Till I’m Up On My Feet Again
Honoring Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell’s death, Tamryn Spruill remembers a moment they shared at Lollapalooza in 1992, and the many times his lyrics saved her life.
It was 1992. He wore flannel, of course. Some non-descript color pattern, like gray or brown.
We were waiting for Pearl Jam to take the stage and Cody leaned in and whispered into my ear, “Do you know who that is? Behind us?”
The whisper let me know I should be casual about turning around. So, I waited a beat, and then glanced over my right shoulder. I shot a knowing look to Cody, and tried to play it cool. But, on the inside, I screamed: “Oh my God! It’s Chris Cornell!”
But was it?
Cody thought so, and I did too. We had just seen him perform on the Lollapalooza stage, a daytime set that gave us a good look at him. Of course, we also had seen him a million times in videos. Cody was more into the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but I would stay up late to watch MTV’s 120 Minutes because that was my best chance to see a Soundgarden video.
Although I had just completed my freshman year of college, my parents had forbidden me to go to the concert. So, like any high school orchestra geek entering a belated teenage rebellion, I used the money I’d been saving at my summer daycare job to buy tickets a week before the show. Appropriately, a grunge show was my first act of teenage rebellion.
Maybe it was the music that corrupted me.
As excited as I had been for the show, I found it strange to rock out under the bright sun of daylight. Everyone could see everyone else, which made me self-conscious. A daytime show felt weirder than the things I’d seen earlier in the day under the Jim Rose Circus tent, including the guy in khaki shorts with a beer in his hand who puked all over himself upon seeing a man lifting weights using rings looped through his nipples. Instead of going totally nuts during the Soundgarden set as I had a million times before, in my bedroom at home, to my parents’ great displeasure, I settled on a strong head shake.
Cody and I didn’t have the best seats, but we were close enough for me to notice his wavy dark hair, partially glued to his face with sweat. It was a sweltering, humid summer day in Charlotte, North Carolina, but he kept the flannel shirt on throughout the set.
I needed to get another look. I’d already decided I wouldn’t do something uncool, like ask for his autograph, or totally lame, like request a hug, because it was clear from first glance that he wanted to blend in with the crowd to enjoy the Pearl Jam set like everyone else. Had he not been right behind us, I never would’ve noticed it was him. A sea of shaggy hair, flannel shirts, and Doc Martins provided him with the perfect camouflage.
I, however, stuck out like a sore thumb. Black kids who were into grunge did not exist – at least not in the Deep South. I wore my requisite Docs but scrapped the flannel because it was too fucking hot; instead, I wore a funky, sleeveless dress I’d purchased for two dollars at a thrift store. My hair got frizzy from the humidity, but my bangs looked cool. Still, the fact could not be denied: I was a black grunge kid in the Deep South: a misfit, even at a grunge show. Weirder than the Jim Rose freaks.