“Dolby’s 12 Days of Soundgarden: Day 6 (The ‘Black Hole Sun’ Video as the Pinnacle of Multimedia Creative Expression)”

Soundgarden’s music is the type that’s capable of making you fall in love with it all over again, every time you listen to it. It’s the FULLNESS of it all — that wall of electric guitar sound that Kim Thayil generated, accompanied by the masterful use of the distortion pedal, is something larger than life, indescribable with words.
Kurt Cobain defined grunge rock as “hard music played to a slow tempo” and the Melvins were an important influence for him in all regards, but especially along these lines. I’ll be da**ed, though, if I’ve been in the mood to listen to the Melvins in ages, whereas even the album Superunknown alone, from which “Black Hole Sun” shimmies, I’ve put in while dishwashing on a job in the last three years, I’ve listened to on my stereo at home and I’ve pulled songs off of it for mixtapes like Ben Shepherd’s amusing little sitar romp “Half.” Superunknown is a regular orgy of melody — building on the bludgeoning deliberation of Badmotorfinger’s “Outshined,” “Searching with My Good Eye Closed” and “Mind Riot” and just branching out — seeing what there is to see. It sounds about 10 acid trips wiser than its predecessor.
So yeah, on the “Black Hole Sun” video they’re obviously going for shock value — faces hewn and strewn into disturbing shapes and deadened into vice grip stares on their menial tasks, as well as the disfigured sky. Actually, the first time I ever heard the song was also I believe the first time I ever heard this band at all, and it was seeing the video, which made it almost impossible to judge the song alone.
Now, I’ve never been to the Northwest. I could go down the laundry list of accounts of it, not at all all positive, but I’ll spare you that and let you watch Portlandia for your education on it instead, wielding the pipe dream that it will actually be funny. What I see with these bands in general, given the spectral culture and imagery all of which is emaciated in a video like “Black Hole Sun,” is a complete lack of faith in just about anything (he** this is the lead singer who said “You gotta kill your mother / Kill your mother”). I’m reminded of the Everclear line “I never knew much about her past / I knew enough that I didn’t ask”. I’d never ask Chris Cornell about his past.
Ted Leo has a certain “travelogue from He**” type song “The Ballad of the Sin Eater,” which is about going abroad as an American and having everyone hate him, the first part of which goes “Today I woke up uncertain / And you know it gave me the fits / So I left this land of fungible convictions / Because it seemed like the pits / When I say convictions / I mean it’s something to abjure / And when I say uncertain / I mean to doubt I’ll not turn out a caricature”. And that’s just what it is in “Black Hole Sun” — it’s caricatured cinematography aesthetically, but also, probably, the physiognomical aspect of people being overly consumed in their own little meaningless situations and tasks, forgoing what Cornell sees as the big picture.
I personally found the lyrics to “Black Hole Sun” very appropriate upon the electing of one Mr. Trump — I was pi**ed off when G.W. Bush got elected. There were no words OF MY OWN to describe my feelings upon the Trump victory. But it couldn’t have been the result of anything but the most crushing pervasive myopia and I was left with the feeling like I was the only one with any brains, in the entire country. I would rock out to the song, I would post the lyrics on facebook, but all the while in the back of my mind was that video. What this maybe means, my persistent attachment of the song to its cinematic depiction, is that the song itself isn’t as strong as a couple others such as maybe “4th of July,” “Drawing Flies” and “Burden in My Hand” — I’ll allot this as the case for the time being. “Burden in My Hand” in particular is minimally strengthened by the video for it. But I think in “Black Hole Sun” we have a visual spot every bit worthy of the song, which certainly is a rare thing in alternative rock, probably never accomplished by Nirvana, Pearl Jam or Alice in Chains.
Videos don’t usually get reviews and in a way it’s a shame. To be sure, the whole enterprise very much encourages smoking pot, hence yielding a condition under which verbal articulation is anything but facilitated. Actually, it’s possible that Beavis and Butthead are the reigning MTV scholars of our times (I’ll spare myself the footage of that, out of consideration for my ensuing IQ score upon completion of this post). Even Rolling Stone never reviewed videos and I’m not sure how MTV would measure popularity since this was before the Internet — I guess just ratings, which are tabulated by some magic little elf inside a giant TV, or something. And even like with watching my Pumpkins DVD with all their videos on it, I can’t ever remember my friends saying anything qualitative about them, or at least anything MATERIAL and qualitative. It seemed to be all stoned chuckles. The one that made an impression was “Try, Try, Try,” which depicted two heroin users and the lines “Try to hold on / To this life / A little bit longer / Try to hold on”.
What this tells me is that what people want from videos, more so than any moral representation of anything, is just to be generally weirded out, or hypnotized, or both. The “1979” video is probably the best one by the Pumpkins and it’s very action-based — it’s got a house getting teepeed, a couple making out in the shower and then getting the water turned on on them, and these punk kids looting this gas station and bowling with some wine bottles as pins or something. It’s very high-budget stuff: give the ‘garden credit for mastering cinematography on a technical level, not just seeing it oversee a bulbous wealth of action, destruction and actor payroll. Like I said, I’ve never been to the Northwest. I did, however, recently talk to this dude in this bar who’d been up there for a business trip and who I think had lived there for a while too — and I got the sense from his tone and the look in his eyes of extreme emptiness and desolation. I don’t mean like some human vice, I mean just an especial case of whole wide-open spaces and wide-open possibilities. There was a sense of an almost eerie amount of expanse from his countenance as he described his experience up there. Indeed, these bands basically had nothing to lose — the “Black Hole Sun” is typifying of a wealth of creativity prototypical to grunge, hence making it easier to see how such dizzying heights of artistic enlightenment could lead to such depressing disillusion, upon exposure to the corporate American machine. But that’s a story for a different time.

Leave a Reply