The last month or so hasn’t been fun. There have been fun moments here and there but in general there has mostly been sadness, luckily waning. My sister, Marci, passed away in late April unexpectedly leaving me the last one of our nuclear family. Our relationship wasn’t always the best, but when your sibling of fifty-two years is gone from your life forever, a hollowness is born out of death, and steadily grows as memories – ranging from good to bad, happy to sad – strike without notice sometimes making you smile but more often than not, building an unease and darkness. It’s grieving, of course, a normal emotion of the spirit that has lost someone. If we didn’t fall into the void over this kind of loss, then we wouldn’t be human.
It would have been easy to sit back with a daily whisky (or more) but that would only make the depth that much darker and harder to climb out of. So, the occasional one was enough for me as I’ve tried to maintain some amount of clarity to process the thoughts and emotions. By and large, each day has gotten better, whatever that means, though better is probably a state camouflaged by “life” because the show must go on! Work beckons, family responsibilities, groceries, laundry, bills, and summer planning don’t stop for the loss of a loved one, nor should they. The trick is finding that balance between living and moving on while honestly working through the sadness and what it all means to no longer have my sister in my life. Smoke and mirrors don’t help.
The first week flew by and now at almost two months, I find myself perplexed how seven Mondays have come and gone yet are still visible in my rear view mirror. You can’t believe the “event” is so distant, so fast, yet still fresh and raw at the same time. There’s a static attachment, like a rope from a life preserver. It skims the water holding tightly to the buoyant ring keeping a connection to the sturdy but bobbing boat. Semi-sturdy and bobbing is what I’ve become with that ring still visible floating behind.
And as life keeps rolling on, there are moments of guilt for various aspects of a relationship of a half a century. As well as selfish ones: Should I be sad ALL of the time? How can I be sweeping a floor, talking to a customer, making dinner when I should be sad RIGHT now? Ahhh, the great, misspent pains we put ourselves through as the world keeps on spinning like the damn globe has any right to be so selfish. Stop spinning right now! But it doesn’t.
Little by little, I’ve made myself a tad more open to the world beyond the basic motions, inching towards some kind of normal social life. I even made it out one night for drinks a week or so after with a friend from elementary school. We hung out at a local pub and after I told him the details of my sister’s sad demise, we fell into the remembering of our good old days of grunge and punk music days, seeing bands in their infancies come through the club scene in Los Angeles. Nirvana at Bogart’s, Screaming Trees at the Hollywood Paladium, Mudhoney at the Palace, Pearl Jam at Lollapolooza,s and Soundgarden at the Gathering of the Tribes. We always and easily fall back into these memories, all of which were primal events that left me exhausted and exhilarated.
And strangely, not a week later, a few measures less sad, I was crushed again by the unexpected death of Chris Cornell, the singer of Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog. It rocked me more than I ever expected. Cornell was on my Mount Rushmore of…sure, I’ll say it, Grunge Era Singers with Kurt Cobain, Mark Lanegan, and Eddie Vedder. But there were others too: Layne Staley, Scott Weiland, Mark Arm, Andrew Wood. That bigger list is now down to three who are still here.
For me, Lanegan and Cornell were the voices that resonated most, each grabbing and pulling from within to explode with emotions and words, exorcising demons as if they could. Cornell was especially visceral. Seeing him in person was seeing a person purge himself from pain and evil through a vast range of voices and volumes. Soundgarden played dark, brooding, melodic, loud guitar rock that was the perfect highway for Cornell to let it all out. It was a tribal experience, more paleo than paleo. You left a show bruised and beaten from the mosh pit, emotionally spent from the words, exhausted from the entire event, and more than a little deaf. It was scream therapy with Marshall stacks and endless mind-numbing feedback. It was uplifting and soul crushing all at once. And Chris’s death was a similar battering much like we experienced in one of those small clubs in the late ’80s and early ’90s except without any joy, of course.
All of Cornell’s music, which is only a couple taps away in my phone, has become non-stop in my head. Guess I don’t need that iPhone anymore. Where Cornell was an uncaged lion in Soundgarden, his solo work was beautifully soulful, filled with catchy hooks at times, and words that obviously came from deep places. The voice could fill the largest of quiet rooms and soothe over the darkest of wounds. There was joy, irony, fear, hope, laughter, and tears in those unSoundgarden songs and a melodic path to one’s own emotions.
And now Chris was gone. His voice is always here and simply recalled with a few buttons. But it’s not the same. It’s not like “we” are in constant contact with our favorite artists. The books are on the shelf, the art is on the wall, the songs are MP3s. Nowhere near gone forever even though the artist is. So why do we hurt when they leave us? Their beautiful work is forever but it’s changed in some ways by their absence. Contrasted with a loss of sister whose presence, in my case, was daily, there shouldn’t be a similar feeling. But there is, and maybe the reason is simply that our relationships with anyone are not predicated on constant contact. They’re built on connections; connections from shared joy and sorrow, friendship and history, all of which uniquely tie us together no matter how physically close we are.
Seattle is a city seemingly always covered by gray skies and a fine mist (at a minimum). The streets are wet, the window wipers perpetually wiping. But it’s a place dear to me with its surrounding beauty of mountains, trees, and bodies of water. The city itself has its own pace that isn’t frenetic or too slow. And it’s where that music of Chris Cornell and his friends was born. Every trip there requires that music to be played while inflight, as well as a visit to the SubPop store at SeaTac to…what?…get a little closer to those sounds again. The music is in my head constantly when I’m there, as it was back in March.
I went for a quick trip to Whisky Jewbilee put on by our friends Joshua Hatton and Jason Johnstone-Yellin of the The Jewish Whisky Company. It’s three hours of whisky tasting but mostly it’s three hours of visiting with the many friends I’ve made who share a love for malt. It’s reminiscing about past events and new found whiskys. It’s catching up on family and life. And then there’s the laughing. The pure unadulterated side-splitting laughing over everything and nothing. There’s nothing better than that. It’s also meeting new people and connecting with them through whisky. It’s spending a few minutes with Matt Hoffmann of Westland and talking about his and their exciting future, and laughing at Jason’s “accent”. It’s also remembering that the ABV on this NEW cask strength, single cask GlenBlahBittyBlah doesn’t mean jack squat if you can’t share the whisky with someone. Whisky is the great connector. Water of Life. How about binder of life?
Whisky Jewbilee VI is this week in New York City, and the anticipation is growing because I’m excited to see so many more of those friends of the whisky. I’ll cherish them a bit more this time though. Loss will do that after some time has passed. It’s a natural need to bond again with those you feel close to. It’s the connections that keeps us going. It’s the music. It’s the memories.