“Dolby’s Rupees: Soundgarden – ‘Ty Cobb'”

* from Down on the Upside (1996)


Somebody pi**ed off Seattle. That’s all there is to it.

But I’m not talking about the anger teenagers feel which makes them want to rock out. This is something more (or less). Something was stolen from Seattle, people like Chris Cornell, who carry the torch of “caring,” for the lower-profiles, the record producers, the collectors, the comic artists, the people glossed over by the Vanity Fair “grunge” machine.
Soundgarden, with “Ty Cobb,” as with Marcy Playground on “The Shadow of Seattle,” [1] [2] want to disturb you in a transcendent way, want to get in your head with an ignition of travail, and stay there for 15 years, maybe from the time when you’re in high school to your early 30’s, like me.
And “Ty Cobb” isn’t much though, it’s just a decent punk song. [3] But consider the source: Soundgarden were ALWAYS bombastic, [4] probably even more so than Pearl Jam, always with the five minute songs, the Christ references, the epic (or wannabe epic) guitar solos of Kim Thayil, where if they’re lucky they all even stay on the beat. I mean, they were like COMICALLY bombastic, almost like a grunge Spinal Tap, though I still consider Superunknown a moderate classic.
But anyway, you get older and you notice certain things about Down on the Upside: the auxiliary Cornell vocal toward the end of “Pretty Noose,” the extent to which “Rhinosaur” sucks, the ability of “Zero Chance” and “Dust” to still reflectively rock in their own way, and, most zealously for me, Soundgarden’s penchant for showcasing the mandolin, still, the same one from the song’s tranquil half-minute Flamenco-type intro, even during the busy bludgeoning of the song, toward the end around where they’re repeating that one Bo Diddley-type bridge.
“Found art” is an intriguing concept introduced, of all places, in a Steve Buscemi movie, Ghost World. Obviously a lot of you reading this know the concept, and/or have seen the movie, but for those who don’t or haven’t: Found Art entails the showcasing of an object whose very appearance dictates in and of itself artistic attributes — no medium or technique required, such as painting, sculpting or recording. The example given in the movie is of a black face chicken advertiser — a clearly racist symbol whose artistic functionality regards the cultural discourse implied, and a discussion of how attitudes and norms have evolved for the better over the years.
Obviously a song on an album can’t really be “Found Art,” but I do notice a deliberate attempt of the band’s on “Ty Cobb” to strip down, and to revert from their preexisting m.o. of those big overarching, face-melting melodies. That the mandolin of bassist Ben Shepherd [5] is featured so prominently has not so much a musical quality as a cultural one, and rather than the underlying song pulp prizing this instrumentational levity, it’s actually the other way around: the mandolin only serves to celebrate the simple meatheaded rocking of the song, which Soundgarden manages to pull off even as a bombastic grunge band, [6] a song to influence punk rockers, and to, they hope, kill grunge forever. It looks like they succeeded, too.
[1] “The Shadow of Seattle” was infamous in my friend circle for having this epic guitar outro that cuts short, as if by technical accident, though never to resume.
[2] Marcy Playground hails from Minneapolis… last year I was talking to this sports writer from Minnesota in a bar, we were watching the Eastern Washington basketball game in the tournament and I said, “That’s like the next town over from you!” Unsurprisingly, he didn’t laugh.
[3] It’s actually a punk song TO A TEE, as in opposite of a grunge song, per the exclamation of rhythm guitarist/urban wit Seattleite Leighton Beezer in the movie Hype!: the guitar player slides a half step up for punk, and a half step down, for grunge. Another example of this punk line would be “Kill Surf City” by The Jesus and Mary Chain, not too sure about the grunge one.
[4] Steve Turner of Mudhoney, and formerly of Green River, which he shared with Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, once laid into “Jesus Christ Pose” big time in an interview… possibly a little jealousy thing goin’ on?
[5] Ben Shepherd who was once also in a band with Stone Gossard, and who would go on to record a luke warm album to mainstream commercial attention as the frontman of the heavily Stooges-influenced Hater.
[6] Though they had dabbled slightly in punk on Superunknown’s “Kickstand” and DOTU’s “No Attention” and “An Unkind,” the latter of which makes more of an impression.

Leave a Reply