Listening to Soundgarden’s ‘Screaming Life’, 30 years on…

By chance, I caught myself listening to a two EPs from the late 1980s: ‘Scar’ by London band (and friends) Lush, and ‘Screaming Life’ by Soundgarden. Hearing these inspired the following, a minor detail I do not believe I have told before:

The first time I heard a Sub Pop record was the summer of 1988, possibly even earlier – at the very least, a full six months before Anton Brookes from Southern Distribution flew me out to Seattle on behalf of the label. I was chosen only because Anton’s first choice, the Stud Brothers, turned out to be two writers, not one – and that was too expensive for the label.

It was while I was still writing for NME, shortly before James Brown got rid of me from the paper for being “lazy, and unable to write” (he was correct). One of my housemates, Simon Murphy, must have visited America – he brought back with him to Cricklewood two Sub Pop 12″s – Green River’s Dry As A Bone and Soundgarden’s Screaming Life EP. This was before Mudhoney even existed.

I can’t speak for my housemate James Robert Sellers, but I had never heard screaming or metal like that before. It thrilled me, in a very wrong sort of way. I was totally unfamiliar with the big dumb rock back then, y’see.: but it left enough of an impact upon me that I can still recognise Soundgarden’s ‘Hunted Down’ from that listen 30 years later. I can even recall the living room, the record player, and my girlfriend Melanie Wright being present, loud metal music blazing rudely into our lives. My main thought, I suspect, was “why the fuck has Simon bought this?” (he was the one most into twee anorak stuff out of the four of us in that house), but also excitement. Something new is always exciting.

This was around the time Dinosaur Jr and Swans were starting to make a big impression on the UK live circuit. I  remember being down on my knees, genuflecting in front of J Mascis and his guitar at the Fulham Greyhound alongside Gary Walker. Mock-genuflecting, I would like to add. Would I have volunteered to go in the Stud Brothers’ place if Simon hadn’t serendipitously brought home the big dumb rock several months earlier? Unlikely. And the world – not just mine, possibly everyone’s – would have been very different.

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I met Chris Cornell for the first time in Seattle, January 1989. I am rarely starstruck, but I was then.

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