JULY 20, 1964-MAY 17, 2017
And another one gone...
The very early morning of May 18th brought about some deeply saddening news, the kind of which I am feeling that I will be reading/hearing/seeing more of as I age. Just as I was entering the study to begin my slow "wake up" after my morning shower, I opened up the internet and was shockingly greeted with the news that Chris Cornell, singer/songwriter/guitarist of the bands Temple Of The Dog, Soundgarden and Audioslave as well as his work as a solo artist, has passed away the night before, just hours after what is now his final performance with Soundgarden in Detroit. He was only 52 years old.
The sting and sadness of this news just took the wind out of my sails instantly. I never really knew terribly much about Cornell personally. And as for his music, I only own a small selection of songs, Cornell's solo debut "Euphoria Morning" (released September 21, 1999), Soundgarden's "King Animal" (released November 13, 2012) and of course, his work as contained within the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe's "Singles" (1992).
Even with my limited knowledge of his work, which is only due to my interest in other bands and artists during the initial alternative rock wave of the 1990's, everything I ever heard from him or his bands, spoke to me powerfully. Soundgarden especially possessed a certain Zeppelin-esque swagger and mysticism combined with what I tend to think of as art-metal, a turbulent, tempestuous darkness that flowed with poetry and pain--something I have always meant to explore more deeply but just never did.
But most of all, that voice!! That superhuman four octave voice that could make the clouds scatter and the Earth shake but also carried a terrifically soulful growl and grit that demonstrated that Cornell held a world of musical influences inside of his musical spirit, yet could miraculously make each and every one singular and instantly distinct.
With all of the purely idiosyncratic artists that emerged in the 1990's, Chris Cornell's singing voice was unlike anyone else's, a roaring beast with angel's wings. Truly a graceful warrior. No wonder bandmate and Temple Of The Dog/Soundgarden/Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron referred to Cornell as being his "dark knight."
And still this man passed away, so very young. And I think that is what hit me so urgently at first. His youth and the fact that he was not the first at that. Chris Cornell and his musical compatriots and contemporaries being so close in age to myself, is very personal to me. In some ways, these figures feel like auxiliary classmates, the people of my generation who were able to write and perform songs,make albums, create art and take over the world for a time. As they continue and age, so do I and my contemporaries--the thought of them continuing to provide the soundtrack for our respective lives forever serving as connective tissue, even if we never knew each other or meet face to face.
The connection, solely forged through music is palpable, making this death especially painful. It's just not our time yet. It just can't be. Can it?
Yet, very quickly after reading the initial news, during which a cause of death had not been acknowledged, reports began to surface about Cornell possibly having taken his own life. Then, the tragic news rapidly became even sadder--news that eventually was confirmed later in the morning as it was revealed that Cornell had indeed committed suicide, a death by hanging in his hotel room.
Chris Cornell, the person, is someone I never knew terribly much about and I have wondered if that was indeed by design to a certain extent. A bit of self-protection in the predatory world of the entertainment business. These days, I wouldn't blame anyone for having enacted some level of "radio silence" regarding the 21st century media. Even so, as I began reading tributes and stories about the man, I discovered elements that I never knew about like his previous drug addictions as well as his battles with depression.
The realization that Cornell was yet another of his generation as well as locale--after Mother Love Bone's Andy Wood, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, Alice In Chains' Layne Staley, and Stone Temple Pilots/Velvet Revolver's Scott Weiland--to have his life end so tragically is as perplexing as it is painful. This time, it just seemed as if Cornell would one of the figures to make it, to age, to grow older, to live a much longer life.
Honestly, I look at photos of him and he looks as if he is one that quite possibly "had it all." He was truly a stunningly handsome man, with a beautiful wife and children, who was also artistically fulfilled, beloved by fans, attained the respect of his fellow musicians and artists and had even ventured into the world of philanthropy with The Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation, an organization benefiting the protection of children.
To my outside eye, it all seemed just perfect. But, not one of us was Chris Cornell, not even those closest to him...not even his wife and family. In many ways, Chris Cornell was just like all of us: existentially alone in the universe solely because we are the only ones that are able to completely live within our own skins and thoughts. Who knows what thoughts Cornell had to live with, how unbearable they were. How much pain was this m an in? It is crushing to think about: that anyone, even a rock star like Chris Cornell, could be in so much anguish that the only relief to conceive of is through ending his own life.
We never know what baggage someone is shouldering. Ever. We just never fully know. And with his passing, that point is again made so brutally clear. Without getting into the whole pharmaceutical industry and their controversial issues as Vicky Cornell has expressed in statement that she feared the anxiety medication her husband had been taking perhaps increased his symptoms leading to his suicide, I just wish that if we can take anything away from this horrible news is that we should always attempt to make an effort to try and be more patient, kinder, reflective and loving regarding ourselves and our fellow human beings.
Yes, we have the musical and artistic legacy of Chris Cornell to explore, cherish and love forever but what has occurred is so far beyond music. I think of the opening lyrics of Cornell's gorgeously sorrowful "Preaching The End Of The World":
"Hello, I know there's someone out there who can understand
And who's feeling the same way as me
I'm 24 and I've got everything to live for
But I know that it wasn't meant to be
'Cause all has been lost and all has been won
And there's nothing left for us to save
But now I know that I don't want to be alone today..."
Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. For not one of us should feel so isolated, so alienated, so out of step with existence itself that we choose the final escape.
It makes me so, so very sad that Chris Cornell lived with this pain. I wish that there was another way for him. Maybe the strength to write even one more song to wrestle through it all, to keep him here just a little longer for his family and friends to lift him up just high enough where he would have chosen to stay.
I don't know. I don't have any answers. I just wish that it didn't have to be this way for him.
Chris Cornell..Rest In Peace...Rest In Power.