Chris Cornell: A Poet and a Legend

It was a very somber moment to learn today that rock legend Chris Cornell hanged himself in a Detroit hotel room shortly after a concert on Wednesday night. With the deaths years ago of Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Shannon Hoon (Blind Melon), Layne Staley (Alice in Chains), and , just two years ago Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots),  grunge music seems to be losing more lead singers/writers than any other genre in rock.

Maybe someone smarter than myself can really dig in for some analysis here and correlate that type of youth-in-angst, borderline-depression genre of music to the unhealthy lifestyles, drug usage and early deaths of these legends. Though what I want to touch on is Chris Cornell specifically.

Chris was born on July 20, 1964, in Seattle, Washington, where he was raised by his parents and lived alongside five siblings. In the mid ’80s, he got together with a few friends from Seattle and created a small garage band that would go on to become Soundgarden. Famous for their grunge-era smash hits like Black Hole Sun and Burden in My Hand, Soundgarden’s music was actually more along the lines of Black Sabbath and heavy metal, not Nirvana and grunge. Though because the young men hailed from Seattle, they wore that label.

However, anyone who has listened to Ultramega OK, Louder Than Love or Badmotorfinger knows full well that Superunknown, the band’s mainstream 1994 release, wasn’t indicative of the band itself. It was just a new concept for the ‘Garden, in the same vein as the Beatles with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Tommy from The Who. In other words, Soundgarden was a metal band, through and through, and their more grungey feel via Superunknown was the exception, not the rule.

To be clear, Cornell was far more than just the front-man for Soundgarden. After one of his friends died in Seattle, Andrew Wood, Cornell created the band Temple of the Dog as a tribute, and that group produced some huge hits like Hunger Strike and Say Hello to Heaven. After breaking from Soundgarden in the late ’90s, Cornell went on to join the band from Rage Against the Machine to form the supergroup Audioslave, who released three chart-topping albums in a span of four years. In between and after, Cornell also had solo projects, like his hit album Euphoria Morning and his work with rap producer Timbaland on 2009’s Scream. He reunited with Soundgarden in 2011 and their 2012 release King Animal featured some awesome tracks like Been Away Too Long and Non-State Actor.

Although Cornell released a new solo album in 2015, Higher Truth, he was still touring with Soundgarden and the band had planned to release a 2016 follow-up to King Animal.

So what went wrong? All reports say that Cornell was telling his audience to prepare for another great show, and that he seemed to be in good spirits. He seemed to have been enthusiastic about his touring with Soundgarden, their new album release, and their renewed popularity in the mainstream music industry.

One can only speculate what went so wrong for Chris in that one night, but as one might imagine, the deep and troubled mind capable of creating such hauntingly fantastic music is also a fragile mind that, at any moment, can snap. As I’m writing this, it’s starting to hit me that I’ll never see a new release from Cornell; I’ll never get to go watch him perform. He’s gone.

In my humble opinion, Cornell’s songwriting abilities far exceeded even Bob Dylan. Maybe it’s just my style of music, my way of thinking, but Cornell’s lyrics spoke to me like no other artist in history. “Everything’s just black or burning sun” he wrote. I see that. “Heaven, send hell away. No one sings like you anymore.” I know that. “No one knows me. No one saves me. No one loves or hates me.” I feel that.

In your morning, I will sleep;

Fire on an open palm.

Death for Jesus and plastic armies,

Wouldn’t bring me back again.

Sweet as ether eyes, I’m blind to them.

I am that.

Cornell did not write just music; his lyrics are poetry to me, fantastic literature that has just as much impact on my soul when reading dryly off a page as when listening to them with music behind them and his incredible voice bellowing out the words.

Could it be today’s political climate was too much to take? Was it the curse of Detroit? Perhaps it’s the curse of grunge singers, which seems to be worth looking into, all things considered. As stated, one can only speculate. What isn’t up for speculation, however, is just how incredible an artist Cornell was.

His music has helped me through so many hard spots in my life. I truly wish Cornell could have found for himself what I found in him to help him through that night.

Cornell wrote for his friend, Andrew Wood: “He came from an island, but he died from the street. He hurt so bad like a soul breaking, but he never said nothing to me.” What a shame Chris could not say to anyone what he once questioned not said by his friend. Tragic.

Cornell is beyond mere legend; he is a god of rock. He will be missed.

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