Throwback Throwdown #2 - Nirvana vs. Soundgarden


For La Torre vs. La Torre II we debated Nirvana vs. Soundgarden (and by extension Kurt Cobain vs. Chris Cornell respectively) for grunge supremacy. Given that Nirvana was only able to complete three albums for the untimely death of Kurt Cobain, we only examined the first 5 albums of Soundgarden's initial run, so you will see nothing of Cornell's later music with Audioslave or his solo career. The categories that we have decided to use for this debate are: Legacy/influence, musicianship, vocals, songwriting, and body of work.

Legacy/Influence:

Nicholas (Nirvana) - "Not only did Nirvana help, but basically changed what music was, and our idea in our generation of what musicians and artists were, but they've also managed to keep a period of music, which I consider relatively in terms of all music history, a kind of a blip on the radar, managed to keep that relevant even to the youth of today, years later. So did they go out of their way to do anything flashy? No, not really. I think they were finally made for some people musicians accessible because they weren't the greatest people in the room at everything they did."

Michael (Soundgarden) - "I guess the crux of my argument is that grunge music was essentially Chris Cornell was the 'Godfather of Grunge'. So without Chris Cornell, you don't get, you know, Pearl Jam. You don't you don't get Nirvana. I was just reading an article in the Seattle Weekly about how Kurt Cobain was in a room with Chris Cornell. And he was so enamored, his girlfriend, Tracy Chapman said that he wanted to quit being the lead singer of Nirvana and try out for Soundgarden. That's how much he respected him. Chris had that effect on a lot of a lot of musicians, and the Seattle scene and he he kind of made that grunge scene on his back. Initially they were signed to Sub Pop and made some harder music before switching to a major label, which was controversial in Seattle because it wasn't home grown. But after that they had that crossover success. So I get that Nirvana has obviously had, you know, monumental success and there's no arguing that I mean, there are kids that wear t shirts today of Nirvana that have no idea what the hell they're wearing. But at the same time, my point is that I don't know that you have Nirvana without Chris Cornell without his influence on music. And without his he kind of like is the extension of what Robert Plant was to the lead singer back in Led Zeppelin's day, so he brought the iconic lead singer or a back to music time at a time when it wasn't popular."

Nicholas (Nirvana) - "Hey I can see that, but I mean even to start with the influence, I have a feeling that is more of the the genre (influencing one another) was then it was of actually just Chris Cornell. I feel like a lot of people from that era especially Nirvana were heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin. I don't know that he and some of the others were necessarily the creation of the scene. However, some other bands were operating around that time all kind of doing very similar thing I don't know that you say precisely that Soundgarden is where that came from even though they were doing it first because some would argue that original founders you alluded to was very different and was more of a hard rock act at the time (in their first two albums)."

Musicianship:

Michael (Soundgarden) - "I don't know that this is necessarily close and I'm a little critical here and it's not coming from a place of arrogance either because I'm not saying that Chris Cornell was a great guitar player by any means, he was a pretty good one. Kurt Cobain was an average to below average guitar player at best. This was something that he was very aware of and I think that it was kind of it was something that you know triggered his self-doubt and it's something that you kind of feel bad for him a little bit. I know it was you that had told me the story the one time about him not wanting to give up his pedals for the MTV Unplugged performance and having to have a special box built to hide them. So, you know, he was aware that it was a weakness. But I guess again, I don't know that it necessarily hurt him for the sake of their success. Like you said Nirvana wasn't necessarily known for being great musicians, they were known for making, loud 'let's blow the damn doors off of the house' songs. Whereas, Soundgarden were technical musicians that did have songs that were very, tight musically. Also, for the first part of Soundgarden's existence, Chris Cornell sang behind the drum set, which is kind of crazy to think about before he started singing full-time. So I think that that the musicianship you kind of have to go with Cornell and company by default."

Nicholas (Nirvana) - "I'm not trying to attack the category but you look at the category more I say, you have to decide what is most important to the category if you want to, if you think that or if you want to have a statement, and Chris Cornell is a more skilled or technical musician or instrumentalists. And Kurt Cobain I think everybody including Kurt Cobain would have agreed with you. You know Kurt Cobain was never one who wanted to talk. He was much of an instrumentalist. I think his music was an outlet. I don't think it really mattered, whether it was a guitar whether it was you know this or that he played a little piano candy and a drum set you know, he did all kinds of different things. I think it was just whether was someone was willing to listen to him. I mean, if anything, I think as far as a musician Kurt Cobain was a very talented musician. As far as getting music out to people and getting out what he wanted to express in some way. I think he, what was he a great guitarist? No, he was ranked number 12 by Rolling Stone in 2003. He was nowhere near that. As far as 100 greatest guitarists. He was later ranked like 45 and 2010, 2011 (by Rolling Stone). I wouldn't rank him that high. But it's not something he ever hung his head on or thought he was. It's people thrusting him into a position that I don't think he ever meant to do. You know, he wasn't a very skilled guitar player. He had absolutely no formal training. He said he would have failed Guitar 101 he was, you know, playing an instrument that he was self-taught, he wasn't he wasn't right-hand dominant. He did great work given the resources he had, but I think as a musician, he's very, very capable. And if we think of musicians, do I think more people sit around and get what Kurt Cobain was saying to them then maybe Soundgarden? I think probably yeah. But as far as skilled skilled musician technically in comparison No not at all.

Michael (Soundgarden) - "I think if you look at this category a little bit more broadly to look at stage presence I think that one's almost a push because I think they're both such showman. Though you read in books that Cobain was painfully shy, there were times where he could he could tap into something and he would just be like a maniac up there. So to me, but that's different than like watching Brandon Flowers where it looks like, you know, a stage performance. But it's musicianship in its own right. Chris Cornell was almost like a tiger on stage he would prowl and he would take his shirt off and I was reading they would make jokes about it in the band. So I think its really a push on the stage presence part of the equation."

Vocals:

Nicholas (Nirvana) - "Yeah, and this is an area where I had a I get a difficult time when it comes to the categories because Kurt wasn't a great vocalist he could sing on key if he needed to, though his whole schtick really wasn't to do that though. I feel like Nirvana was kind of a almost making fun of conventional music at the time because they weren't really bad at their instruments and they they were really limited because they would do things like playing as fast as they physically could. Once again Kurt not a trained musician and didn't have a lot of influences, other than professional musicians. Yeah. Chris Cornell, he had a voice unparalleled in music."

Michael (Soundgarden) - "Hey right, he could be smooth as butter or he could scream like a banshee. His vocal range was a little all over the place wherever he wanted it to be and the thing was he could do it live and so that was what was really cool about Chris Cornell. I think that's something that a lot of people looked up to him for was his ability to sing live and he could just go and tear the house down and just project. I imagine he probably wouldn't need a microphone in a smaller venue."