Who knows what took Chris Cornell, in the end. What voice or vision proved too much. I’m not going to sit here and try to name his demons. At 52, Cornell had been in three of the biggest bands of the past 4 decades. He’d seen friends fall to depression, to drink and drugs, addictions he had his share of.
But he got himself sober, found a good place. He had a family. He was working, and he was working at it. The thing with depression is that it’s always there. Even when you manage to quiet it a while, it persists. A muted TV playing in the background. An engine running silent inside you.
He’ll be remembered for that voice. In the annals of 90s rock, among peers like Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder, there were perhaps more famous, more influential voices. But Cornell was the better singer. He was one of the greatest singers of any decade. None would argue with that.
He sang with an effortless agony. His tone and timbre could find the pain in the lyrics to just about anything (as one YouTube commenter notes: “Chris Cornell could sing The Wheels on the Bus and dominate it.”), silkily sliding up through his three octave range like a pop diva, with enough bite on any note to remind you that he’s feeling every word. The thing with Chris was that he was never afraid to feel, to be vulnerable.
He was unfairly good. The kind of good that never sounds like he’s trying too hard, which is maybe just the mark of a true master, but also a sign that he’s maybe holding something back. You get the impression that if he felt so inclined he could vibrato with enough sonic power to make your head explode. He was nice enough not to. He was by all accounts one of the nicest guys in rock.
I saw him twice, both times in Sydney, Australia. The first, at the Sydney Opera House, was during his Songbook tour, which he played solo, just him, a guitar, and a microphone. It was one of the single greatest concert experiences of my life. An opera singer could scarcely have filled the space as well. He was a jovial presence, cracking jokes, working the room. And when he opened his mouth to sing, there wasn’t an inch of skin in that building not covered with goosebumps.
Much is made of his singing voice, but he was an accomplished instrumentalist. He started out life as a drummer, and could do just about anything with a guitar. At the Opera House gig, he told us he’d figured out how to play Spoonman solo acoustic and confessed he wasn’t sure how it would sound, but that he would give it a good go. It was, as with everything that night, note perfect and incredible to witness.
The second time I saw him was a Soundgarden gig at an the Sydney Entertainment Centre, shortly after the band reformed. It was a performance marred by a poor sound mix and yet it took away little of the magic. I never got chance to see Audioslave, but I was a fan, despite how uncool that may have been.
My favourite project of his was Temple of the Dog, his one-off tribute album to his friend Andy Wood, the lead singer of Seattle band Mother Love Bone, who overdosed on heroin before their debut album was released. Cornell wrote Temple of the Dog and recorded it with members of Mother Love Bone, guys who went on to form Pearl Jam. A generous collaborator, he even offered vocal parts on the record to Pearl Jam’s new singer, one Eddie Vedder.
The pain on that record is palpable. It’s as raw a document of grief and grieving as you’re likely to find in rock. A group of guys saying goodbye to their dead friend the best way they know how, with music.
Andy’s death was a devastating blow, one I don’t think he ever recovered from. But I’m not going to try and name his demons. Who knows what took Chris Cornell, in the end. All I know is what he left us with. And I’m so thankful for that.
For this week’s Mixtape I’ve chosen ten of his songs. Maybe these aren’t your favourites, or maybe he didn’t mean much to you. But he was always there for me. This is me saying goodbye the best way I know how.
1. Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden
2. Show Me How To Live by Audioslave
3. Blow Up The Outside World by Soundgarden
4. Hunger Strike by Temple of the Dog
5. Fell on Black Days by Soundgarden
6. I Am the Highway by Audioslave
7. Call Me A Dog by Temple of the Dog
8. Like A Stone — Live by Chris Cornell
9. Sweet Euphoria by Chris Cornell
10. Say Hello 2 Heaven by Temple of the Dog
[Via: Medum | Image Credits ]