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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Black Hole Sun

My musical tastes have best been described as...shall we say...eclectic.

If one were to sneak into my place, spot my iPod, and took it home with them to listen to it...I'd promptly call the police and report a burglary and I would be very mad at the person who stole it.

But seriously, if someone were to pick up my iPod and listen to it, they might be shocked to find that I have a lot of different genres downloaded onto it. And if one were to set my iPod onto shuffle mode, I can guarantee you that some of you might find the transitions from song to song to be quite jarring. Only on my iPod could you listen to Collective Soul, Garbage, Earth, Wind & Fire, Katy Perry, Simply Red, Badfinger, and Jody Watley in a given half hour.

But that's what my musical tastes have always been like. My iPod playlist spans six decades (1960-2013), and has a variety of styles of music. I have alternative, dancepop, Top 40, electronica, adult contemporary, soft rock, hard rock, and yes, I even have a couple of disco songs. Not many mind you (I don't really like disco all THAT much, but have a couple of guilty pleasures), but I have them.

Simultaneously, there are also a few genres that I will NEVER have on my iPod. As someone who was forced to listen to country music in his youth (as a result of my parents refusing to switch the dial to another radio station), I will probably have very few country music songs (if any) on my iPod as a sign of rebellion. Though, I'll also admit that I don't mind a few of the country/pop crossovers that seem to be in vogue. And, I do respect all of the various country artists who do perform and record albums, and wish them all the success in the's just not my cup of tea.

Same deal with the idea of major heavy metal. I understand that some of you are huge fans of Metallica, Motley Crue, Korn, Cinderella (the band, not the fairy tale character), and Quiet Riot. That's cool. Again, most heavy metal is not my cup of tea...although I do like classic Bon Jovi and the occasional Twisted Sister single. Besides, I find those types of songs to be way too loud, even for me.

And I swear to all of you as long as I will never, ever see a Justin Bieber song downloaded onto my iPod. Ever. I would rather download songs by “New Kids on the Block”, “Spice Girls”, or the “Backstreet Boys” onto my iPod...and to be honest, I have at least one song downloaded from each of the mentioned groups!

(I told musical tastes are VERY eclectic.)

Let's see...what's another genre of music that I have a love/hate affair with?

Oh, yes...the grunge movement of 1991-1995. I know that period very well. It was during the time that I was in school between fifth and eighth grades – also known as the “junior high school years”. And what a tumultuous brand of music to listen to while I was in junior high. Certainly seemed to befit the craziness and unpredictability of that era. It was, after all, the time in which I became a teenager.

Now, I'll be perfectly honest with all of you out there. In the early 1990s, I actually didn't listen to that much music. The grunge movement took over the radio at that time, and I actually kind of got turned off by it because to me, every song sounded the same. It was one depressing lyric after another, and all the songs were quite dark in subject matter.

It was like country music, only with a lot more black, a lot less Southern accents and loud musical instruments.

It actually wasn't until I got a little bit older that I started to understand grunge music a little bit more. Admittedly when I was in my most depressed state (that would be my late teen years), I developed a bit of a grunge phase. It didn't matter that the tide had turned, and more and more people were listening to happy, over-manufactured pop songs at the time. Listening to that grunge music was surprisingly helpful. Sure, the songs were never going to be like R.E.M.'s “Shiny Happy People”, but I know that listening to songs that were very depressing told me that I was not the only one who felt that way. I imagine that a lot of the singers and songwriters of the grunge era probably wrote songs as a way to slay their own personal demons and work out their own problems in hopes of finding a way out of their depression.

Of course, in the case of Kurt Cobain, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1994, clearly the combination of depression and drug use proved lethal. But other grunge acts have managed to survive and thrive – well, at least until they broke up.

I'll admit that I listened to Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Hole, and occasionally the odd Nirvana song in my youth.

But there was one song by a certain group that although I liked the song very much, I hated the music video that accompanied it. It was several shades of creepiness, weirdness, and just plain eerie. Of course as I grew older, I grew to appreciate the music video and think that it was a good one – even though it still gives me the creeps.

But look at it this least the video gives me the excuse to make this song the topic for the Sunday Jukebox. After all, the theme for this month is creepy music videos, right?

ARTIST: Soundgarden
SONG: Black Hole Sun
ALBUM: Superunknown
DATE RELEASED: May 17, 1994

Okay, so here's the deal with Soundgarden. The band itself formed in the birthplace of grunge music – Seattle, Washington – in 1984. The original line-up was Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, and Hiro Yamamoto. As time progressed, Yamamoto would leave the band and Ben Shepherd would join the group in 1990, and Matt Cameron also joined the band in 1986.

It really wasn't until the 1990s, however, until Soundgarden became a huge name in the world of music. Though the band released five albums between 1988 and 1996, it wasn't until the band released their fourth album – 1994's “Superunknown” - that people really began to take notice.

Let's just talk a little bit about the statistics of “Superunknown”, shall we? The album was really the second grunge inspired album that the band released (the first was 1991's “Badmotorfinger”), and its appearance on store shelves could not have come at a better or more timely instance. After all, 1994 was the peak of the grunge movement. The “Superunknown” album was very well received by fans and critics, and even won a couple of Grammy Awards for the effort!

Unfortunately, due to creative differences between the band, the group split up in 1997. But after a thirteen year hiatus, the band got back together again and are still touring around the United States today.

And one of the reasons why “Superunknown” performed so well was because of the single “Black Hole Sun”. Although the song only managed to make the Top 30 on the Billboard charts, it did top the charts on the US Mainstream Rock Tracks.

The song was written by Soundgarden lead singer Cornell, who has admitted that writing the song did not take long at all. He estimates that it took him just fifteen minutes to compose the song in its entirety – which I admit I find incredible. Interestingly enough, Cornell wrote the song with very low expectations! He was so sure that he would be the only one that liked it. He didn't even believe that his fellow bandmates would give “Black Hole Sun” their seal of approval.

And yet it became one of 1994's most memorable songs. Go figure.

But here's the biggest misconception of the song. When “Black Hole Sun” was first released, a common thought was that the song offered a positive message. And certainly with the chorus being “Black Hole Sun, won't you come and wash away the rain”, it does suggest the idea of sunshine eliminating depression.

But wait...that's not what Cornell envisioned at all for this song. And if his explanation is to be believed, the song is actually a lot darker than anyone initially intended. I think this quotation from Cornell from a January 1995 interview published in Rolling Stone Magazine says it best;

It's really difficult for a person to create their own life and their own freedom. It's going to become more and more difficult, and it's going to create more and more disillusioned people who become dishonest and angry and are willing to f@#$ the next guy to get what they want. There's so much stepping on the backs of other people in our profession. We've been so lucky that we've never had to do that. Part of it was because of our own tenacity, and part of it was because we were lucky.”

How's that for dark and depressing? Although, I can definitely see why the song did so well and resonated with so many people (including me). After all, we have all felt as though we have been screwed over by someone who we never expected would hurt us. I know I certainly have. But, at the same time, those painful experiences are learning experiences for all of us, and I know that having those experiences have helped me deal with people a lot better. Mind you, I'm extremely guarded when it comes to meeting new people, but I imagine that in time, those walls will give way.

At least, I hope so.

So, let's talk about the music video here for a second. The music video which is absolutely creepy as hell and has some of the most disturbing imagery of all time.

And to think that the source of all this destructive imagery is...a suburban neighbourhood?

Meh...makes sense. Some of the neighbours in my neighbourhood are kind of creepy, weird, and nasty. But don't let them know I said so.

Okay, so at first, the neighbourhood seems like a rather typical white bread suburbia neighbourhood. It's filled with kids jumping rope, men mowing their lawns, women preparing dinner. It's basically as if Soundgarden went back in time to the 1960s...only with a twist.

You notice all of the creepy smiles on all the faces of the people in the neighbourhood? How they almost seem clown-like? How their smiles are so plastered on it makes Barney the Dinosaur seem manic-depressive in comparison?

And, maybe it's just me, but doesn't that jump rope girl kind of look like Kimmy Gibbler from “Full House”?

Oh, and there's lovely images of a Barbie doll being roasted over a Barbie to the point in which her plastic body melts all over the charcoal at the bottom.

But then the real fun comes at the end of the video. Something dark and horrific appears in the sky accompanied with lighting, strong wind, and dark clouds. Is it a tornado? A hurricane? A tsunami?

Nope. It's a black hole. A black hole appearing in the sunny community down below, sucking up all of the creepy people and sending them into parts unknown!

How's that for apocalyptic irony? People meeting their ultimate fates in a place where they felt most safe.

Doesn't that sound like the ultimate fear? Is it any wonder why I chose this song to spotlight in the scary Sunday Jukebox month?

Will I ever stop asking questions in this blog piece?

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