Insert Foot: Soundgarden’s fight discredits the magic of distant rehearsal rooms

Soundgarden, Vicky Cornell, Chris Cornell

Insert Foot wants Soundgarden and Vicky Cornell to get along.

It’s truly awful and terribly ironic what’s going on between the surviving members of Soundgarden and Vicky Cornell, the widow of late Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell.

Tony Hicks, Insert Foot

“This column writes itself, right?” Insert Foot. Rendering: Adam Pardee/STAFF.

Cornell just sued Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd, saying she was offered an undervalued slice of what’s left of Soundgarden’s earnings, a settlement less than $300,000; which, if accurate, means she’s right.

However, she also wants a slice of future touring money, her lawyer said, if the band tours with another singer or a hologram. I initially thought that sounded stupid for a band so closely associated with a freak of nature talent like Chris Cornell. Then I remembered Queen touring with two other singers since Freddie Mercury died.

It’s starting to get really nasty and I don’t know if all the details matter. The truth is almost always in the middle of two sides. My attention, however, was seized by something Cornell’s lawyer, Marty Singer (yes, that’s really his name) told Pitchfork: “Of course this is about money and their greed.” The lawyer went on to rail about “future exploitation” while accusing the band of not caring about preserving its life’s work as much as line the members’ pockets some more.

It probably was a ridiculously low amount of money, considering her legal right to the value of Soundgarden’s most visible and creativity vital member. Unfortunately for the rest of us (drummers), singers are frequently like quarterbacks in the NFL: it’s the glamour position because it really is most important.

The whole thing is a sad cliché: survivors slapping each other over whatever they can still pull from the carcass. That isn’t to say both sides don’t deserve a fair share. But to know how much the band meant to so many makes it kind of heartbreaking to see people ripping each other over their alleged greed.

These aren’t corporate no-names fighting over a jingle by a long-dead artist in a commercial. Soundgarden was a vital part of a generation’s soundtrack and money has little to do with what the music meant to anyone. Including the band … at least initially.

The story keeps making me think of rehearsal rooms.

Great bands are almost always some sort of magical concoction of elements even the musicians don’t totally understand. Things happen in those rehearsal rooms that are truly indescribable. It’s closest some of us get to experiencing a higher power. There’s rarely a better explanation for what happens when the right combination of musicians–personalities, builders, magicians, whatever they are–gather and start bouncing sound off one another.

You can’t explain that in a lawsuit.

I usually hate the notion of telling someone you had to be there to understand. But, sorry … and Soundgarden was exceptional, one of the key elements of a very unglamourous musical movement knocking sense into an industry serving up massive record deals to silly bands most resembling the last silly band. Soundgarden was like a force of nature, destroying the nonsense in its path.

Musical greatness is so powerful and so rare that it’s like a brilliant explosion that goes away after a few eye blinks. It’s sometimes difficult to explain how it happens and who’s responsible for everything.

But if you weren’t in the rehearsal room, you can’t explain how much it means. There’s a reason why some of us talk way more than we should about our band days. It’s difficult to explain.

There’s a reason why great bands age like great athletes—not well. Whatever helps them burn so bright at some point sputters, running out of fuel, or motivation, or challenges. Whatever chemistry they had—be it friendly or unfriendly, competitive, or needy—changes as people evolve or devolve.

But Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd were there, which should count for a lot.

Not that Cornell’s family doesn’t deserve the fruits of his work, had he not died in 2017. A member’s death leaves wreckage for angry, hurt and confused survivors. The whole thing is terribly sad.

But I understand why creative people (and the drummers they hang out with) are territorial. It’s tough to quantify who is responsible for how much creative output, then allowing outside forces determine its value.

The details of who deserves what gets confusing; both sides have points making me wish they could just sit down and make it work. I just keep thinking about the joy those guys in the rehearsal space probably had writing and playing songs that will outlive them all.

Follow music critic Tony Hicks at

(4) Comments

  1. Andy

    Anyone following this saga shouldn't be surprised by these cheap tactics. Ms. VK has this grifting/legal squeezing moves almost down to a science. There's so much of the "mean girls" behavior in these latest court documents it's ridiculous, and nobody should take any of her words seriously. The court documents read like she wrote them herself. She's failed at that(obviously), her publicist title is a scam (only person she's ever been a publicist for is Chris), she's been a mean girl her whole life according to people she went to school with. Her ripping off the band for merch sales, highjacking their social media accounts, constant trash talk from her and her mother about what happened to Chris that night in Detroit (they didn't turn the bus around?) when in fact the guys had to find out what happened via social media while she knew what happened all along because she was on the phone with him and then on the phone with the bodyguard. She never went to identify Chris's body. She never went to collect him from Detroit. She had no problem sending his brother though while she was on the phone minutes after Chris was pronounced dead to her insurance attorney. There's so much more. Way too much to get into here but it's all public record for anyone who cares to go looking. Fans of the band won't forget these things. She needs to realize that there were fans of Soundgarden before she laid claim to him, and we'll still be fans of the band when she's an afterthought.

    1. Kevin's Mom

      All true and excellent points. She's been suing and being sued since she reached adulthood. It's a way of life for her and her family. How Chris ended up with her, I'll never fully understand. This latest lawsuit was so incredibly awful talking about how he's worth more in death. Who says these things? There would not have been a buyout offer is she didn't force their hand by suing them in first place. She should have just taken her royalties, handed over the recordings and moved on instead of trying to get as much from his carcass as possible. She's trying to turn any remaining recorded material into pop material she can auto-tune and throw her daughter's voice in the mix. She doesn't understand Soundgarden at all and never has. Soundgarden fans that have supported this band from the beginning just want the music. I don't care to constantly hear about Chris Cornell's kids, his wife or an of this nonsense. They're talented artists that entertain folks. So let them produce this last album and move on to their side projects.

  2. Lisa

    The widow has been suing people since she came into the picture. One court document even stated that she sues people as a means of living. The audacity that the widow of a deceased member of a band thinks she could buy their lifes work is insane. I loved Chris Cornell but his solo work was nothing compared to the work he did with Soundgarden. It took the four of them in a room to create the magic that they did. She needs to be grateful that she's entitled to his share. There's so much to this story that I could type all day. Just look at the widows mothers account on instagram to get an idea of whats been going on. In the end I feel sorry for Chris having to live in the middle of that shit show. I understand why he's no longer with us.

  3. Kimberly Sweeney

    Andy, Kevin’s mom, Lisa and I know a great deal more about this tragedy than the man writing the story. There’s a lot more to this than Mart Singer’s melodrama, Vicky Karayannis’ “poor widow speil” (her name was never Cornell until Chris escaped her) and Crazy Toni’s IG stories. Soundgarden, although horribly victimized by this woman, has shown maturity and integrity to a degree that is almost inconceivable to someone on the outside of this mess. If you think their offer low, why not look into the “why”? I assure, there is a damn good reason.

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