At 7 A.M. on May 18, 2017, I was awoken by the word of bad news. That news was simply “Chris Cornell died”. In this era of fake news and misinformation, I groggily moaned a response and rolled back over in an attempt to catch some more sleep before work. And then the significance and ramifications of such news began to dawn on me… Out of bed and to the internet it was, and to my disappointment it was the truth. Chris Cornell of Soundgarden dead at 52. The cause? From suicide, by hanging himself in a hotel bathroom. Shortly after a sold out concert at the Fox Theater in Detroit. For a moment, I had to re-read that and once again assess if this was all some sort of sick, fucked up joke, a troll job. Surely, that couldn’t be true, right? Well…
So where do I even begin with this article? Now while my tribute/in memoriam pieces to Lemmy, Scott Weiland and David Bowie in recent times were rather concise, I can go on and on and on forever about Soundgarden and the works of Chris Cornell. Soundgarden were very easily one of my favorite bands of all time. I never got to see Soundgarden in concert, their reunion in 2010 came as a surprise and yet for 7 years I failed to see Soundgarden on tour, and now I never will get to see them. I think the first place I had ever heard Soundgarden was in the late 1990’s on the radio, I distinctly remember hearing “Blow Up the Outside World” a lot back then, but I never knew what the song was until much later. Years after that I had happened across the iconic “Black Hole Sun” music video playing on MTV2 late one night, and that sort of sound and visual presentation just commands attention from young, impressionable eyes and ears just getting into “older” rock music. Since I was a teenager in middle school, that was a time where being a standout wasn’t exactly a high criteria for me, but Soundgarden stood the test of time by leaps and bounds in my opinion. To cut to the point, Soundgarden ended up being one of my favorite bands as soon as I ended up getting Badmotorfinger and Superunknown. I also enjoyed Audioslave, the supergroup of Rage Against the Machine going full rock with Cornell as vocalist that was a thing at the time, but I had never gotten too into anything beyond their debut album. I grew up listening to Chris Cornell and Soundgarden and I will still always listen to their work, its a great discography that I can discuss for a week straight without stopping. That might be worth visiting in a future article, since Metallica week was such a hit, Soundgarden week should be a thing here too.
Unfortunately, as the day unfolded and the details became more clear, it was ultimately decided by the medical examiner that Chris Cornell did in fact die from suicide by hanging himself. It was the most blindsiding and unexpected death in music in a long time, and an utterly shocking one from The Doom Generation, the “big 4/5 of grunge” bands consisting of Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam. Of those, there is now one remaining lead singer in Eddie Vedder. Cornell’s suicide comes 23 years after Kurt Cobain’s, and 15 years after the overdose death of Layne Staley. Scott Weiland’s death last December was sadly reminiscent of Layne’s, a foregone conclusion fans were not exactly surprised to learn about. Cornell on the other hand seemed to have lived a rich, full life by the time 2017 came around. Some readers may remember a time ten years ago when I openly rallied against Chris Cornell on the internet for his horrible choices in music direction in his solo career at the time. The Timbaland produced Scream album was a career suicide, nearly unforgivable in its sheer quality of being terrible. In the years since, my smear campaign has redirected toward the other hanger-on from the time, Billy Corgan of the washed-up broken bananas, but Cornell on the other hand was transforming and going through a bit of a career redemption after the Scream blunder. On January 1, 2010, he announced the Soundgarden reunion. Stone Temple Pilots were also undergoing a period of resurgence around this time with their reunion with Scott Weiland, Alice in Chains doing so with new lead vocalist William DuVall (whose “lead vocals” on the album consist of harmonizing with Jerry Cantrell approximately 99% of the time now), and Pearl Jam had just released Backspacer, their worst album to date which was sold through Target stores and somehow was even more successful than the last album of theirs. Grunge was looking strong at the turn of the 2010’s in the wake of the tragic past of the genre. The Doom Generation was soldiering onward.
And the Doom Generation did soldier onward: Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots’ new albums had massive initial hit singles and hype, however there was a stark dichotomy here in quality. Alice in Chains succeeded and have gone on comfortably toward their upcoming seventh album, while Stone Temple Pilots’ album was poorly received by fans (including me, it’s their worst album by far) and the band splintered as the DeLeos and Kretz hired nu-metal squeaky voiced douchebag Chester Bennington to sing, and Scott Weiland feuded, embarrassed himself and eventually died of a drug overdose in December 2015. Things all seemed to be going great for Soundgarden during this period as well. They toured with big opening bands like The Mars Volta and Coheed and Cambria, they had the lead single on the Avengers soundtrack with “Live to Rise”, a mediocre if passable tune. 2012’s reunion album King Animal was received decently enough by fans and critics alike, and the band enjoyed a 3 peat run of #1 rock singles with “Live to Rise”, “Been Away for Too Long” and “By Crooked Steps”. Chris Cornell seemed to be balancing between his solo career and Soundgarden by all means, he released more solo albums that were better received than Scream by people who actually listen to that sort of shit. He also frequently embarked on solo tours which were highly acclaimed by those who had seen them, especially praised were his acoustic tours where he played massive 25-35 song sets consisting of Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog and solo work, taking requests and telling stories by himself with a guitar. It’s probably as stripped down and intimate as a grunge icon’s show can possibly be, without resorting to being Eddie Vedder plucking a ukulele. In 2015, Cornell fronted Mad Season in place of the late Layne Staley for a show with the Seattle orchestra. At the very end of 2016, Temple of the Dog reunited for a historic reunion tour of 5 dates in North America. Things were looking very dignifying and picturesque for Chris Cornell.
Well, I guess one unfortunate problem of the Donald Trump administration is that it caused the reunion of Audioslave. It’s hard to be enthusiastic for that occurrence, the election outcome, the Audioslave reunion, Chris’ death, you know, bad news. Which brings us back around to just how flat out unexpected and shocking this turn of events actually was. Nobody could have predicted Chris Cornell hanging himself in the MGM Grand hotel in Detroit to be an actual end for this genius musician and songwriter’s career. Whatever deep seated depression or mental illness drove Chris Cornell to suicide has largely gone untouched by pretty much any observer. From the fans’ perspective, the guy was riding high in a very successful decade for himself after some follies at the end of the 2000’s with Audioslave’s mediocrity-descent turning into a break up and the Scream album. However, one very obvious source of insight exists in the man’s lyrical output, and that is something I’ll be saving for the actual Soundgarden back catalog revisit article I plan on following this up with. Chris Cornell was one of the true originators of grunge, and for him to go out like this is a sad and completely unprecedented moment. The fans are still reeling in total disbelief. It really is hard to believe the facts of reality in the year of 2017.
Thank you to the fine people out there whose footage from the Detroit Fox Theater concert from May 17th I’ve linked to in here, by the way. You all got to witness Soundgarden live, something I can now only dream of. That was the sobering thought that really drove me out of bed this morning, that I had missed my chance to see Soundgarden live. Its still incredibly difficult to believe that only a couple short hours following this show, Chris Cornell would be dead, claimed only by himself and his own personal issue we may never truly comprehend. As a friend has put it, we weren’t feeling ready for a post-Chris Cornell world and yet here we are. Not just grunge, or even rock music, but music itself has lost a huge talent and is left with an unfilled void without Chris Cornell around.
Stay tuned for a trip down memory hole, where Jesus tries to crack a smile beneath another shovel load and we actually discuss Soundgarden’s rich and palatable discography in part two of Soundgarden week.