We woke the same as any other day.
Except now, there is one less voice in our head, or perhaps, only one.
Chris Cornell, one of the great rock voices and accomplished songwriters of his generation, has left us at the age of only 52. Frontman of Soundgarden, Audioslave and Tempe of the Dog, Cornell also had a successful solo career but more importantly, was a father, husband and friend.
In the 1990’s, the last great musical decade, Soundgarden seemed to stand apart from the rest of the pack. They somehow avoided the heroin induced, self destructive nature which destroyed many of their peers (Nirvana, Blind Melon, Alice in Chains, Hole & Stone Temple Pilots) and without the angst so associated with the grunge era, they remained focused on creating amazing music. Their sound matured on their signature albums Badmotorfinger and Superunknown and drew comparisons with 70’s icons Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, rather than the garage punk or pop influences of many of their contemporaries. A touch older and more experienced, Soundgarden were the first grunge band to sign to a major label, A&M in 1989 and were well prepared when grunge became mainstream 2 years later.
I was 15 when I picked up Superunknown in Brashs and it’s been an all time favourite ever since. As a teenager I spent many nights in my bedroom, reading the lyrics in the booklet and memorising the words to all my favourite songs. As with all new musical discoveries, the back catalogue soon followed – Badmotorfinger, Louder Than Love and Temple of the Dog. Anticipation was high for the release of Down on the Upside in 1996 and I was not disappointed. The opening of Burden In My Hand is still as powerful as ever. As I moved through other musical tastes and into adulthood Soundgarden survived where other bands didn’t. Their albums were able to grow with me and even 20 years after their release they still offered something fresh.
When the rumours of a RATM / Soundgarden supergroup began circling following their respective break ups, I was sceptical, though within 30 seconds of Cochise, any doubts were shattered. As good as they were, Audioslave would always be ‘Chris Cornell’s other band’ and a compromise. If there absolutely had to be a world without Soundgarden or RATM, then at least there was Audioslave. Deep down I always hoped for more Soundgarden.
In 2010 it was announced that Soundgarden were reforming and after 2 years came King Animal, a solid return which showcased their musical maturity, even if it wasn’t as loud as previous releases. Finally, in 2015 I was able to lucky to finally see Soundgarden live, for the first time and as it turns out, the last.
Chris Cornell’s death hurts more than others. The demises of Cobain, Staley and Weiland always had an air of inevitability about them, so while sad and a tremendous loss, their deaths were hardly a surprise. Chris Cornell, while he was not without his struggles, was sober, at the top of his musical game and had a beautiful young family. Soundgarden seemed to have escaped the curse that touched almost every grunge / alternative band from the era and had a bright future ahead of them. They were touring, recording and while they were around, us kids of the 90’s could still claim that grunge wasn’t dead.
But if suicide can reach into the Superunknown, especially after all these years, then we realise that nobody is safe. Soundgarden were, along with Pearl Jam, the final flames of a live connection to our youth. I used to sneer at my parents’ penchant for reminiscing, though I now understand it. Our generation is now another step towards a premature extinction, with most of our musical idols either dead, on indefinite hiatus, doing their best with fill ins, or so far from their peak it hurts to think about it. Soundgarden were none of these. The remains of our mighty 90’s empire now lays solely with Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam.
In the words of the man himself, ‘just when everyday seemed to greet me with a smile, sunspots have faded and now I’m doing time.’
He fell on black days and couldn’t find a way out.
Rest in peace Chris.