“4th Of July” by Soundgarden is a song from the band’s fourth studio album Superunknown. Every summer I contemplate this track, what it means to me, and what it meant to Chris Cornell. If you blankly listen to the piece, you might get caught up in the lyrics and think it’s a red, white and blue Seattle sound. Nope. Follow your ears, and heart, as you search for its meaning. The song is dark, ominous. The sludge of the track encompasses many aspects of rock music: heavy metal; stoner rock and hard rock; and of course grunge. If you never heard the song before, but still otherwise were cognizant of 90’s rock, you might swear the anthem was Alice In Chains– that is, until Chris starts singing.
The timing clocks in at 142 beats per minute, but the diddy feels slower, grinding and crawling through the mud of your soul. The tuning is rare (CFCGBE for you guitar nerds). The rhythm exploratory. And nothing sounds like Cornell’s voice. But if you get caught up wondering what the song means, don’t take the verses at face value. “4th Of July”, as stated by Chris himself, is about an acid trip. As he described in interviews, “One time I was on Acid, and there were voices ten feet behind my head.” He further described looking back and “seeing” people wearing different colored shirts, but only to realize there wasn’t anyone behind him.
The composition is about that narcotized moment. But in actuality, the haunting song doesn’t reveal itself that way. As the story goes, “I woke up, got into the car and went to the Indian reservation.” That location turned out to be the Maka Reservation in Neah Bay, on the western tip of Washington state. Its not clear if this drug trip actually happened on the Fourth of July, or if the colored images of his imagination painted those lyrics. But I’m guessing that yes, this occasion did happen on a celebration of our nation, because apparently the area has a long fireworks show that lasts all night.
The song is a favorite of many Soundgarden fans, including me. Lose yourself in the perspective as you listen. It may even be the best track on Soundgarden’s Superunknown album. It definitely cements the CD as the group’s pinnacle worth celebrating. Below is the audio/video of the tune from YouTube so you can enjoy the fireworks of song again: