“I never wanted to write these words down for you,” “Say Hello 2 Heaven” keeps running through my mind as I attempt to summarize the tragedy of Chris Cornell’s passing. Most importantly, my sincerest condolences go out to his wife Vicky Karayiannis and surviving children Lillian Jean Cornell, Toni Cornell, and Christopher Nicholas Cornell. His youngest daughter Toni is a singer and his son Christopher plays the guitar and my heart truly aches for them. They do not deserve the pain of growing up without their father.
Honestly, the wound is very painful and I do not want to comment on the rumors surrounding his death. There will be a lot of stories and editorials over the next few weeks but writing is my outlet to escape and nobody’s music impacted my life more than Chris Cornell. If you truly know me well, Chris Cornell is my all-time favorite vocalist, frontman, songwriter, and musical influence. As we speak, I legitimately feel sick from this news. I am still processing the enormity of his loss.
Where would my life be without his music?
I say this both as a music listener and human being since Soundgarden is such a huge part of who I am. Even beyond Soundgarden: Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, and his solo catalog opened my eyes to the possibilities of capturing elegance in the darkest territories; heartfelt honesty that emotionally broke barriers, innovated new tunings and rhythms, and forever changed the landscape of rock music. I see a lot of friends and strangers posting the lyrics to “Black Hole Sun” as a tribute but I challenge you to listen beyond the hits: his catalog is immense and highlighted with some of the most gorgeous displays of songwriting over the last thirty-years. Songs like “Call Me A Dog,” “Pushin’ Forward Back,” “Limo Wreck,” and “Let Your Eyes Wander” – this man could thrive in any genre or setting whether it was a heartfelt piano ballad like “When I’m Down” or dowtuned uptempo groove metal such as “Birth Ritual.”
Think about it – Soundgarden formed in 1984 and released their first LP Ultramega OK in 1988. Chris Cornell proceeded to create a timeless catalog that is unmatched in terms of its unorthodox artistry and musical consistency. I want unfamiliar readers to grasp the enormity and difficulty of this achievement. Only a few weeks ago, Cornell performed his new single “The Promise” on The Tonight Show. This man was DaVinci esque with his ability to sing with such relentless range and his innocence played a huge role in unleashing the full potential of his songwriting.
Even worse, I cannot wrap my head around the fact that Soundgarden performed last night. The mystery surrounding his passing will affect his family, the band, and listeners for years to come. I want to express my sincerest condolences to Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron, and Ben Shepherd. Soundgarden always shunned aside mainstream publicity and notoriety: this band is now forever attached to one of the most unfortunate deaths in music. As a musician, I cannot imagine the level of grief they are feeling at this very moment. Thayil, Cameron, and Shepherd are three of my favorite musicians in the world and it breaks my heart to know the emotional pain they will endure for the rest of their lives. My heart goes out to the entire Soundgarden team as well as any previous bandmates, musicians, songwriters, crewmembers, family members, or friends that are suffering from this loss.
Over the last fifteen years, I have seen Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, and his solo band perform live multiple times. Personally speaking, I have spent thousands of hours listening to his catalog, learning how to play his guitar riffs, and watching his live performances. Back in 2011, I even had the chance to meet him at Vintage Vinyl in Fords, New Jersey. He was signing copies of his live acoustic LP Songbook and Soundgarden’s live album Live on 1-5. I was a twenty-one year old college kid and told him my story. I mentioned that I discovered Audioslave when they first premiered on MTV and how much Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, and his solo material changed my life. I expressed how much his music strengthened me through the best and worst times; how much I appreciated his work ethic and how his commitment to his songwriting inspired me to give the same level of heart and effort into what I wanted to achieve.
Right now, I could hear his voice when he said, “Thank you, Anthony.” I’m not saying this in hindsight; I have this written down from back then. I just wanted him to know how much I appreciated his contributions to my life and that his efforts as a performer and songwriter never went unnoticed. He thanked me a few times and I am paraphrasing but he said to me, “Hearing things like that means the most to me.” We shook hands and that was my experience meeting Chris Cornell. I was blown away by his classiness and ability to engage with me even within such a short timeframe.
To quote Soundgarden’s “Mind Riot,” “Candle’s burning yesterday/ Somebody’s best friend died/ And I’ve been caught in a mind riot.” I truly feel like I lost a family member: an older brother whose unique individuality had such a profound influence on so many listeners across the world. This is a tragedy that stretches beyond rock music: the gravity of this loss could not be stated enough. The world lost one of the most distinct and talented vocalists to ever grace the microphone or pick up the guitar. This man took such great pride in his music and family: I am praying for his loved ones. His songwriting helped so many people find light and comfort in the darkest places: this goes for his fans and loved ones: never lose sense of this uplifting light and hope that he gave each and everyone one of us. In the truest sense, he showed so many of us how to live through his art. To quote Temple of the Dog, “You gotta reach down/ And pick the crowd up/ Carry back in your hands/ To the promised land.”
Thank you for everything you have given us, Chris Cornell.