Dejected Expectations – Seattle’s Crumbling Music Legacy

The Seattle music scene of the early 90s is one of the most iconic and important periods in rock music history. What started as a small counter-culture punk movement in Washington, quickly became the new pop music. It unceremoniously flushed away any remaining 80s trends and ushered in a wave of music that’s influences can still be heard on the radio today.

The cornerstones of this scene were four Seattle-based bands that exploded between the years 1991 and 1995. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden were Seattle-grown rock gods that looked to have decades of work in front of them. With their arrival, Generation X had their own Zeppelin, Floyd, Skynyrd and Sabbath. They were the future, and rock music was in an active renaissance.

With the shocking death of Chris Cornell, another blow has been dealt to the already tattered Seattle Grunge legacy. A legacy that was already synonymous with social isolation, nihilism, apathy, self-loathing, and suicide, continues its march towards unfortunate self-actualization. Three of the four most iconic voices of that era are now gone, all with tragic ends.

Signs are pointing to Cornell’s death being a suicide. His end, lines up with the M.O. of that scene, even 25 years later. This “grunge” scene that quickly captivated the nation was followed by a rise in suicide rates. While the correlation here is probably not a causation, it is more likely a situation where similar factors were influencing both music and suicide rates. But, this isn’t a piece about the suicide rates or their gradual increase over the past 30 years.

It’s a piece about the seemly doomed nature of the key figures in the genre. Since 1991, the scene has been rattled by the loss of more artists than any other segment of popular music (with the only possible exception being rap). It isn’t just Seattle-based artists that fell victim to grunge’s legacy.

(from Seattle)
Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone
Born January 8, 1966
Died March 19, 1990
Aged 24 Years
Cause of Death – Overdose

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana
Born February 20, 1967
Died April 5, 1994
Aged 27 years
Cause of Death – Suicide

Layne Staley of Alice in Chains
Born – August 22, 1967
Died – April 5, 2002
Aged 34 years
Cause of Death – Overdose

Chris Cornell of Soundgarden
Born July 20, 1964
Died May 17, 2017
Aged 52 years
Cause of Death – Apparent Suicide

(Not from Seattle)
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon
Born September 26, 1967
Died October 21, 1995
Aged 28 years
Cause of Death – Overdose

Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots
Born October 27, 1967
Died December 3, 2015
Aged 48 years
Cause of Death – Overdose

One by one, the frontmen of these bands are dying well before their time. Is there something about this era that drives untimely passing? Rockers from previous generations like Paul McCartney, Roger Daltrey, Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, David Gilmore and Bob Dylan continue to age and oddly enough seem like they will never die. That one generation, the grunge bands from that tiny 4 year period, have been plagued by death and drugs. Even the markedly more visibly depressing “emo” era (2002-2008) hasn’t had nearly as much loss.

When you Google “Grunge Bands”, of the first 10 bands that come up, half of them have had their lead singers die or unnatural causes. That’s an astonishing 50%. This can be seen as a sad case of life imitating art or a generation of artists falling victim to the hazards of stardom. Either way, Cornell’s death is yet another tragic passing in a scene that has already seen a catastrophic loss.

When Scott Weiland passed two years ago I wrote a post. Since his death seemed less of a surprise and more of an inevitability, I focused on his musical legacy. With Cornell’s death, I reminisce about his music and continue to idolize his amazing voice, but my grief extends past his amazing body of work to the dreadful track record my formative bands are experiencing.

My generation’s music is riddled with tragedy, and every few years that tragedy rears its head. Asking why, doesn’t help, diving into back catalogs, doesn’t help, the grieving process doesn’t wipe away the stamp that will forever be synonymous with the most joyous music of my childhood. It’s a feeling that has no fix. Part emotional numbness, part embarrassment, part cynicism, the dejected expectations that come with my music’s legacy, is almost poetic. Like the entire 90’s Seattle music scene is just a long form art piece where the act three reveal is a doomed fate of both the characters and the existential apathy of the music itself. Ultimately, grunge is revealed to be the cursed antagonist of the greater sonic narrative of American Pop-Culture.

1992 will forever remain an unforgettable snapshot of music history. The music is as impressive as its ability to hold a mirror to itself.

RIP Chris Cornell, whatever the afterlife brings, may it relieve you of your earthly struggles.

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