Anyone who has seen the photos knows them immediately: Black and white, blurred with motion, the light trailing past the bodies, all of which are sweaty, and in Chris Cornell's case, naked from the torso up. They were taken by Seattle photographer Charles Peterson at various local clubs—many of which no longer exist—in the late '80s and early '90s; places like the Vogue, which I went to when I first arrived here. The irony is that by then, Soundgarden had long ago catapulted to national fame and stardom after releasing Ultramega OK. and Badmotorfinger
Peterson's images are the images that made me want to come here from Las Vegas; they made Seattle look exciting and alive and electric. Vegas was a desert, both culturally and literally: we had one underground venue, two independent record stores, and no rock stars. Seattle was so exotic. Peterson's images helped give Sub Pop a look and crystallize its brand as home to the grittiest, the darkest, and the heaviest—a claim reinforced by Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Tad, and, of course, Nirvana.
Chris Cornell, shirtless, wild-eyed, gorgeous, un-tamed—he was the most beautiful of them all. His was a voice of the gods, both growling and animalistic, and soaring and heavenly, often just a few seconds apart. He was like a metal version of Diamanda Galas; for both singers, climbing a couple of octaves was no trouble at all.
Charles Peterson graciously granted us the rights to use these photos in memory of Cornell. He has many more on his website and his book of images from that era, Touch Me I'm Sick, is a definite keepsake.