“‘Where Have You Been?’: Audioslave – ‘Like a Stone’”

*The “Where Have You Been?” series handles individual songs and diagrams their history, from their inspiration, to the writing, to their eventual contexts and implications it’s had in our culture, with an emphasis on the geography of all these things, or the “where,” in other words.

Corbin Reiff’s Chris Cornell biography Total F*cking Godhead paints a clear landscape of the birth of Audioslave: “Chris had crossed paths with Rage a few times… They met on the Lollapalooza tour in 1996 and, at one point, Chris and Morello talked about working on some things together… Nothing came of it, but now the guitarist was riding alongside Rick Rubin, driving the hour and a half north from Hollywood to Chris’s house in Ojai to make their pitch.” Now, as Wikipedia lists, Cornell’s hometown is Seattle, Washington, Cornell having relocated to Southern California after the breakup of Soundgarden, in which he’d been lead singer for a decade or so. Of further entertainment value is Reiff’s synopsis of Cornell’s environs in his youth in Seattle, in quoting Cornell: “‘I remember walking by the basement window one time, and this dude who had like huge, poofy Lynyrd Skynyrd hair and a goatee and a mustache was shooting something at me from a syringe out the window.’”

This, amongst other gruesome tales from Cornell’s childhood which seem too awful and bulbously calamitous to even relate in this post, make it a little more believable that, as Reiff writes elsewhere in his book, “There was something about austere spaces that sparked Chris’s creativity… ‘Susan had once rented a house up in the Sand Point area, a small house with no view and a rental-house carpet and nothing to really look at,’ he recalled… ‘It wasn’t an inspiring atmosphere at all… But I had an incredible amount of luck writing in that house.’” Indeed, it’s like the ghosts and furies were spinning around so busily in Cornell’s head that that steadiness, almost like a blankness, manifested as his best creative atmosphere, which, phenomenologically, would double as his ideal existing atmosphere holistically, you might think. 

“Like a Stone,” the second single from Audioslave’s self-titled debut, pretty much explicitly endorses stillness and blankness and items of merit, for Cornell. What’s more, in my opinion, it’s just got that original Soundgarden vibe about it, that feel of Cornell’s songwriting from his younger days, with pliable, everyday but purposeful chord progressions providing an ambient backdrop for casual, yet forceful, and slightly self-absorbed, vocals. The parallels between “Like a Stone” and “Fell on Black Days,” that is, would seem to abound, particularly from a structural standpoint, with “Like a Stone,” miraculously, even catchier and more ready for radio. By pop standards, this would make it a better song, and I don’t think such a possibility would be out of the question. On an unrelated, but pretty cool, sidenote, I’d just like to mention that “(‘Like a Stone’) became the fifth best performing alternative song on the Alternative Songs chart of the decade and the eighth best peforming rock song on the Mainstream Rock chart of the decade,” according to Wikipedia.

Now, at a certain point, all of this stuff gets pretty somber, obviously: Reiff also offers another quote from Cornell from around the time of Audioslave’s genesis, which basically outlined a very grim everyday lifestyle of alcohol and opioid addiction, as well as a marriage suffering from personal pitfalls. In light of what’s happened to Cornell on a personal level since leaving Soundgarden, I’m going to choose not to delve too deeply into the exact details of composition. It is interesting, anyway, to make light of Wikipedia’s discourse on the manufacture of “Like a Stone,” when they quote Cornell: “‘It’s a song about concentrating on the afterlife you would hope for, rather than the normal, monotheistic approach: You work really hard all your life to be a good person and a moral persona and fair and generous, and then you go to he** anyway.’”

As far as Wikipedia dictates, all of the members of Audioslave were in on the songwriting, with Cornell apparently handling the “lyrics,” so it would apparently stand to reason that Cornell were in Southern California when he put together the words for Audioslave’s best and most popular tune. A further look at the Wikipedia page for the band’s self-titled debut album, though, clues us in that part of the LP was recorded in Seattle (as well as LA), at two places named Litho and X, respectively. And, partly since we’re getting into the ghoulish time of year, I can’t help but let my imagination run a little bit and picture old, rich feelings of his hometown flooding Cornell’s mind on his band’s professional visits back to the Emerald City, as an artistic catalyst behind the song’s fruition. He probably thought of that plain, “austere” house that his wife Susan Silver had rented there a decade or so earlier, and even tiptoed onto the process of idealizing blankness, of idealizing isolation, solitude and stasis, as a bona fide commodity in life on this planet. 


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