Chris Cornell, Searching for Solitude

On a soundstage done up to resemble a demented interrogation chamber, Chris Cornell is shackled to a perforated metal dentist’s chair of a sort you imagine Trent Reznor has stored in his garage somewhere. Frances Farmer-grade Velcro restraints bind his wrists to a dull gunmetal crossbar that projects from the chair’s back; his temples sprout shiny plastic things that are supposed to be electrodes, but which more closely resemble bubble-packed Drixoral tablets with wires coming out of them. His baggy sharkskin suit is puckered with exertion and sweat.

On Stage 2 of L.A.’s Occidental Studios, the new Soundgarden video is being filmed. Jerry Casale, who used to play bass in Devo but specializes now in directing apocalyptic videos for guitar bands, gestures toward a P.A., who begins to wrap a thick leather strap around Cornell’s forehead, immobilizing the singer in a position halfway between Malcolm McDowell’s posture of repentance in Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange and Cornell’s own patented Jesus Christ pose.

The video is for Soundgarden’s Beatles-tinged agony epic, “Blow Up the Outside World,” and Casale intends to blow up as much of it as possible on this soundstage. Beavis and Butt-head are going to like this one.

“Is it too warm for you in here?” a gofer asks Cornell. “Would you like a drink of water? Can I get you some cookies to munch on while they set up the shot?”

“Is there going to be a grip nearby?” Cornell cracks, avoiding her eyes to the extent that it is possible for him to do anything at all in three hundred pounds of bondage gear. “I mean, in case I need somebody to scratch my nose.”

The P.A. cinches the strap tight across Cornell’s scalp. He shudders with pain.

“When I give the signal, could you twitch a little?” asks Casale. “To make it look as if you’re really being shocked.”

Cornell strains to flip Casale the finger, but the restraints on his wrists limit his gesture to a mile spasm.

“Hmmmmm,” Casale says. “Perfect.”
If you were Chris Cornell, you would have two Grammys, six albums (seven, if you count Temple of the Dog), and three Pomeranians. Posters of your bare chest would be on the walls of teenagers all over the world. You would spend your mornings wake-surfing near your cabin on Puget Sound; your afternoons snowboarding in the Cascades. Your last album would have sold over five million copies in the United States; your current one, the splendid if art-damaged heavy-rock opus Down on the Upside, would already have sold two million in six months. With Aerosmith imploding, Pearl Jam threatened by willful obscurity, and Metallica slumping into boogie-band senescence, you would be the lead singer and principal songwriter of what is poised to be the Greatest Hard Rock Band in the World.

And sometimes—for days, maybe weeks on end—you would be afraid to leave your house.

It’s not that Cornell has been necessarily wounded by fame or anything—he’s not pulling a Billy Corgan. It’s just that he’s much more comfortable at home with his guitar than he is out in the world. He rarely enters the Seattle scene: When I mention Linda’s, the bar that used to function as the Elaine’s of Seattle rockdom, he has trouble placing the name. On the infrequent occasions he does go out to dinner, it is often as the plus-one of his wife of six years, Susan Silver, who manages Soundgarden as well as Crackerbox, Sweetwater, Sponge, and Alice in Chains. (He has been with Silver, who was his first real girlfriend, since 1984; they occasionally seem like separate parts of the same superorganism.) Random Cornell sightings in the Northwest are almost as rare as sightings of Bigfoot.

You’ll never read about Cornell in a gossip column. Until now, he’s never agreed to be the subject of a major magazine feature by himself, has never had his adolescent traumas limned by the teen magazines or been psychoanalyzed by the slicks. Though he’s probably granted more than a thousand interviews, his prejudices, neuroses, his views on music are less known than those of less accomplished guys—Scott Weiland or Layne Staley, say, or even Eddie Vedder, who technically doesn’t do interviews at all.
This low media profile is partially due to the fact that Cornell has always wanted Soundgarden to be seen as a band, and partially because guitarist Kim Thayil is so garrulous and opinionated that it’s easy to let him do the press work. (When I was supposed to interview Cornell for Doug Pray’s Seattle-scene documentary Hype! a couple of years ago, he slipped out of the building while the camera crew was still setting up its lights, so that Kim and the drummer Matt Cameron ended up being the only band members talking about Soundgarden in the film.) But it’s also because Chris is so obviously less himself when he’s talking than he is when he’s shut in some room of his own devising, a thousand miles wide. Although in person he’s rarely less than charming, to strangers Cornell can be so shy, so scant of words, that he can seem practically autistic.

I have never seen him smile more broadly than the moment he was told that an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics described happiness as a psychiatric disorder.

Cigarettes help. So do a couple of cranberry and vodkas on the terrace of his hotel room late at night, high above the Sunset Strip, and a view that stretches for miles.

“I’m lucky I get to go out and sing,” Chris says, fumbling for a cigarette lighter, “because when I’m at home, I don’t talk to anyone; I don’t go out socially. My one outlet is that I get to stand in front of five thousand people and sing ‘Outshined.’ When I’m alone between tours, writing songs, I might not speak a word to another human being for a week or two or three.”

Chris gives up on the cigarette lighter and begins toying with the leaves on a ficus.

“People just don’t realize how much fun it is to be depressed,” he says with a grin—this from the man whose moods may have had as much historical impact on the gloominess of Northwest rock as the surfeit of negative ions in the air.

Venus Is Hiding A Secret We Could Finally Find Out

enus has managed to hide many secrets in its toxic swirls, but we might be on the verge of revealing one of them.

NASA’s Planetary Science Deep Space SmallSat Studies (PSDS3) is now funding a team of scientists and engineers at its Goddard Space Flight Center to advance a CubeSat concept for a mission to investigate what is absorbing so many UV rays in the uppermost layer of its clouds.

When you look at a picture of Venus in visible light, the planet really isn’t all that attractive. It doesn’t have the cosmic rings of Saturn or the whorls of Jupiter or the otherworldly blue shades of Neptune and Uranus. Flip the switch to UV and suddenly you’re looking at a magical marbled orb. This is because something —what exactly is the thing scientists want to find out—is absorbing ultraviolet rays. How dark the swirls get depends on how much UV light they absorb, but we still don’t know what the absorber actually is.

The CubeSat UV Experiment aka CUVE that NASA is backing will use ultraviolet-sensitive instruments including a spectrometer, a miniature UV camera and an unprecedented carbon-nanotube light-gathering mirror, which admittedly sounds like something straight out of Star Trek, to probe the poisonous Venusian atmosphere.

The only things Venus has in common with Earth are its size and structure. Besides that, its carbon dioxide atmosphere congested with sulfuric acid clouds is nowhere you’d want to live even if you could. Unless you’re turned on to the idea of a place where so much heat is trapped by a runaway greenhouse effect that the surface temperature becomes hot enough for even lead to be liquefied.

“Since the maximum absorption of solar energy by Venus occurs in the ultraviolet, determining the nature, concentration, and distribution of the unknown absorber is fundamental,” said CUVE Principal Investigator Valeria Cottini. “This is a highly-focused mission — perfect for a CubeSat application.”

CUVE is not the first mission sent to Venus by NASA or any other space program, but it could beam back some important revelations about the nature of the mysterious UV absorber. Some scientists theorize that the absorber is dragged to the tops of the planet’s clouds by convective processes and then whirled around by wind. What we do know from previously observing the planet is that the upper layer of those sulfuric acid clouds absorbs half its solar energy in the ultraviolet. The reason it looks so boring to us Earthlings is because other wavelengths, including those the human eye can actually see, are reflected or scattered into space.

It should take CUVE about a year and a half to reach Venus, where it will spend six months transmitting data from the alien atmosphere.

7 year old speaks 5 languages

Meet my friend Yukine.
She’s 7 years old and speaks 5 languages: English, Spanish, Japanese, German and Sign Language. When I visited the Canary Islands recently, we sat down for a chat, and I asked her about her languages and what she likes about each of them. Now, it’s a common myth that children are much better language learners than adults.
Unfortunately, this is a myth that’s perpetuated wherever you go, and is often used by adults to justify not trying so hard themselves…
When you watch this video, you may find yourself feeling the same thing.
But I want you to look a bit deeper into exactly how Yukine has managed to learn these languages because there’s a very important lesson in there.

How a child can learn 5 languages

  • Here are the facts:
  • She lives in Spain
  • She speaks Spanish and Japanese at home with her parents
  • She attends an English medium international school
  • The school has a language focus to it, and runs a number of German classes as part of the curriculum
  • She also takes regular extra-curricular sign language classes at the school, and has done for a while


  • She visits Japan for 2-3 months every summer and attends Japanese summer schools whilst she’s there
  • Her uncle and cousin, who she sees regularly, are native English speakers

So, has she just “picked up” all these languages?
Absolutely not.
Children vs. adults
Whether she knows it or not, Yukine has accumulated 1,000s of hours doing the exact things that result in successful language learning.
It’s no accident.

  • For years now, she’s been spending the majority of her waking hours learning or speaking
  • one of her 5 languages.
  • She uses 3 languages regularly with the people she loves.
  • She takes regular classes in the other 2 (and will be for years to come).
  • The people around her understand the importance of learning languages, and are incredibly encouraging and supportive.

As regular readers of the blog will know, these are exactly the same success factors that I spend my time encouraging people (i.e. adults) to go after…

  • Spend time on your languages every day…and keep it up for years
  • Speak regularly with people you like
  • Be clear why you’re learning, and stay motivated by surrounding yourself by the right people

It really is no different whether you’re 7 or 70! ?

Of course, the big advantages that kids have, are plenty of time on their side, and an unquestioning attitude, that means they’ll just do anything.

Adults tend to be busy, and will often sabotage their progress by demanding “progress now!”, getting frustrated, and moving on to the next new thing.

So, think about how Yukine has learnt her languages.

Then, compare it to the last 6-12 months of your own language learning.

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