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  • Writer's pictureBrian Vander Ark

The Message in "Black Hole Sun"

In an Uncut interview from 2017, Chris Cornell talked about his classic song, Black Hole Sun. “What’s interesting to me is the combination of a black hole and a sun,” he said. “A black hole is a billion times larger than a sun, it’s a void, a giant circle of nothing, and then you have the sun, the giver of all life.”

I’ve always believed there is more dark in the world than there is light, but take my assessment with a grain of salt—I live in Michigan, where the long winters drape us in a cloak of darkness 14 hours per night. All of that darkness, combined with our planet’s state lately, and one could lose perspective of the world’s goodness. Even the sea has miles of blackness underneath the sunlit surface. An abyss of dark and cold. That’s the way life can feel sometimes.

It’s not all bad for me, in fact, anything but. I’m a creative person who married a self-proclaimed witch. I probably should have prefaced that by saying she’s the good kind of witch, like Glenda from the South. I’d hate to upset her and find I’m missing a lock of my hair in the morning.

Most of the songs I’ve written for my band, The Verve Pipe, are about darkness. Love songs are often eschewed for songs about love lost because it’s so much easier to write about bad things that happen. So I’m very thankful for the dark. I embrace it, wallow in it, write about it, live it. Even when I’m shopping for clothes, I’m often heard asking, “Do you have anything blacker?”

It’s always been more difficult for me to write about good things—like the fluttering heart during a first kiss or the last dance with a daughter before she is whisked away by her new partner. I’ve written about such things, and I can tell you that’s much harder than writing about the dark stuff. And because I become absolutely consumed by the dark when I’m working—just ask Glenda and our munchkins—I need a dazzling light to bring me out of it. Without that powerful light (that is a billion times smaller than a black hole, remember), I’d be lost in that creative tunnel that the muse has sent me down.

The sun is a rockstar. Thanks to its gravity, the planets in our solar system orbit it, much like fans hang around a celebrity. Earth, the ultimate sycophant, is warmed by its rockstar glow. The sun holds our world together, keeping us from breaking apart in chunks and floating off into space. And all the while, it ensures we are kept at a comfortable distance. That is no small miracle.

Stuttering, cold and damp

Steal the warm wind, tired friend.

My favorite lyric from the song. Among the cold, the dark, the damp—steal the warm wind while you can. It’s an excellent reminder to concentrate on the many sunlit moments in our lives.

And that’s what we should take away from a song like Black Hole Sun. Its unique recipe of metaphors, ambiguity, and pitch-perfect melody sung over an impossible chord structure, is as complicated and dark as life itself.

Even the title itself can be a reminder: Without the sun, it’s just a black hole. On the flip side, without the black hole, it’s just another song about the sun and would not have near the impact it does. Sometimes we need darkness in life to appreciate the light.

So appreciate the light, however small it may seem in our darkest shadows. Throw your head back and let it warm your face. Absorb its energy, store it, and in the moments you need it most, you’ll have the reserves to let your own light shine.

Brian Vander Ark is the lead singer of The Verve Pipe. He covers "Black Hole Sun" on his new album called Planet Sunday Sessions Vol II. Released in April 2021.

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