Throwaway Style: Healing From Music, Giving Empathy to the Artists

Chris Cornell // Photo by Dave Lichterman

Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, every Thursday on the KEXP Blog.


“Where were you when you first heard ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit?'”

For a generation of music fans, it’s a popular question to ask. It often pertains to a physical space. Hearing it on the radio in the car, being played the track in a friend’s basement, or having a savvy record store clerk blare it on the store’s sound system. But if you strip the question of its context of proximity, I think it becomes more meaningful and evergreen. Where were you emotionally when you first heard “Teen Spirit”? Or, at least, when it first really hit you. I was too young to really experience Nirvana when they were tearing through the airwaves and revolutionizing the aesthetic of MTV. But I can remember being a teenager in my bedroom and hearing those first four chords then an assault of drums blaring through my speakers. It was a quick bee-line from there to Soundgarden‘s “Black Hole Sun” and Pearl Jam‘s “Jeremy” from there.

These songs hit me hard because 1) they were just clearly great songs and 2) they spoke to me on a level that I hadn’t felt from other artists I was listening to at the time. I started to wonder if it was a Northwest thing as a couple years later I found myself pouring over Elliott Smith‘s Either/Or and Rocky Votolato‘s Suicide Medicine, records that were cut from a different sonic cloth than grunge but kept that emotional core that resonated so much for me. All these artists proved themselves to be more than a teen phase as I’ve carried them with me still. Their music has been something I’ve turned to when I’ve felt low when I’ve needed to hear a comforting voice that knows what it’s like to hurt and can put it into words that I never could. I’ve always thought of it as a blessing to have these artists’ works in my life, but I don’t know if I ever really grappled with the consequences the voice on the other end of the recording was going through. Not fully, at least.

Alongside the Northwest’s rich history of outstanding music, is a bleaker reality of depression and anxiety consuming those very same artists. When Chris Cornell took his own life in May, there were comments from fans all saying eerily similar sentiments that they thought he’d “survived” when his peers had not during the grunge heyday. It was a stark reminder that mental illness is not something that has an expiration date. It’s a lifelong battle and not something that people just “escape” or reach a point where they become impervious. On my worst days, I feel this hard. On my best, it’s not something that’s even on my mind.

There’s a fascination with flaws and faults. It’s what we often call “humanizing.” How many more people say they feel like Superman is hard to relate to yet readily embrace the billionaire vigilantism of Batman? That tortured feeling of Bruce Wayne makes him accessible to audiences, a lot in the way that Kurt Cobain did when Nirvana emerged in the spotlight.

Rock and roll’s sounded dangerous since it birthed out of the blues, continuing to push extremes and peeling back the fourth wall between the artist and their work with each new musical movement. And that has historically been a beautiful thing. I personally can’t imagine getting through some of my worst moments without Cobain’s feverish howls or Smith’s quiet intensity. But there’s a thin line between finding healing in tortured music and admiring the spectacle. The album cycle rolls out boasting new revelations on an artist’s latest revealing work, the ponderous conversations among fans, and — let’s just say it — the gossip.

It’s easy to disassociate with music. The voices in our headphones and speakers getting us through the day aren’t just existing to quell our emotions. We’re experiencing the real catharsis of a real person. I firmly believe in the idea that music heals. It’s something I’ve experienced in my own life. As I’ve grappled with my own anxiety bubbling in the past year, I’ve needed it more than ever. But Cornell’s recent passing and the deaths of other artists here in the Northwest are reminders of how hard it is for these heroes we look up to. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how we can be more responsible as listeners. I know it’s not feasible to always reach out to an artist you’ve loved to check if they’re okay, especially when they’re selling out arenas, but our actions still resonate — especially in the social media age. There’s a responsibility to being a fan that means appreciating the music and the artist and not fetishizing their pain. As a community, we have a responsibility to be respectful. Maybe there’s an artist in your life still cutting their teeth around town who needs your emotional support. I don’t know all the answers, I’m just a guy writing on a blog who’s meandering a little bit too much here. But I think it’s important to wrestle with these ideas. Depression and anxiety are real problems that real people deal with — even rock stars whose posters we’ve had on our walls. Music heals for the writer and the listener. To keep that balance, we have to be careful on how we engage and talk about artists.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression and anxiety, know that there are resources out there. KEXP has collected a list of organizations you can reach out to for help. I’d encourage you to reach out to those around you as well. Call up a friend, put on one of your favorite records that gives you peace, and share your truth.

New and News

Vancouver’s Holy Hum Releases New LP All Of My Bodies

Vancouver producer/songwriter Andrew Yong Hoon Lee has been steadily releasing music under the Holy Hum moniker since 2013. Last week he finally released his first full-length LP, All Of My Bodies — and it’s a total marvel. Dedicated to the memory of his deceased father, Lee extrapolates grief with heavy waves of synthesizers and the murky rhythms of guitars and his own forlorn voice. It’s a powerful listen that I’m honestly still digesting. It’s heavy, expansive, and glimmering with Lee’s memories. I can’t wait to spend more time with this record.

 

Koga Shabazz Releases Debut EP, Overture

On the first day of 2017, Central District-based rapper Koga Shabazz dropped his first official track. Just over 10 months later and fresh out of high school, we’re finally treated to a full EP of Koga’s material in the form of Overture, fulfilling the promise of the spark he showed on his first tracks. Over seven songs, he asserts himself as one of Seattle’s promising young talents. With features from local mainstays Dave B and Gifted Gab, he holds own with his vicious and energetic flow. This is clearly just the beginning for Koga. Look out.

FKL Share New Single “Temporary”

Since relocating to Seattle from the UK, electronic duo FKL have invigorated the scene with elements of dance and garage from the other side of the Atlantic. On November 3, they’ll give us even more to gush over with their debut LP, Out of Tune. If you haven’t been able to idulge in the band’s smoky and propulsive brand of dance music, their latest single “Temporary” is the perfect entry point. An amorphous synthesizer lead skitters over club beats, veering between introspective and visceral with Sage Redman’s airy vocals expertly holding it all together.

Live and Loud: This Week’s Recommended Local Shows

October 12: Delvon Lamarr (of Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio) at Tula’s 

 

October 12: Dusty, Smokin’ Ziggurats, and Powerbleeder at Blue Moon Tavern

 

 

October 13: Jo Passed, Skelevision, and Hello, I’m Sorry at Kame House

 

 

 

October 14: Reykjavik Calling w/ Fufanu, Mammut, Charms

 

October 14: Retirement, Egghsells, and Fine at Victory Lounge

 

 

Oct. 16: Ghost Soda, Pleasures, and Thank You

 

 

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