GETTING MORE TALE #575: The Chris Cornell Obsession
A retelling of a portion of Record Store Tales Part 6: Year 1
One of my very first lessons at the Record Store came courtesy of a customer whom nearly everyone loathed dealing with. Nancy was her name, but she also had a very politically incorrect nickname back in 1994-1996. Some people have no filter, and Nancy was one of those people.
What I discovered during our very first interaction was that she liked Chris Cornell from Soundgarden. A seemingly innocuous interest. But she liked Cornell a lot. More than the average bear.
I was new at the store and had never seen her before. The store owner had, and with a little mischievous intent, sent me over to ask her if she needed help finding anything. Little did I know, he was sending me into the lion’s den.
“Hi, can I help you find anything today?” I asked as I approached.
“No thank you,” she said before adding, “Do you have any Soundgarden?”
Of course we did! It was the summer of 1994. Superunknown was one of the biggest CDs of the season. Badmotorfinger was still hot too. I showed her what we had new and used, but she wasn’t interested. She just wanted to talk.
She saw the copies of M.E.A.T Magazine that we carried on the front counter. M.E.A.T (“Metal Events Around Toronto”, or “Metal-Alternative”) was an excellent publication made all the more impressive since it was full-colour, on glossy paper, and free. Chris Cornell was on the cover that month. Nancy saw that and went crazy.
“Do you like Chris Cornell?” That was the question that sucked me in. I should have answered something neutral, like “He’s OK” or “I don’t know.” Instead I answered something far more enthusiastic, thus springing the trap. Once she knew I was a fan too, she wouldn’t stop.
“He’s sexy!” she began. “He’s so sexy when he wears his Doc Martens. Are there pictures here of him in his Doc Martens? Do you know the Doc Martens I mean?” she asked as she flipped through M.E.A.T Magazine. “I love Chris Cornell when he wears Doc Martens!” she continued. “He used to have long hair but now it’s short. I liked his long hair better, which do you like best?”
At this point, I realized I was in the thick of it and the boss had sent me in, intentionally. He continued going about his business as I tried to extract myself from Nancy’s conversation. He ignored my sidelong glances appealing for help. However I was new, brand new in fact, I’d only been there a couple weeks and had no idea what to do!
“Did you know that the original bass player from Soundgarden was Japanese? I’m Japanese too. Did you know there are not many Asian people in rock and roll bands?” I’d never thought about it before. Now I wished I never had the chance to think about it.
Throughout the 20 or so minutes that I was stuck with Nancy talking to me, she had much to say on sexy grunge rockers, the members of Soundgarden, Doc Marten boots, and Asians in rock. And of course, she asked my name.
“Nice to meet you Mike, I’m Nancy.” And I would never, ever forget that name even though she periodically forgot mine.
When Nancy finally left without buying a damn thing, my boss said to me, “That’s your first lesson. Don’t get into conversations with customers.”
Nancy was one of the most regular of regular customers. As we expanded, she visited all our local stores. She came in year after year, and many staff members became trapped in her spider-like snare of conversation. But she had a nasty side, she wasn’t easy to deal with. I was “lucky” she was in a good mood during our Cornell conversation. On other occasions she called one of our guys “retarded” and made work unpleasant in general. After Soundgarden her next obsession was classical music, and she stalked our classical sections for years. She had a husband who liked to wait outside, but once or twice he had to come in and calm her down when she was upset about something.
To me she’ll always be Nancy the Chris Cornell fan. I thought of Nancy when Chris died. What happened to Nancy? I used to see her around town, but it’s been over 10 years since I last spotted her. Probably still haunting records stores somewhere and providing “interesting” conversations.