Chris Cornell helped influence generations of singers and musicians around the world—probably more than is going to be talked about.
His death on Wednesday at age 52 leaves a gaping hole that was carved out by his legacy as a founding father of the Pacific Northwest rock scene. Chris Cornell had a totally unique and amazing voice. And that’s an understatement.
Just to give you an example, Scott Strapp made a career out of impersonating Eddie Vedder’s vocal approach. Numerous other musicians in the late ‘90s and early 2000s followed suit, trying to sound like Vedder, Cobain or Staley. But you won’t find anyone sounding like Chris Cornell besides Chris Cornell. If you’re an aspiring vocalist and doubt what I’m saying, just pull out ‘Louder Than Love‘ or ‘Bad Motorfinger’ and try singing along. See if you can sound like that. I dare you.
I’ve been hearing the name Soundgarden since I was probably five years old.
When I was a little kid in the early ‘90s, my dad lived in San Francisco. My sister, my mother and I all lived in Eugene, OR. Just as a point of reference, the Eugene area is where Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters hailed from. If you don’t like acid or literature, the Springfield next to Eugene is the one referenced to in The Simpsons. If you don’t know that, I can’t help you. Google it.
My dad wanted me to come down to San Francisco to see this band Soundgarden.
When you’re a kid, words are almost images. You haven’t had enough experience or brain development to have tangible experiences associated with the words, so they’re just strange image-things. That’s what Soundgarden was to me. It was this dark, flowery emblem burned into the back of my brain.
And the music was so dark and intense, you could almost taste it like petroleum on a psychedelic ocean.
I never had the chance to see them, for whatever reason. It could have very well been that most clubs don’t let five-year-olds into their shows.
As I got older I gained an interest in rock ’n’ roll and the grunge movement specifically. I remember digging through my dad’s old magazines from ’91 and reading interviews with Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana.
I was enamored with the attitude they seemed to have. It was a “you’ll like me just the way I am, fuck you” attitude.
Below is an interview with Soundgarden from ’91 courtesy of YouTube.
I’m sure there’s going to be a ton of speculation about Cornell’s death. There might even be some new developments as this story is published. Just putting myself in his shoes, it can’t be easy getting older and seeing your peers drop like flies, or possibly feeling like you’re more a relic of your past achievements than anything you could create in the future.
That on top of seeing a music industry and culture that is so fractured that kids are more obsessed with Kanye’s Twitter account going offline than what is pushing music and art forward. We live in a time of reboots and instant gratification.
The success of music and art is solely dictated on YouTube views and Facebook likes. I wonder what Chris Cornell felt at his last performance seeing droves of people holding up their smartphones instead of listening to the music.
I can’t help but wonder if all of these Pacific Northwest musicians would still be around if they’d just stayed underground. People like Mark Arm and Buzz Osborne seem to be doing fine (knock on wood).
Being a musician isn’t easy. You’re encapsulating an emotion or experience and replicating that over and over again, hoping to connect with something larger than yourself.
An old musician friend of mine mentioned that selling songs these days is like selling Chicken Nuggets. 99 cents a piece. He’s not wrong. We need to break out of that somehow.
As an artist or musician, you give the world a piece of yourself that very few are willing to give–if they have the guts to feel it in the first place.
Chris Cornell, like many other artists we’ve lost over the few years, will live on through his music. I have no doubt his voice and songwriting will remain unparalleled.
RIP Chris Cornell. In his honor, I will be cranking this record today.