There are two facts that I knew about the late Chris Cornell, frontman for Soundgarden and former frontman of Audioslave. I knew he had a brother named Peter and I knew that their father passed away on May 5, 2000.
Now the only reason I know these two particular facts is because the passing of the Cornells’ father led to Peter having to cancel a show at the 8×10 club in Baltimore. This cancellation resulted in one of the top five favorite shows I ever played and one of my favorite memories. Every year since that day, on May 5th I don’t initially think of Coronas or any other Mexican beer. I don’t think of Margaritas or sombreros.
No. On Cinco de Mayo I think of Peter Cornell, his father’s passing, and how everything can quickly change in a few hours.
My band was called Jahronee (named after a member’s former gym teacher) and it consisted of myself, Party Paul Powell, Joey T Nemiroff, and young buck Andy Shankman. During my sophomore year at Goucher College we were the token party band, frequently playing the Gopher Hole, the coffee shop on campus. By spring of that year, we had started to take our show on the road and into the wilds of Baltimore. We played some joint with Tattoo in the name and did our first two set show at the Brass Monkey in Fells Point, a polished joint whose slogan was, where no one looks ugly after two.
On Cinco de Mayo, we were slated to play the 8×10 club in the Federal Hill section of Baltimore. We would be opening up for Peter Cornell, the younger brother of Chris Cornell. This was all we knew about him. This was all we told people about him.
We had played the 8×10 club a couple times before and had finally won over their hard to please sound man, a noted accomplishment in its own right. The band was excited for the show, giddy almost, and anxious to try and parlay our opening slot into a headlining slot sometime down the road.
We arrived early, probably too early, and had plenty of time to kill. The streets grew wilder as the night went on. But we were youngsters, not yet at legal drinking age and we sat on the curb, waiting for our set time and watching the escalating drunken madness swirl and come to life around us.
Sometime in the evening, club management found us and notified us that Peter Cornell had canceled. His father had died suddenly and because we were the only full band on the bill, they were bumping us up to the headlining slot.
Can you play for an hour? They asked. Could we? The answer would sort itself out later. Of course we could.
Immediately we got on the phone, both the pay phone outside and the phone behind the bar (this was during the pre-cellphone era) and started calling everyone on the campus whose number we could remember.
Get down here! We told them.
We’re headlining! We exclaimed.
Bring everyone! We urged.
The night had turned, the vibe was different.
Now we weren’t just dudes playing a quick opening slot, but a band playing an actual set on a night when people actually came out. Excitement ran smack into nerves and came out in a tangled web of false bravado and gusto. All things considered, a perfect combination.
The 8×10 has since been renovated, but in 2000 it was dirty. It was a step up from a dive, but not a big step- more like a small ramp. It had an over-arching aura of dinginess to it. The backstage room was three floors up, accessed by a winding stairway running along walls that were covered with the signatures of bands who had been there before. We were casual hippies and seeing Phish scrawled on the wall was the highlight of the long hike up the stairs.
At the top of the stairs was the green room and it smelled like a drunken gorilla with body odor. The guy who was playing before us was a beefy dude who had taken over the room. He did so with two hooker-looking gals and lines of coke running across the mirror he had put on the floor.
Polite of course, he offered it to us. Polite of course, we quickly declined.
We weren’t rock stars yet.
When it was time for us to play, the room was damn near packed with friends from school. Phone calls had worked, word had spread- everyone’s favorite campus band was doing them proud and the kids came out. I still remember Kenny dancing up front and Amanda prancing around the club barefoot.
Did we a play perfect set? Probably not. But did that matter? Nope.
That night was one of those nights where the emotions that were felt and the enthusiasm that was running full speed through my body would never be repeated. It was one of those pure nights that came out of nowhere and had an unshakable joy that tagged along.
As a musician, it was a night hard to beat. It would be a show that had top 5 staying power straight through the 300 plus shows I played with a band I was later in, Sidecar Radio.
As for Jahronee, the show was our high-water mark.
That show was when we crested, a night we never got close to again. A few months later the band was done. We had moved on, as is so often the case with bands. Maybe in retrospect the night means so much to me because it was essentially a good night & good luck show for us, even though it seemed like such a rocket launcher of an opportunity.
The night was a success, but not the kind of success that lead to future success.
But that’s okay.
Not every good thing is meant to be a sonic boom. Sometimes the best things in life are drive-bys- quick moments that you should grab and hold on tight to because their staying power is something ethereal and in the wind, not meant to last for that long.
So while the day May 5th is a heartbreaker for the Cornell family, it will always bring a smile to my face. We had fun, we did it right, and we did it all justice. I’ll always be sorry for the Cornell’s loss, but on that night their loss was our gain. And it was fun.
A lot of fun.