This morning the music community woke up to the horrific news that Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell has died at 52, and that police are reportedly investigating it as a suicide. The news is particularly tough to deal with considering Soundgarden had just played a show last night — footage of that performance is now available.
Today, Rolling Stone published an interview that was conducted with filmmaker Cameron Crowe weeks before Cornell died, in reference to Crowe’s film Singles which was inspired by and heavily focuses on the grunge scene in Seattle that Cornell was a part of. Part of the appeal of this film, which came out in 1992, is the iconic soundtrack, which includes contributions from Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and more — mostly from before the bands were really famous. The soundtrack is being reissued tomorrow, 5/19, and Crowe spoke to Rolling Stone about some history on the film in advance of the new release.
In the interview, Crowe reveals that after he had envisioned the film’s lead singer, Cliff Poncier, Cornell went on to make an entire tape as Cliff Poncier to help flesh the character out for the film, and that “Spoonman” was originally from that fictitious tape. Crowe even says he wanted Cornell to play the role, but it became too much in the end. Eventually, his songs were worked into the film’s soundtrack and he helped with the score, but it’s a moving anecdote that is difficult to read today, but is important because it highlights the best parts about that community, and Cornell himself.
Here’s the exchange:
One of the best bits of Singles lore I’ve heard is the story of the Poncier tape that [Pearl Jam bassist] Jeff Ament designed — which is coming out in full on this new edition of the soundtrack — and how all these actual songs were birthed out of it.
It’s kind of amazing. The idea was that Matt Dillon’s character, Cliff Poncier, in the course of the movie, he loses his band, and he loses his girlfriend, and he gains soul. So, there’s a period where he’s on a street corner busking, having lost his band, but beginning his solo career. And there would be, in reality, these guys standing on the corner outside the clubs in Seattle hawking their solo cassettes. So we wanted Cliff Poncier to have his own solo cassette. And Jeff Ament, in classic style, designed this cassette cover and wrote out these fictitious song names for the cassette.
And Chris Cornell was another guy who was close to us when we were making the record, and still is a good friend. I really loved Soundgarden; they were my favorite band. I originally thought Chris could play the lead, but then I think that turned into too big of a commitment for everybody and so he became the guy he is in the movie, but in the course of making the movie he was close to all of us. He was always around.
Anyway, Jeff Ament had designed this solo cassette which we thought was hilarious because it had all of these cool song titles like ‘Flutter Girl,’ and ‘Spoonman,’ and just like a really true-type ‘I’ve lost my band, and now I’m a soulful guy -– these are my songs now’ feeling. So we loved that Jeff had played out the fictitious life of Cliff Poncier. And one night, I stayed home, and Nancy [Wilson, of Heart], we were then married, she went out to a club, and she came back home, and she said, ‘Man, I met this guy, and he was selling solo cassettes, and so I got one for you.’ And she hands me the Cliff Poncier cassette. And I was like, ‘That’s funny, haha.’ And then she said, ‘You should listen to it.’ So I put on the cassette. And holy sh*t, this is Chris Cornell, as Cliff Poncier, recording all of these songs, with lyrics, and total creative vision, and he has recorded the entire fake, solo cassette. And it’s fantastic. And ‘Seasons’ comes on. And you just can’t help but go, ‘Wow.’ This is a guy who we’ve only known in Soundgarden. And of course he’s incredibly creative, but who’s heard him like this? And we got to use ‘Seasons’ on the soundtrack, and Chris did some of the score. And some of the unreleased score is on the new version of the album.
It’s kind of an example of how the community was close, still is close, and musically generous, and everybody is such huge music fans, that this would be the greatest joke to share with a buddy you can imagine. And obviously the music really holds up. He went and recorded ‘Spoonman’ with Soundgarden and it was a big hit. It’s a statement about how when you’re not worried about somebody judging you or looking over your shoulder sometimes you do great stuff. And that’s the story of the fictitious Poncier cassette that became largely real.