Chris Cornell once licked Mark Lanegan’s eyeball

When Screaming Trees signed to Epic Records in 1990, it allowed them to record in a proper studio with high-quality recording equipment. In his memoir Sing Backwards and Weep, Mark Lanegan explains what it was like going to record his band’s fifth studio album Uncle Anesthesia.

“We settled on big-time Northwest producer Terry Date for our first major label recording,” Lanegan wrote. “Since we’d made several terrible-sounding records on rusty old eight-track machines, I was eager to make a great-sounding album in a big professional studio.” However, the vocalist had also been concerned about how the professional studio might affect the hitherto underground sound of his band.

He continued: “Even so, I was leery of losing our edge, desperately afraid that we’d end up sounding like one of the terrible hair-metal bands I despised, the current kings of popular music.” In light of that, another pioneer of the grunge scene was brought into the project to give Lanegan a bit of peace of mind.

“Because of my reticence, Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, who I liked and respected, was brought on board as coproducer to basically hang out with me, function as a go-between for Terry and me, and generally assuage my fears about the process,” Lanegan noted.

Fortunately for Lanegan and Screaming Trees, bringing Cornell into the fray was greatly beneficial, not just for the album but for forming a deep friendship. “Like all of our recordings, it became a musically challenging head-fuck, but it was ultimately a pleasurable experience for me simply because I hit it off with Terry and loved hanging out with Chris,” Lanegan added.

Remembering his friend, Lanegan noted the free spirit that Cornell always was. He wrote: “Chris was a solitary creature and presented a quiet, thoughtful, and serious front to the world but had a sly, somewhat perverse sense of humour not unlike my own, with a gift for making me laugh. He was highly intelligent, wise beyond his years, and possessed zero fear. He was always up for anything, silently focused and fiercely competitive.”

Lanegan then shared a hilarious anecdote in which Cornell strangely licked his eyeball. “I had a terrible cold one day, and Cornell insisted that I allow him to lick my bare eyeball to test his invented-on-the-spot theory of virus transmission. I was, of course, delighted to take part in this experiment. Chris never got sick. I can’t recall if this proved or disproved his theory, but it was an effective way of making me laugh.”

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