Saturday, February 27, 2016

Open Letter To A Favorite Band

Dear Soundgarden,

You'll probably never see or read this letter, but I felt compelled to write. You see, I'm typing this from my mother's hospital room. Right now it is an uncertain future as she continues to shuffle off her mortal coil ever so slowly and yet far too quickly for my liking.

Let me backtrack to September 2015, and an NPR piece on "Weekend Today" regarding Higher Truth, Chris Cornell's new solo album. Forgive me, I'm an old fart, they're still albums to me. I was intrigued by it especially after hearing a clip of "Murderer of Blue Skies." I've lived a similar situation so to hear someone put into words those sentiments, I knew I'd have to listen.

I downloaded the CD in early October and I was hooked. Listened to it nonstop for at least 3 weeks, and downloaded or bought hard copies of all the solo CD's. Ordered all the Soundgarden CDs when I couldn't find them in stores or even at the used CD stores (where I found all 3 Audioslave ones and grabbed posthaste). I determined that I need a 20-CD changer for my car since my 6-disc limit is woefully inadequate.

I listened to the music in the 90s but only casually. I wasn't a devoted fan. What a HUGE mistake that was! I hated not seeing you in the 90s but back then I had a crap job with crap wages, an assload of student loan debt, and a whole lot of other stuff going on in my life. If I had to do it over, there's a LOT I'd have done differently then.... But that's another story.

Back in this beautiful early autumn, I couldn't have foreseen that I was about to undergo a major battle with the depression and anxiety that have trailed  me most of my life. Normally, my mild Seasonal Affective Disorder sneaks up on me gradually in October (before the time change even kicks in) and so I can make adjustments. But not so this year. Instead, it waited until mid-November, so powerfully that it knocked me over like a wave. Insights and reflections about my 46 years so far on earth came fast and furious, almost more quickly than my brain could process them. My emotions were all jumbled, and only the music helped soothe things, helped me begin to make sense of my place in the world. 

Three songs in particular allowed me to stay sane and sober:
• "Fell on Black Days" -- it is a sad song that doesn't make me sad. It gives me hope. It reminds me that others have been through the same places I have been and made it through. Perhaps with scratches and gouges but they're here, alive and telling the story. I know. This month, I celebrate 25 years of my "semicolon" story. I plan to commemorate it with a very small tattoo later on.
• "Blow Up The Outside World" -- this song was the one I'd cue up every time in December, when I'd come out of a store filled with people behaving as total arses and justifying it in the name of Christmas. When I had "peopled" too much and the world was too much with me, I could play this song and feel a measure of sanity return.
• "The Day I Tried To Live" -- the song became a daily mantra for several weeks. Days when on the commute, I'd find just the right spot on the interstate, cue it up, and belt it out at the top of my lungs, giving myself a boost before going in to the office. Sometimes during the day, I'd sneak into the private washroom, put my head against the mirror, breathe deeply, and whisper in a shaky voice, "one more time around" .... telling myself to hang on, sometimes for the next hour. Sometimes for five minutes. Whatever length of time I could. And do it again. One more time around.

I found other gems.... "Burden In My Hand" is five minutes of pure delight when I sing along and forget that an outside world exists. "Boot Camp" is the first 17 years, 10 months of my life, raised in a small town culture that isn't always kind to its misfits. "Black Saturday," a now far too poignant piece that reminds me of my relationship with my mom... the times over the past 25 years when I'd tell my friends "if I EVER get like that, you have my full permission to take me out!" And now watching her slowly fade away..... Countless others that offered beauty and solace.

There isn't a song off any of the CDs -- solo, Soundgarden, or Audioslave -- that I haven't liked or enjoyed. I began guitar lessons, inspired by their examples. After 8 weeks of lessons, I'm no less inspired, even though I am frustrated by my own inability to just relax and not overthink the simplest things, such as strumming. Yes, I overthink a basic technique. It's helped my vocal skills..... my range has finally gotten close to the three-octave range I've sought for years.

In all this, I have also rediscovered the joys of Temple of the Dog. I found old Pearl Jam gems and got tickets for their show in my hometown..... Because OMG they are really freakin coming here!!!!! and I'll finally get to see Matt Cameron!!!!!! And I can't wait for a new Soundgarden CD and for a tour, hopefully this year. 

All this to say thank you, more than these inadequate words can possibly convey. The music you have brought into my life has saved me many times over. Thank you for your words, your quirky time signatures, your offbeat chords, your non-standard tunings...... For all of this that has made your music unique and precious to me. And right now, I need all the salvation and sanity out there that I can grab. My words seem so small, but they are heartfelt.