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Farewell to the Great Chris Cornell: While We’re Waiting

I’m old enough now that my rock heroes are dying at an advancing rate. I have spent time recently on Prince, Scott Weiland and what feels like countless others. It didn’t get any easier this week with the loss of Chris Cornell as I woke up to the awful news on Thursday morning.

Chris Cornell and Soundgarden were formative bands for me starting with Outshined. What I found was a “Seattle band” that didn’t quite fit in completely with the rest. While Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the rest projected some sense of their personality in everything they did, Soundgarden and their front man Chris Cornell always had a slightly more mysterious vibe. As a fan it felt like a throwback to an earlier time before you ever got to know much about any of your favorite rock bands. For the rest of the Seattle scene it was a concoction of exposure and over-exposure, but it never felt that way for Soundgarden. Sure, they got loads of attention, but until later when Spoonman and Black Hole Sun took over the summer of 1994 Soundgarden felt like this black box of musical explosion. Now it’s all gone.

My instant reaction was to get Andrew Schnitkey on the podcast and talk about it, but as I drove around listening to Cornell’s voice, I knew a podcast wouldn’t work. I can’t possibly talk about it yet. I came home from a work trip and just hoped beyond hope that my wife wouldn’t bring it up because I don’t know that I can talk about it without welling up. So, maybe that podcast can happen someday, but not right now. I do want to try and find a way to talk about Chris Cornell without crying so let’s try and lighten the mood a bit.

My wife married me having basically no idea who Chris Cornell was. She (almost certainly) had heard of Soundgarden, but her depth of knowledge wasn’t very deep at all. Whenever a Cornell vocal would come on the radio – be it Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog or solo work – I’d tell her, “This is the greatest rock and roll singer of my lifetime.” After a while, she got used to this intro and came to know Chris Cornell a little bit. She would eventually attend a Chris Cornell solo show at the Lakewood Civic Auditorium with me, and while I don’t know that the whole thing resonated with her personally, she got it from watching me. She got to see me lose it a bit as I was part of a crowd that got to sing Hunger Strike with Chris Cornell. She got to see me take in Fell on Black Days live and in person for the first time. Now, I know for sure it’s also the last time.

Wait, I still want to try and keep it light…

How good was Chris Cornell?

Have you ever thought about the band name “Soundgarden?” It’s really really dumb. It’s exactly the kind of band name I would have thought was great when I was in the seventh grade and would have cringed about putting in a notebook by the time I was a sophomore in high school. It’s so bad. “Soundgarden. Like a garden that grows sound organically. Get it?” It’s so very on the nose. And yet, despite that cringe-worthy name, nobody ever really thought about it. Why? I never considered how awful that name was until much later because the first time I heard the name the reference point was the incredible vocals of Chris Cornell smacking me in the face. Who had even a second to question the very 1980’s nature of their band name when it sounded like that?

Chris Cornell was so good that I never thought to make fun of his moustache back when it definitely was a choice that usually meant you were a cheesy porn star or some kind of state trooper or pirate. Chris Cornell looked like the old Tampa Bay Buccaneers logo. You know the one where the dude had a knife in his mouth with a winky face?

Look, if I don’t try and laugh a little bit I’ll just end up weeping through it all. The point is that Chris Cornell was more than just another rock star. He was that good. How good? That good.

More seriously, the timing of Chris Cornell’s career arc almost guarantees that any aspiring rock musician in my age group was going to be influenced by him. He turned his lack of conformity to song norms into a style that defied any rock genre. Nobody wrote rhythmically the way Chris Cornell did while also achieving mainstream success with accessible songs. One of his most beautiful songs, Fell on Black Days, sounds totally normal at first, but is written in 6/4 time signature. The song feels so standard and yet when you dig in, it’s just not.

While I could do a deep dive into any number of Cornell songs, I’ll stick right there because as Cornell was seemingly on top of the world and back touring with Soundgarden in the same 12-month period that he’d also reunited Temple of the Dog, things that seemed normal on the surface, were decidedly not. That’s the only conclusion we can reach a day after finding out a legend and musical hero like Chris Cornell was so far gone that he decided to kill himself. Apparently, the songs that he wrote about depression, anxiety and loss weren’t enough to keep him going this time and it’s impossibly sad to me.

Chris Cornell did an interview in 1994 and discussed Fell on Black Days that feels so prescient like many of Cornell’s lyrics. ” ‘Fell On Black Days’ was like this ongoing fear I’ve had for years. It took me a long time to write that song. We’ve tried to do three different versions with that title, and none of them have ever worked,” he said. “It’s a feeling that everyone gets. You’re happy with your life, everything’s going well, things are exciting – when all of a sudden you realize you’re unhappy in the extreme, to the point of being really, really scared. There’s no particular event you can pin the feeling down to, it’s just that you realize one day that everything in your life is f**ked!”

That’s pretty much how it felt yesterday, except I knew exactly the source of my depression. It’s brutal to think that he couldn’t come out of that funk one more time like I know I will. But I’m thankful for ever having had Chris Cornell on this earth. The world is a much better place for it.

  • RGB
  • mgbode

    Soundgarden was my sullen-ness escape as a teen. The lyrics (and music) were so eerily dark, which fit my mindset at the time. I wish I could say I was surprised to learn he had killed himself but, man, how many songs did he sing about just that? Down on the Upside was my favorite of his albums and there were constant references to suicide. Blow up the Outside World being the most explicit.

    Nothing seems to kill me no matter how hard I try
    Nothing is closing my eyes
    Nothing can beat me down for your pain or delight
    And nothing seems to break me
    No matter how hard I fall nothing can break me at all
    Not one for giving up though not invincible I know

  • Garry_Owen

    For reasons entirely unimportant, I never really listened to the bands of the ’90s, so my appreciation of these guys is relatively new-born. I obviously knew of Chris Cornell and Soundgarden, but didn’t really care. Then one night very recently, I saw my favorite band on The Tonight Show, and Chris Cornell played with them. All I could think was, “Wow, where has this guy been hiding my entire life???” (I know; it’s my problem, not his.) Phenomenal voice; phenomenal loss.
    https://vimeo.com/148958889

  • Same on the favorite album choice. And “Blow Up the Outside World” has always been my favorite of theirs, but listening to it today gave me a particular sort of chill.

  • BenRM

    When I used to briefly work for House of Blues, I got to meet a lot of cool famous guys like Chris Cornell. He was the only one I ever geeked out over upon meeting. But he was pretty nice to a random 20-something who wished him happy birthday. His voice was killer, it’s unfortunate he went so young.

  • mgbode

    I have always gravitated to the blues, and they were one of the few grunge bands to not use blues riffs- until that song. They blended their poppy-side w/ a blues side and made it ridiculously deep.

    Here, let’s add some levity. Went to a concert w/ Soundgarden & Alice-N-Chains doing a dual headlining gig. Cornell ‘altered’ the lyrics to Ty Cobb for the occasion and it was awesome:

    With smoke and mirrors
    And tire rubber fires
    Watch me disappear
    What made it slow you down
    Sucks to be Alice-n-Chains

  • I avoid Fallon like the plague, so I hadn’t seen this before now. I like me some Avetts, and Cornell’s voice fits remarkably well. Good stuff.

  • RGB

    On a lighter note, later this afternoon, I’ll be munching on a Galley Boy for the first time in 12+ years.
    Drool…

  • tigersbrowns2

    good column , CRAIG … this column demonstrates the power of music. as a musician , i am happy that it moves you this much & am somber about the loss.

    i am hearing that he wasn’t quite on his game that night & forgot some lyrics , but my daughter had told me he broke into Zeppelin’s “In My Time Of Dying” that night at the show … kinda eerie.

  • tigersbrowns2

    enjoy !!

  • T-minus 18 days or so until I’m doing the same. It’s only been a couple years, but it feels like an eternity. Enjoy it, you lucky so-and-so.

  • Garry_Owen

    In fairness, I probably haven’t watched Fallon since that night, and probably only watched it that night because I knew TAB was on.

  • One of the very few reasons I can understand for doing so.

  • tigersbrowns2

    in fact , i’m hearing this is the last song he sang that night …

    in my time of dying , i want nobody to mourn
    all i want for you to do is take my body home

    well , well , well , so i can die easy

  • Garry_Owen

    Man. That’s absolutely heart-breaking.

  • jpftribe

    Pete Thorn did a wonderful video on youtube yesterday. Pete is a normal guy who happens to be a world class guitarist and played in Chris’s solo band for years.

    If you’re a working musician, or aspiring one, or just a Chris Cornell fan, it’s a great listen. Fair warning, 37 minutes so not linking it here.

    Music has always been a huge part of my life, and probably the first musician to go that I could relate to was Bonzo in 9th grade. A couple of years later, we had a HS teacher who we were all really close to, mysteriously disappear for a couple of months for “tests”. He came back to school, said everything was fine. A few weeks later they found him in his running car in his garage. That was pretty tough to understand.

    I don’t know what it is, but there is something different about this one, and not in a good way.

  • BenRM

    Nice!!!

  • jpftribe

    I looked up the setlist yesterday and saw they inserted IMTOD into the last song. Didn’t see it on other setlists.

  • tigersbrowns2

    a gentleman at the show that night grabbed the set list off the stage & as you can see “in my time of dying” was not on the set list … it musta been his good-bye & he knew what he was going to do. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f2d116ce4aba1b638e91eeee33372c4584a9fe510033857c2e3cc2e6370239a0.jpg

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi JPF … that is correct … see the set list below.

  • jpftribe

    So good.

    I bought a guitar off of Jim Avett when I lived in Charlotte, he is their Dad. Killer 64 Melody Maker, all original. Great guy, and it was easy to see where these kids got their talent from. Dude could play.

  • JM85

    Very sad news. Soundgarden and Audioslave were great bands.

  • Garry_Owen

    No way. I hope you still have it.

    Jim Avett is still playing – released an album last month.

    http://jimavett.com/

  • jpftribe

    Oh yeah, that one is not going anywhere. The pickups on it kinda suck, but I refuse to mod it. It just needs to stay the way it is.

  • jpftribe

    Have to say, Ricky brings a smile to the face.

  • RGB

    My affinities definitely lie with the mid-late 80s guys, but those early 80s guys have a special place in my heart.

  • tigersbrowns2

    i am 99.999999% sure who will be your guy tomorrow.

  • tigersbrowns2

    good post …

  • tigersbrowns2

    do you still play ??

  • jpftribe

    I’m playing my second live gig ever tomorrow night. Bucket list thing.

  • tigersbrowns2

    good for you … we have a gig tomorrow night as well. it looks like these Melody Makers had single coil pick-ups … if you want to play this guitar , Seymour Duncan makes some nice single coil pick-ups. if you want to simply keep it for a keepsake , don’t modify it … good / old Gibson guitars will only grow in value … good luck at your gig. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7180820fb2bd9809546beb9ee981622ae70dc95bed967fdb5868df02ae8a6180.jpg

  • jpftribe

    I can remember Phipps, Bo Scott, Leroy Kelley and those guys, but the Sipe era teams is when it really took hold.

  • jpftribe

    It’s just like that ‘cept dual pups and a trem arm. I took the trem arm off to keep it in tune. Lollar makes a custom pickguard loaded with a special size P90’s, but I don’t even want to crack the screws.

    I did have it refretted by Craig Landau in Charlotte, who is now retired I think. He told me he spent 14 hours sanding the Brazilian neck by hand. And it still has wear divots all over it.

  • Garry_Owen

    So in thinking about Chris Cornell, I’m just getting angrier and angrier. Suicide sucks, and it’s stupid, and when someone “takes their own life,” it’s other people that they take it away from, not themselves.

    None of you WFNYses better do this. If you even think about it, drop old G_O a line – find a comment on this site to respond to, anything – so that we can talk it out. I’m absolutely sick of suicide and pissed off about it.

    Deal?

  • tigersbrowns2

    in case you don’t already know , keeping the nut lubricated with graphite / pencil lead always helps … you’ll notice sometimes you’ll hear a ping when tuning the G string … this is from the string sticking / binding in the nut. i use Graph Tech Tusq nuts ($15) on all my electrics to eliminate this problem. also having your guitar intonated helps keep it in perfect tune. this is pretty easy to do yourself.

    you should have a pro do a set-up on your guitar once a year to keep it purring … you can also learn how to do a set-up yourself by going on You Tube.

    good luck with your playing … it’s like i always say : it’s never to late to try something new. ROCK ON !!

  • KaiHaaskivi

    Favorite Cornell song: It doesn’t remind me – Audioslave.

  • tigersbrowns2

    you are right … i would never think about it. but many of us don’t have to deal with severe depression , mental issues or debilitating diseases.

    you would think some people “have it all” , Robin Williams , Curt Cobain , Cornell , movie stars , athletes etc. … but money can’t buy everything.

    anybody that has teenage kids , keep a close eye on them … it’s an awkward time for some of them. the 8 year-old boy a few weeks ago that got bullied & took his own life … that made me angry & sad as well.

  • tigersbrowns2
  • nj0

    Very much related: I didn’t see it widely reported, but Robin Williams’s autopsy revealed that he was suffering from Lewy body dementia, a disease that causes visual hallucinations, physical shaking, and eventual dementia. It had been incorrectly diagnosed as Parkinson’s. Bobcat Goldthwait spoke about it on Joe Rogan’s show, saying that Williams would be disconnected from reality one day, then back to normal the next. His suicide wasn’t about depression, drugs, divorce, or anything other than his brain giving him bad information.

    So I agree completely. It’s important to remember that often these things are cause by a disease and people can’t just get over it in the same way you can’t just get over cancer or multiple sclerosis or any other disease.

  • nj0

    What did you do at HOB?

  • KaiHaaskivi

    Wishing Eddie Vedder health and happiness. Grunge is less than 30 years old and he’s the only front man left from what I’d consider the big four (Staley, Cobain, and now Cornell).

  • Du

    Thanks for taking the time to write this Craig. The news hit me hard too yesterday. Was talking with my brother yesterday as so much of our college years was spent listening to Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, STP, Blind Melon, and others in the grunge era. Couldn’t help but think of the others gone too soon like Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Shannon Hoon, Andy Wood, and Scott Weiland. Certainly others I am missing as well.

    The grunge era certainly had and still has its fair share of tortured artists. So many demons they seemed to deal with…but then again don’t we all. Really like the quote you shared from Chris Cornell about “Fell On Black Days”. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but the only thing that keeps me in peace (even on really tough days) is my faith in God and my trust in His plan for my life.

    I think the thing that often strikes me is how easy it is to look at someone on the outside and assume all is well and completely miss what is happening on the inside. In our age, we are more and more connected yet more and more disconnected from each other.

    Finally, saw this quote on twitter – “Put a wall around Eddie Vedder.”

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  • BenRM

    Mostly maintenance, but some hospitality stuff too.

  • The_Matt_of_Akron

    The video for that song brought tears to my eyes.

  • tigersbrowns2

    good post DU …

  • mgbode

    the only thing that keeps me in peace (even on really tough days) is my faith in God and my trust in His plan for my life

    yessir, same.

  • Du

    Thanks. Been listening to Soundgarden all day on Spotify then when I started thinking about college, brought back memories of going to see The Why Store many times in Toledo, etc. Anyone else remember them?? Chris Shaffer had a presence on stage…glad he is still around!