The other morning I did the same thing that I do most mornings, grabbed my phone and laid in bed for few minutes, looking at Facebook and a few websites. The news of your passing was quite literally the first thing I saw on a screen that morning. My initial thought was it was some kind of click-bait bullshit headline, but it quickly became apparent it was the truth. We’d lost you.
Then the inevitable dread set in, that feeling you get when a musician that you love dies too young, simultaneously hoping that it wasn’t drug-related while at also having a momentarily selfish facing-your-own-mortality moment of realizing that if it was due to natural causes, we’re close to the same age… Then when we learned it was suicide (possibly driven in part by prescription medication…)… It made the loss even harder.
We never met, and I never had the privilege of seeing you perform in person. But that doesn’t mean your music wasn’t important to me, especially your early Soundgarden albums. Growing up on the “Eastside” across the lake from Seattle, the city seemed like some kind of impossible plane of existence even though it was probably a 30 or so minute drive from our house. Grunge was bubbling under the surface in 1987; it was still “our thing” to the locals, but we all seemed to understand that it was going to blow up and go national at some point. We all had our favorite bands, who we mostly experienced via Sub Pop singles and EPs. And while most people in 1988 seemed to think the band that was going to hit it nationally was Mudhoney, Soundgarden was always my pick. The Screaming Life and Fopp EPs, plus your album Ultramega OK, shattered my ideas of what “rock” music was supposed to sound like. Those albums altered the trajectory of my musical taste.
I was 16 years old. You would have been about 22. At that age, that age gap is real. You felt like an adult and a rock star. The reality is probably more like you were a young guy living in a shitty apartment working one or more jobs to make enough money to allow you to still play in a band. I know that now, and it makes me smile a bit at my own innocence.
I remember going away to college in the fall of 1989. I moved about as far across the country as possible, from Seattle to Pittsburgh. I knew no one there. But of course one of the things I brought with me was a bunch of CDs. I was excited to find out that one of the guys in the dorm room next to me was a Seattle music fan… but admittedly a tiny bit deflated when I found it he was big into Metal Church and Queensrÿche, not because I had anything against them, but it just wasn’t the same. He’d never heard of Soundgarden. I found out that Louder Than Love was coming out and that Soundgarden would be playing Pittsburgh around the same time, but I couldn’t find anyone to go to the show with me, and truth be told lacked the confidence to go by myself. But I did track down the CD. I’ll never forget my country-music-loving roommate walking in when I was playing it for the first time. “What is this shit?” Coming from him, that was the perfect review of the album.
Badmotorfinger was Soundgarden’s watershed, at least to me. For a lot of people it was probably Superunknown. Badmotorfinger spawned some hits for you guys in “Rusty Cage” and “Outshined”, and while those are great songs, to my ears they’re middle of the pack. I can’t tell you how many times I shredded my own vocal chords trying to be you while hitting the high notes on “Jesus Christ Pose” in my car.
But you’re staring at me
Like I need to be…
Like I need to be…
I don’t think I ever bought any of your post-Soundgarden albums, but I always enjoyed hearing Audioslave on the radio and your James Bond theme song is one of my all-time faves. For years I’ve been telling myself I need to catch you live. And now I’ll never have that chance.
Chris, we can never know truly what is in another person’s mind, so I won’t pretend to understand how and why this happened. I’m just sad about it. Selfishly sad, of course, to know that I’ll never hear a new Chris Cornell song. But much more importantly, and deeply, sad for the depth of despair you were obviously feeling in those last moments, and utter sorrow for those you left behind. The children who you won’t see blossom into adulthood as they experience their own successes and failures. All your friends and family and bandmates who have to try to create a new normal in their lives as they work around the big hole your absence leaves.
Holly and I were playing Louder Than Love the night you passed, probably just a few minutes before your life ended. I don’t know why we decided to play it, but we did. Over the last few days I’ve been struck by an odd sense of regret that while we were listening to your music you were going through hell.
Suicide generates a complicated set of feelings and reactions from people. I’m not going to pretend to understand why you made the decision you did. Death is probably the last great frontier, the one thing that we humans simply can’t understand despite all the science and religious texts. Are you at peace now? Does any part of your energy or spirit or whatever you want to call it still exist out there somewhere? I don’t know. And that’s part of the sadness too.
Thank you for sharing your life with us through your music, Chris.