Band: Soundgarden
Album: Badmotorfinger
Best song: “Jesus Christ Pose,” “Rusty Cage,” “Slaves & Bulldozers,” “Outshined” and “Room a Thousand Years Wide” are all great.
Worst song: The whole album is pretty excellent.

Though it wasn’t at the time — I was likely still listening to MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice as an elementary school kid — 1991 was a huge year for music. It’s well-known as the year that grunge “broke,” shooting the transition from hair band nonsense to punk/indie nonsense as the popular rock music genre. R.E.M.’s Out of Time was released in 1991. Slint’s Spiderland — one of my favorite albums of all time, but one I did not discover until I was in late high school — was released that year. Pearl Jam’s Ten was released that fall, two weeks after Metallica’s black album was released. Even the mediocre, post-peak records were very good, as evidenced by Ozzy’s No More Tears album.

For what it’s worth, the seminal (by that, I mean, as worthwhile as semen) album by my least favorite band ever was also released that year.

I’m, in some ways, a child of grunge. While I didn’t get into Nirvana when Nevermind was released, I hopped on the bandwagon soon thereafter. Being a kid means it’s easy to jump from trend to trend and being done with MC Hammer was pretty easy; I’m extremely lucky that Nevermind, Ten (as much as I mock it) and Badmotorfinger came out when they did.

From the time I was a wee lad, I wanted to be a rock star. I cannot remember a time — until I abandoned the dream in college — of playing drums in some big fancy rock band or maybe singing or maybe playing guitar. I jumped into music from a young age and my parents, trying to do the right thing, attempted to foster that love.

It wasn’t easy. I am without skill or discipline in most things, so practice was, shall we say, not my thing. As a kid (oh, who am I kidding? Even now…) I did not take instruction well and was combatative at most points, albeit sullenly. So, when I started playing the violin, I did not want to practice, on any level. My parents never signed me up for drum lessons — our school didn’t offer them — but I tried to play a couple of different instruments in the hopes that I’d switch to drums one day.

It didn’t happen.

There’s a colloquial phrase the world over “Those who can’t, teach.” This is mostly ridiculous, of course, but famous examples remain. Roger Ebert — probably the greatest critic of any kind — could be an example of this, as he was a screenwriter before he became a critic (though, he was not a failed screenwriter). Certainly, in sports, often the coaches are not the greatest players of all-time; Earl Weaver had no MLB career to really write home about.

Which is sort of how I ended up here. I ended up in radio because I have a passion for music and no skill whatsoever to create it. While actual musicians don’t tend to be particularly good critics — you can’t ask a tree about a forest — the best critics are people without range in music. Or, at least, they abandoned it early. Another example: Kurt Sutter, creator of Sons of Anarchy sometimes writes about other TV shows and he sounds, well, foolish. That’s not to say that SOA isn’t brilliant; it is. But, it is to say that he may not have the perfect facilities to criticize TV/pop culture in the same way as someone who isn’t in the business.

(other examples: Quentin Tarantino, anyone on ESPN, David Fricke, Kurt Loder [he was a great rock critic at one time], etc.)

That’s my goal, though I’ve fallen woefully short of it.

Which is to say that I was a drummer for a while. As mentioned, I’m not talented. But, I goofed around with friends all throughout junior high and early high school; we played tons of covers of bands of the time. Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, in addition to the classics of the genres we enjoyed (aka Black Sabbath).

Soundgarden never really fell into that camp. I never really learned many Soundgarden drum parts. They are too difficult. The band, in general, was probably the most talented of the “grunge” bands. As has been mentioned, “grunge” was a catch-all term for bands that weren’t all that similar; they simply ended up coming from the same geographic area and had a visual style — aka long hair, jeans, not hair metal, etc. — that was similar. Music-wise, they were pretty different.

And Soundgarden was, in many ways, the best of the genre. As the Sub Pop idea of Black-Sabbath-meets-Black-Flag was used by bands like Tad, Soundgarden’s ability to bring that to the fore was the strongest. Badmotorfinger, the band’s major label breakout, is the pinnacle of this. “Outshined” is hard-driving, while “Jesus Christ Pose” is biting, built on a revolving Matt Shepherd drum part. “Rusty Cage” has the same revolving sound, only via Kim Thayill’s pitchy, oddly-tuned guitar sound. “Slaves & Bulldozers” is straight out of Master of Reality, while “Mind Riot” has Black Flag tones.

And then? That voice.

There are different types of voices for different bands that seem just perfect. Ozzy Osbourne — speaking of Sabbath — is the perfect metal singer. His voice is a bit nasal and has a horror-movie pitch to it.

Snoop Dogg’s voice is perfect for his California-based P-Funk rap. It’s laid back, slightly off kilter and interesting. Henry Rollins’ voice was great for Black Flag; Neil Diamond has the perfect voice for his crooning rock and roll stuff.

Chris Cornell can sing anything.

I’d listen to Chris Cornell read the phone book, assuming he was singing it. I’ve bemoaned Robert Plant’s wail before (and I stand by this), so one would think I don’t enjoy Cornell’s similarly-voiced wail. However, the different is that Cornell’s ability to go between said wail and his powerful regular voice. “Outshined” is the grand tradition of this, of course. Cornell drives the song within the verses, then moves into screaming and singing on the choruses.

1991 was the year that I started to develop tastes. I learned that indie rock existed thanks to Kurt Cobain. I moved off Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer onto “real” rap music. And metal dawned to me, thanks to Soundgarden.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

    You can contact me at rjgianfortune at gmail dot com.

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