“Singles” – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Deluxe Edition (1992 / 2017)

easystreetcornellUnless you’ve been living under a rock or the terms of your probation don’t allow you to access the internet, you know that Chris Cornell passed away a few days ago.  Chris was an icon in the Seattle music scene, first with OG grunge rockers Soundgarden and later with Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, and his solo projects.  He was a supremely talented man and music fans in Seattle probably feel his loss just a bit more deeply than do people everywhere else.  He was one of ours, born and raised.  I’m certainly old enough to have experienced the loss of other musicians who were part of my formative years, including more than a few local talents.  Cobain, Staley, Wood… But Cornell.  This wasn’t supposed to happen.  He had survived the reckless years.  He’d won Grammy’s.  He did a James Bond theme song for Christ’s sake.  And he was back with Soundgarden and touring.  And then he was gone, choosing to exit the stage permanently.

Holly and I were playing Louder Than Love the evening he died, possibly right around the actual time his death occurred.  And we were already planning on heading out to the record store on Saturday to buy the new deluxe edition of the Singles soundtrack that was coming out that Friday.  So Chris was, even if a bit indirectly, in my thoughts this week, and perhaps that’s what I’ve been feeling so reflective about his passing.  Many of the others weren’t terribly surprising.  Heroin has taken its pound of flesh from the Seattle scene, and many of the previous casualties had struggled with the dragon for years.  But Chris had made it through.  But the scars were still there, and ultimately the pain was so overwhelming that in his mind there was only one resolution.

A piece of my remembered teenage innocence died with him.

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We watched Singles on Thursday night for the first time in a long time and it helped a little, putting a smile on my face and giving us a quick glimpse at a young Chris Cornell looking on as Bridget Fonda’s new stereo blows out all of her car windows.  And we went out to pick up the soundtrack on Saturday morning like we planned even though we knew the entire city was sold out of it on vinyl (♠), so we settled for the CD.

The first disc is the original soundtrack, 13 tracks that could almost be a Seattle best-of album in their own right had only Nirvana contributed a song (I can’t really explain how Paul Westerberg and Smashing Pumpkins ended up on it… though I have to begrudgingly admit that Westerberg’s “Waiting For Somebody” is, to me, the song that best captures the overall feel of the movie).  It’s an eclectic mix of tunes, though.  It opens with the menacing bass line of Alice In Chains’ “Would?,” a dark way to start the soundtrack of what is in effect a rom-com.  Pearl Jam gets us a bit more into the vibe of the movie with “Breath,” and then it’s Cornell’s turn.  I can remember originally buying this CD back in 1992 and being blown away by “Seasons,” a very un-Soundgarden-like song that was the perfect vehicle to showcase Chris’ voice, exposing a side of his musical talent that I’d never heard before.  I still think it’s the most beautiful song not he album, though “Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns” gives it a run for its money.

There were some intriguing selections on Singles and I respect director Cameron Crowe for staying with Seattle even when he goes back in time, using Jimi Hendrix’s “May This Be Love” in the scene when Campbell Scott and Kyra Sedgwick play records together in Scott’s apartment and also getting Ann and Nancy Wilson (Crowe’s wife at the time) involved performing as The Lovemongers with their near-perfect interpretation of Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore”.  There was a real effort here to make this as Seattle-centric an experience as possible.

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Left to Right:  Chris Cornell (RIP), Jeff Ament, Matt Dillon, Layne Staley (RIP), Cameron Crowe

I’d actually forgotten that Mudhoney contributed a song to Singles.  Well, technically two songs, I suppose, but only one that made it onto the soundtrack.  They were given a budget of $20,000 to record “Overblown,” but as the story goes they hit up a local studio and paid producer Conrad Uno $164 for a day’s work, banged out their song, and walked out at the end of the day $19,836 the better for it (♥), which is a pretty punk move.  The movie’s fictional band Citizen Dick, fronted by Matt Damon, also performed a song called “Touch Me I’m Dick,” a modified version of the underground Mudhoney hit “Touch Me I’m Sick”.  Somehow this didn’t end up not he soundtrack (♣), but was eventually released as a 7″ single on Record Store Day back in 2015 and also makes an appearance on this deluxe edition, opening the bonus CD.

The original soundtrack was every bit as good as I remembered, but what I was truly excited about was the bonus disc full of extras – live tracks, demos, acoustic versions, you name it, a decent amount of it never-before released.  Cornell is all over this thing, contributing seven of its 18 tracks, one with Soundgarden and the rest as a solo artist, including an early pre-Superunknown version of “Spoonman” and the Beatles-esque “Flutter Girl”.  But the three live tracks, “Would?” and “It Ain’t Like That” by Alice In Chains and Soundgarden doing “Birth Ritual” (complete with the intro, “Cue musicians, go!”), are the highlights to me, well-recorded and capturing both bands in their more formative and energetic years.

And then there’s Paul Westerberg again, and dammit, I want to resent him for bing a non-Seattle musician on this soundtrack, but his songs are just so damn good I can’t do it.  The bonus disc gives us four Westerberg tracks – beautiful acoustic renditions of both of his soundtrack contributions “Dyslexic Heart” and “Waiting for Somebody,” as well as a pair of previously unreleased tunes in “Blue Heart” and “Lost In Emily’s Woods.”

The two biggest “surprises” on the bonus disc were tracks by Truly and Blood Circus.  If I’m being completely honest, I’d never heard of Truly before even though two of its three members came from Soundgarden and Screaming Trees.  I may have to track down some of their stuff if I can.  As for Blood Circus, I’d forgotten how grimy they were.  “Six Foot Under” is heavy, hitting you like a grunge version of a country song.

While I’m still a vinyl junkie, I have no regrets about buying Singles on CD as it was the bonus material that interested me the most.  It’s too bad they didn’t do the whole thing on vinyl, like a four record special edition box set – now that I probably would have bought.  But regardless, I’m very happy with the both the quality and price (got mine on sale for $15) and highly recommend it to any fans of the old school Seattle sound.

(♠)  The vinyl guy at Easy Street told me they’d ordered 200 copies and only got 20.  They’ll certainly have more, but given that all the bonus material is on CD, even with the vinyl release, I figured I’d just save myself $20 or so and buy the disc.

(♥)  Mudhoney:  The Sound and Fury From Seattle by Keith Cameron (2013), p. 157-58.

(♣)  It probably had something to do with the literal use of the word dick, along with the euphemism “little Elvis” and the repeated phrase “I won’t cum”.  Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center would have had field day with that song.

Citizen Dick – “Touch Me I’m Dick” 7″ (2015)

My family moved across the country to the Seattle in the mid 1980s, shortly before I started high school.  That allowed me to experience the rise of the burgeoning grunge scene, mostly through the constant stream of 7″ singles being put out by Sub Pop.  We weren’t in the city, though, living instead in the suburbs on the other side of Lake Washington, so I hardly had a front-row seat to what was happening.  Before the internet, even finding out about shows could be difficult, and I could hardly have convinced my parents to let me head downtown to run-down clubs on random nights to catch bands they’d never heard of.  So I stuck mostly with AC/DC and Def Leppard concerts and my growing stack of Sub Pop records.

By time the movie Singles came out in 1992 I was attending the University of Washington… though still living on the other side of the lake, sharing a small apartment with Holly.  Nirvana’s Nevermind had already blown the music scene wide open, and Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden jumped through the hole, and it seemed like everyone was talking about Seattle bands.  The irony is that Singles actually finished filming in early 1991 – so the delay in its release made it look like the film was trying to capitalize on the popularity of the Seattle scene, when in fact it was actually ahead of the curve.

Opinions of tSingle in Seattle were mixed, at least among people my age.  For some it was an eye-roller – a Gen X rom-com that centered around a music scene that was flat-out antagonistic towards the mainstream… one that found itself being in the odd situation of having just become the new mainstream.  It’s the standard catch-22 of complaining that your scene doesn’t get enough respect, then flipping out when lots of people embrace it.  Kurt Cobain talked about how weird it was to look out into the crowd at Nirvana shows and see a lot of people there who were exactly the kind of people he hated and railed against.  Such is the price of popularity.

The Singles soundtrack is a kick-ass collection of songs, most of them from Seattle-area musicians (with the exceptions of Paul Westerberg, formerly of The Replacements, and The Smashing Pumpkins; Westerberg was punk, so I get it… but I have no idea what the Pumpkins are doing on it).  Many of them also appear in the movie, both performing and in cameos.  But there was one song conspicuous in its absence – “Touch Me I’m Dick,” by Citizen Dick, the fictional band (comprised of actual members of Pearl Jam) fronted by one of the film’s main characters and portrayed by Matt Dillon.  How could that song, which is a play on Mudhoney’s punk anthem “Touch Me I’m Sick,” not have made the cut?

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Well, I still don’t have an answer to that.  But it was finally released as a RSD limited edition single earlier this year.  And despite my best efforts, I was unable to get my hands on a copy (I suspect Seattle was the prime market for this one).  I figured eventually I’d pony up and buy one on eBay.  At least that was the plan until I went to Easy Street Records today and saw a bunch of copies of it, because it was just re-released on red vinyl.  So I picked myself up a copy.  And it’s amazing.  Over-the-top with it’s references to “little Elvis” and double-entrenres (“I won’t come…”), it’s definitely a pretty funny piss-taker on the Mudhoney original.  And you know, given how ridiculous and quasi-perverse it is, maybe now I understand why they left it off the soundtrack.

Like it’s RSD cousin, this version of “Touch Me I’m Dick” is single sided, with the B side given over to an etching of a quote from the movie by Matt Damon’s dense character Cliff Poncier in which he tries to explain (unsuccessfully) what the song is about.  It also includes a show sticker for Citizen Dick and two other bands, most notably Mookie Blaylock, which was the original name of Pearl Jam.

A nice piece of nostalgia and good for a laugh or two.