“Spoonman” by Soundgarden

Let’s start off by saying that the lyrics of this song can be interpreted in a variety of ways – to say the least. So instead of running of the risk of overanalyzing, we will resort to how Chris Cornell, the exclusive writer of “Spoonman”, has described the track. 

Artis the Spoonman

And first and foremost it serves as an ode to the titular character, who by the way is a real-life dude known as Artis the Spoonman. Moreover, as implied by the lyrics, he’s actually a musician. That much is more or less ascertainable, even if you haven’t read Cornell’s aforementioned description.

But what is less describable is the song meaning to highlight how people have the tendency to jump to inaccurate conclusions. And in the case of “Spoonman”, such is premised on the fact that he is verily a busker. 

And buskers are such that people tend to look down upon them as being akin to persons who are too lazy or whatever to keep a job.  Apparently, this is also the way many perceived the Spoonman. But since he wasn’t, being in fact a celebrity busker, if you will, then in Cornell’s eyes this illustrated just how falsely judgmental and biased people can be. 

Moreover, Chris has likely gone through his own similar ordeals, as he described Artis as someone he can “easily identify with”. Or put more plainly, he is empathetic towards the Spoonman.

But again, that’s not something a listener would likely pick up on simply based on the lyrics. Instead what they do accomplish is presenting the titular character as a rhythmist with sort of this mystical quality in his hands. And it is also pretty obvious, while edging Spoonman on to do his thing, that the vocalist also admires him.

Lyrics to "Spoonman"

Facts about “Spoonman”

This track is the lead single from “Superunknown”, the 1994 full-length which happens to be Soundgarden’s most-celebrated album.  

“Spoonman” charted in 10 countries overall, peaking at number 3 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock ranking and also breaking the top 20 on the UK Singles Chart. 

And whereas it may not have had the most impressive chart showing, as implied above it is considered one of the band’s signature songs. 

In fact Soundgarden managed to win two Grammy Awards during their existence, both in 1994, and this track was responsible for one of them. More specifically, it earned them a trophy in the Best Metal Performance category.

Accordingly during the mid-1990s, Soundgarden had the tendency to open their live sets with “Spoonman”.

This song was written by the late Chris Cornell (1964-2017). And to make a long story short, he came about doing so as the result of a movie Soundgarden was involved in entitled “Singles” (1992). 

And the title was actually inspired – via Pearl Jam, another band involved in the flick – by a popular busker called Artis the Spoonman. It should be noted that Artis earned such a moniker due to the fact that plays music using spoons. And in fact Artis is given some solo time on “Spoonman” during the bridge.

And to note, an earlier version of the song can be heard during a scene in the aforementioned movie.

It is also Artis the Spoonman who is given center stage on this track’s music video. And the direction of the clip was handled by Jeffrey Plansker.


More Facts

“Spoonman” recharted in 2017, presumably in the wake of Chris Cornell’s death during that same year.

For the record, it would appear that Artis the Spoonman doesn’t actually earn any royalties from this song. Instead for his participation on the recording, he was paid a thousand bucks straight-up. And he earned substantially more, 7,000 big ones, by appearing in the associated music video.

Artis the Spoonman’s skillset actually contributed to him working with Frank Zappa (1940-1993) well before hooking up with Chris Cornell and the boys. Also throughout the years, he has appeared on Late Night with David Letterman and things of the such. 

And he was likely familiar to Soundgarden as the lot of them hailed from the same hometown, that being Seattle, Washington.

Soundgarden's Chris Cornell explains "Spoonman"

As noted earlier, Cornell was the sole writer of this song. Meanwhile the entire Soundgarden crew produced it in conjunction with Michael Beinhorn.

When was “Spoonman” released?

The official release date of “Spoonman” was on 8 March 1994. It was the first of five singles from Soundgarden’s iconic album titled “Superunknown”. The four other singles from the album are as follows:

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