, but, I admit that it may not have been the story itself and a matter of the casting. There are some actors who get to a point where no matter what part they’re playing, you only see them onscreen, the actor, they lose their ability to become the role and make you forget that you’re watching a movie. In other words: What was the character’s name? I don’t know, it was Gina Gershon. So, I think that putting Thomas Hayden Church, Matthew McConaughey, Gina Gershon, and Emile Hersch, in the same movie, well, I don’t remember what any of the character’s names were. But I’m digressing, point was, I’m not unfamiliar with the work of Friedkin. This article in Vanity Fair, is kind of scary. It’s kind of scary because he takes this film of this real exorcism to various brain experts, mental and physical, and none of them are really willing to reassure him that ghosts don’t exist. So, whether this was written as an entertainment piece or not, it still gave me the heebie-geebies a bit. You can read it, here.

I also read, in the same issue of Vanity Fair, a wonderful interview of the singer, Adele. You may have heard of her. I like her attitude, her moxie, her grit. I think she’s refreshing. I also like that she is actually a singer, a talent, with a great big voice. She isn’t up there shaking her thing to get you to buy her records. She’s producing good work and kicking everyone’s ass because she’s that good. The interview addresses some of that. She’s only twenty-eight years old. My gawd. You know, sometimes you read things and you see some of the places where you screwed things up your own self. I tend to be in awe of great singers. I think it is that when I was younger, a child, the one talent that I would have wished for would have been to be able to really sing, and then to play the piano along with it, because that’s undeniable, when someone can sing. When you hear Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Christina Aguilera, Whitney Houston, Carrie Underwood ( yes, this Carrie Underwood), or Adele, sing , you don’t say, “Oh, well, that girl can’t even sing.” My favorite song of hers, that I’ve heard, so far, is probably, “One and Only.” But, really, in terms of having a grip on doing things her way, because it’s her life, great big kudos to her for that. So, I think Adele, who talks about actually, literally, writing while drunk, something that I, recently sober for a few months now, thought was a quite nice, honest, moment, because if you drink and you write, that shit happens, she seems pretty amazing, and you can check that interview out here.

I’m also reading more of Dorothy Parker’s work, as well as reading about her. I want to get the biography on her, penned by Marion Meade, titled “What Fresh Hell is This?”, which was Parker’s frequent response whenever the doorbell rang in her apartment. What I’ve got is “The Portable Dorothy Parker” edited by Meade, who provides the introduction. Parker had no confidence in herself as a writer and considered the work a means to an end. She began as a writer at Vogue magazine and then Vanity Fair, both Conde Nast publications, before going on to work at The New Yorker, where her acid wit and satirical style of cutting to the quick of things, while often being quite subtle or droll, set the tone for their smart, observant, “casuals”, one that they try to maintain to this day. Parker was one of the co-writers of the original script of the film, “A Star is Born”, in 1937, which is about to undergo its fourth remake. I think it says something about a work when it holds up that well over that great a distance of time. It’s a classic tale, it is timeless, her star rises, his fades. Parker, however, who was making a staggering five thousand dollars a week at the height to the Great Depression, loathed Hollywood. The pretension was generally more than she could stomach, she said, “The only ism that Hollywood believes in, is plagiarism.” Which I found to be rather astutely funny as I’d just read, in another book, that George Romero straight-up admitted that he stole the idea for “Night of the Living Dead” from the story “I Am Legend” written by author Richard Matheson. I’ve long been a fan of Dorothy Parker, again, the attitude, the wit, the smarts, and couldn’t keep from picking this up, adding it to my reading stack, after being reminded of “A Star is Born”, while listening to a Streisand song the other day. Streisand was once asked how it was that she was able to hold a note for so long, her answer, “Because I want to.” So, this little round of reading has all worked itself together quite nicely for me.

I am, also, still editing “GRAIN”, the story collection. In the midst of that, I ran “The Slick Furies” through the wash another time, made a few more minor corrections, and I am still pleased with that book. It’s a pretty cool feeling to be reading your own work, editing it, and thinking, this is good. I’m really loving doing all this right now. It is a wonderful feeling to be feeling like I’m finding my groove with this writer life.

TS