I am literally stunned. Bummed. Saddened by this most surprising of deaths.
P-Bill, Drunkard and I had just seen him at the San Francisco Civic with Temple Of The Dog and he was unbelievable.
I mean, UNBELIEVABLE!
It was such an amazing show. The high we felt after that show was indescribable, watching this band we fucking LOVED, playing for the first time 25 years. Hanging with my friends, it was such a good time... such a good show.
Nowadays, it seems like more and more people say things all the time like "so-and-so was the greatest", “The G.O.A.T.", and after VH1 started putting out Behind The Music’s suddenly everyone was a “legend”.
And for the most part it’s unwarranted. The accolades bestowed on most bands/members the days is WAY out of proportion. The hard truth is that most of these guys are wannabe’s, who during the so-called golden-era of rock/metal, never would have been signed because they just weren’t/aren't good enough.
Not Chris Cornell.
He was THE BEST.
To me, that dude will always sit atop a place that very few singers will ever reach.
First off; that voice. Holy fuck, that VOICE! One minute it could be the deepest, most soulful thing you’d ever heard come out of a white man. I swear there were times when he sounded like one of those amazing, old black gospel singers like Etta James or Aretha Franklin. Listen to “Say Hello To Heaven”... if that isn’t one of the most soulful things you’ve ever heard, you’re dead inside.
But the next minute, he could sound like like the most vicious howling banshee alive. With so much fucking grit, it sounded like his vocal chords might rip apart. "Slaves & Bulldozers, Jesus Christ Pose, Gun, Reach Down, Power Trip, I Awake", FUCK… I could literally go on and on. His voice was one part Robert Plant/Ronnie James Did grit, mixed with some unholy shriek.
And the dude was a rockstar. Or maybe an accidental rockstar!
Every dude back then looked at this dude and went WHOA. Most guy wouldn’t admit it, call it male-envy, call it ego, call it gay or whatever you want, but this dude had the hair, he had the fucking HAIR! He had the BODY, the voice, the mystery. Every single girl I knew wanted to fuck this dude. And every single dude wanted to be this dude.
But no one had the vocal chops, NO ONE!!
Hell, upon telling Genevra the news this morning, she said “Oh my god, that’s horrible”. Then with perfect comic timing…."Damn, I guess I’ll never get to marry Chris Cornell”.
25 years later, she still wanted the dude.
That’s sex-appeal right there.
And the thing that was great about him, was that he wasn’t this overly-macho-type dude, he was androgynous! I remember when he first came on to the scene back in the early 90’s, one of the first live VHS videos that came out had him performing at I believe what is now The Avalon in LA. Somewhere near the end of the video he starts dry-humping the bassist at-the-time Jason Everman (who had a brief, microscopic stint in SG and Nirvana, and who replaced Hiro Yamamato) I wanna say during the song “Big Dumb Sex". Watching it for the first time I was like “what the fuck is this dude doing...?”, but there was something intriguing about it, weirdly bi-sexual, confusing-on-purpose.
But let’s go back a bit:
The first time I heard Soundgarden was on "Louder Than Love”. This new sound was coming into the lexicon of music, the-times-they-were-a-changin’. It was 1989 and while it’s bit hazy, (80’s and all), Thrash was dying, and I think I had picked up the album at a Foundation Forum or something. My girlfriend at-the-time Gina and I listened to this record non-stop. We would snort crank and crank Soundgarden in our apartment in Richmond, then when we came down, have sex.
I first saw the "Hand All Over” video on Headbangers Ball, and wasn’t impressed. It was always my least favorite song on the album, though a cool video. There were so many song that were better, The first song that grabbed me was “Gun”. It was so fuckin’ heavy, channeling Sabbath, and some weird element of hardcore.
“I got an idea, of something’ we could do with a guuuuun”
It hit me like a ton of bricks.
After that it was “Power Trip” with even more Sabbath worship, "Full On Kevin's Mom”, damn, pretty much the whole album was classic.
We went down the rabbit hole after that, dug into all the old stuff, "Screaming Life/FOPP E.P.”, that song “Hunted Down” and “Nothing To Say” were always just insanely heavy, “Ultramega OK” with “Beyond The Wheel” and “Flower”, FUCK!!
I probably saw Soundgarden 20 times, especially early on. The first time I saw them was at the I-Beam in San Francisco on the “Louder Than Love” tour ’89.
I’d love to say they blew my mind, but they were "really good". Not mind-blowing, but cool, and heavy, and awesome. They played mostly "Louder Than Love” tunes, Ultra/Screaming tunes, and they covered “Big Bottoms” by Spinal Tap, and Cheech & Chongs “Earache My Eye” (I think in a medley), and especially at the time it was a total ironic-middle-finger to the hard rock scene of the day which had become bloated and stupid (kinda like now).
Next I saw them in at Lost Horizon in Syracuse, New York. Vio-Lence were recording our 2nd album “Oppressing The Masses (or as we joke “Suppressing My Gasses”) in Ithaca, and SG were supporting Voivod, so we took the hour-long drive to catch our old-tour mates and the best new band around. I went in the pit and raged, hammered, they slayed it.
After the show, I somehow drunkenly blagged my way onto their bus ready to rage. But they weren’t really in rage mode, I ended up bro-ing down with Kim Thayil all night drinking beer. I attempted to talk with Cornell on a few different occasions, but he sat there speechless, drawing on some girls copy of Louder Than Love vinyl in complete silence for about 90 minutes. I was too shy/playing it cool to interrupt.
It was when they released “Badmotorfinger” that everyone took notice and went HOLY SHIT!
The Grunge scene has unfairly been cast as this slow, plodding music style, and almost all of the music reviews of the time lumped SG in as some Zeppelin wannabe’s, the press never got it. But I’d argue that with hindsight being 20/20, it owed a lot more to punk and hardcore than people realize. And nothing captured that more that opening track “Rusty Cage”, a blistering opener if ever there was one. Odd time signature, crazy riff, howling vocals, an EPIC breakdown at the end!
This record came out and flipped the metal community on it’s head, and it wasn’t a “metal” record! In fact it went WAY out of the way to distance itself from metal (which it needed to) but man, every metal dude, wanted to hear the new sound.
The “Jesus Christ Pose" video came out, and everyone went Fuck Yeah!! This was wanted we wanted our heroes to do, flaunt religion, fuck everyone, in semi-mockery of his own rock stardom . This wasn’t glory to the band, it felt like more than that, it was about us, channeling something we all felt at the time.
“Outshined” was a straight-up smash. With a hook so big it coulda caught Moby Dick. "I’m looking California, and feeling Minnesota”. Come on!! Can you get anymore visual? Pure genius. His lyrics were amazing too, often ironic, usually clever, humorous, and SO DARK.
If there was a song though that will always hold a special place for me from this album, it’d be “Holy Water”.
The first night I hung out with Genevra we bonded over this song. I have a habit of singing under my breath which I'm essentially oblivious too, but I’ve done it since I was a kid. We were walking up to a rave in East Oakland called Floppy House and we were talking and I began to sing that song, unaware. She asks me “are you singing Holy Water?”. Suddenly embarrassed I mumbled some excuse about always singing under my breathe. She said, "I love that song!”, and suddenly we were talking about Soundgarden, and bond was created that lasts 'til today.
Then came The Warfield shows, these were the shows were they went from great new band, to Gods for me.
2 nights back to back, that were 2 of the most electrifying concerts I’ve seen. Fantastic setlist, electric energy, and I’ll always have the image of a shirtless Cornell at the end of night 2, standing on his guitar, Doc Martin's just grinding the pickups into the stage, with a glorious unholy feedback filling the entire building. It was fucking awesome!
Watched them at Foudations Forum to a crowd who could give a shit, though Cornell climbed the light rig, and sang Slaves upside-down hanging from the top.
And then came Temple Of The Dog.
To say that this album ruled my world would be the understatement of the year. The subtle influence this album had on "Burn My Eyes" I’ll never be able to fully explain, but A LOT of that album is owed to TOTD.
"Say Hello To Heaven” was and will always be one of the greatest songs ever written. A tribute to Andrew Wood, written with his ex-Mother Love Bone/future-Pearl Jam bandmates. Never got into Mother Love Bone, but man, TOTD is a Top-5-desert-album for me.
“Now it seems like too much love, is never enough, hey you gotta,
reach down another road, cause this one has ended abrupt,
Say hello to heaven”
Those forks in the road... they appear out of nowhere... and you don’t know where you’re going... but life makes you choose.
“Wooden Jesus” “All Night Thing” “Call Me A Dog”, “Times Of Trouble” and of course maybe their most famous song “Hunger Strike”. It was a one-off that resonated for decades after with me.
I saw them again in the Superunkown-era, at the SF Civic, Lollaplooza, they had become huge by this point. And while I loved them, there was something off about the band, there was a weird vibe between the new bassist Ben, and the band. They seemed very disconnected. Loved the album, but it seemed like the bigger they got, they more uncomfortable Cornell was in his own skin.
And I was moving on from Soundgarden.
Never really liked the first 2 songs from “Superunkown", but man, "Fell On Black Days” is and will always be a classic song. A timeless song that in some way gave us all a peek into the depressed psyche of Chris Cornell.
“Black Hole Sun” is pure The Beatles worship and I love that. "Limo Wreck” “The Day I Tried To Live” all amazing, but the heaviness, the crushing song on the album “4th Of July”. Good Lord.
Down On The Upside was good, “Day I Tried To Live” was a rocker, but not much else.
And then they split and I moved on.
I enjoyed the first solo album.
I saw him solo a couple times on it, once in Norway and in Columbus Ohio. As always, he was incredible live.
Machine Head played a few festivals with them on their reunion tours, and they were good, but there was a weird vibe onstage. Hanging backstage though was exciting for me, just walking past him a few times. Again we didn’t speak. Even after all these years, I often have a hard time striking up a cold conversation. I’m an introvert at heart, who’s successfully forced himself out of my introvertedness, but it’s always there. I walked past Cornell a few times, but all I could muster up “hey how ya doing?” To which I then cursed myself for saying something so stupid.
Walking the line between not wanting be fanboy, and being cool, and somehow failing at both.
I held him in such a high regard, I would literally clam up when I saw him.
Have you seen him sing Whitney Houston’s - "I Will Always Love You”?
You HAVE to see it… goosebumps.
I was just talking with my friend P-Bill about the Temple Of The Dog show we got to catch… we both left that show, so over the moon. Witnessing something we had wanted to see so bad and feeling so elated. And how right now I’m feeling just the opposite
I feel dark.
Darker than I should.
I was just talking with my band guys and crew on our group-text trying to process all of this.
"It's weird, it's like some people you can kind of see it coming, but that was the last dude that I expected to commit suicide.
Depression can hit anyone I guess.
In some ways it makes me mad. He had so much to live for... teenage kids, successful band(s), money, pretty much any chick on earth would fuck the dude, respect...
A lot more than I got to live for, I just don't fucking get it
And then I do…
Because 30 fucking years ago when I was some depressed teenager I tried to do the same thing, and thankfully didn't succeed.
Shit like this fucks with my head.
And then makes me scared about myself. That if it happened to him, could it happen to me?
I want to say it couldn't, but could it?
We had a conversation about it all.
We all agree we can't compare lives, that depression is largely swept under the rug in this country.
His suicide triggered something in my psyche, I’m not sure what… some long lost memory of something I’d rather forget.
And I think I’m strong, but I’m not.
I’m not as strong as I project, and I’m not sure if I’m stronger than depression. Because I sink into it sometimes.
And it’s black.
I hope I am.
I need to be for my kids. For my wife. For my band. For myself.
And theres no judging Cornell. Because if I do, it’s just me expressing my own fears, that I might be capable of the same...
Man, this has affected me today…
More than it should...
Listen, remember, honor Chris Cornell.
Say Hello To Heaven (Alternate Mix): https://open.spotify.com/track/0ViVRRyz1i3YJqSvxXpQiB
I Will Always Love You: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOvH5LSH9Sw
Billie Jean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2MgwAJrfXo
"One (U2 Music with Metallica Lyrics)” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBjyl1LvBF4