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.
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)."
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."
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."
Michael (Soundgarden) - "I will say Chris Cornell is a maddening, songwriter because there are times where he can have an amazing song and it's brilliant and it's one of the best songs you've ever heard, specially lyrically. Then there are other times where he hot dogs it and I'm like, 'What the hell?' especially in his later Audioslave career which I said we wouldn't talk about, but like I've seen some of that in his Soundgarden work too where there's just a rhyme scheme or a song structure that I'm like 'Where is this going?' and you know and I I feel like even though I'm arguing my side, I feel like to have to concede this one to you."
Nicholas (Nirvana) - "I had to do that on my side too and I guess we think about it that they're both very polarizing individuals but they're so different and I hate to you know to be making excuses (in a category). I mean that was their (Nirvana's) area where I knew they would do well. Also, this is my area where I had my issues with Cornell to like, I some songs and even like the lyrics and stuff will be great and then some of the guitar work will be hokey and I know that's not all him but still. I think Kurt Cobain is almost unparalleled is the way I feel about a lot of musicians when they're really at the top of their game. And some of them are so eccentric, but no one other than they (the artist) do what they did because that was their personality and that their makeup is what made that I feel like whatever was going on to Kurt Cobain in his head most of the time, gave us one of the most unique voices. Doing research in the past and learning that he was really infatuated with like bodily functions and stuff like that is really odd but here's some of the things we get turned out and some of the music and some of the pretty incredible stuff that comes from there. The lyrics are very deep. The music's not very intricate, there are a lot of times you have to really listen to make out what Kurt is saying. So if you can get past all that and listen to the music and listen to the words and what's the feeling, I'm feeling it's more of a journey for me than I ever really got out of Soundgarden.
Michael (Soundgarden) - "Right, I just think that it's just one of those things where it's not a dig at Soundgarden. I think Chris Cornell is one of the most talented songwriters when he's on, but he wasn't always on. And to your point to about Kurt Cobain was it's one of the things that's always intrigued me about him is that people who would listen to him may not understand what the hell he's talking about. But it still somehow emotionally connects with them on a very personal level. And I think that that's something that I've always been able to appreciate in it's almost supernatural way that it happens and you don't see that a lot."
Body of Work:
Nicholas (Nirvana) - "Can we truly say that we can call what we have from Nirvana a body of work (in the complete sense)? So many ideas they didn't even get a chance to try. I feel like it's like nearly a glimpse of what they could have been capable of whether that's a good or bad thing. But we have three studio albums and that was it. Yeah, they sold 75 million records worldwide but it was all the same sound I don't think we ever really got to see a growth evolution from anybody in the band. Overall, I feel like it was consistent they didn't have a chance to be much otherwise, they were immensely popular in the beginning it was really hard for them to continue to maintain that success but I think they did a pretty good job in the short time they had to do it."
Michael (Soundgarden) - "You gotta remember Soundgarden really only six albums and one of those was in 2012, and when they reformed. Their other albums were between 1989 and 1996, so the first two albums for me really kind of like that heavy rock and when they were seen that way, which was kind of weird in Seattle. Their next three albums were much more accepted mainstream and were decidedly more grunge in sound (beginning with Badmotorfinger). It's hard to say for Nirvana but I think it's also hard to say for Soundgarden because you got to think Soundgarden had you know three rotating band member so that's kind of difficult too, so that's something that I kind of took into consideration when I was thinking about it with their body of work because it can impact the flow the band and everything like that. I would say, I agree with you more people know Nirvana. And I think it's just because they're the ones that broke it mainstream. You know what I mean? I think that maybe it's a situation where Soundgarden had an opportunity of being on the the front part of the wave, but Nirvana was on the crest (in terms of popularity) if that makes sense."
That concludes the battle! Who won!?!? Vote in our Instagram Story poll and we will post the results!!!