Chris Cornell’s death is making me confront the grim reality that lead singers of four of the five bands I loved in my youth have killed themselves.
They say the music you listen to in your youth, your formative years, is what you live with the rest of your life. The words, the tunes and most importantly - the underlying ideas - exhibit an enduring influence. You never quite like anything musically as much as what you heard and loved when you were, say, sixteen.
It was a bit later for me. I was in my very late teens, like in my early twenties. I spent my time, mostly alone, cooped up in front of a computer or buried in books but almost always listening to loud music - and just like that - I found my friends - they were all in my head - in the self-deprecatory, post-rock, grunge sound of a viciously lonely Kurt Cobain singing his heart out, from under the bridge by the muddy banks of Wishkah, about 8,000 miles away from me and yet so close, strangely enough, even without the advantage of social media or the internet. I was deep into grunge almost all day, all my waking hours.
I loved the music of Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam and finally… of Soundgarden and Chris Cornell.
One day, on MTV India, I happened to stumble across the unbearable thump of “The Day I Tried to Live”. It has been over 20 years and my heart still jumps when I hear the feral howl of Chris Cornell pleading himself to break free. And then I learned that yet another incredible tune used by Danny McGill as the theme of his weekly rock show was the majestic opening guitar riff of the incredibly loud and downright beautiful brilliance of "Outshined" - (“I’m looking California and feeling Minnesota”.)
And so it happened - song after song, album after album, year after year - Chris Cornell - as Soundgarden, or as a solo Artist or as Audioslave - became one of my favorite musicians. Almost everything he did musically I ended up enjoying. I cannot think of a more powerful voice in music and yet it was almost always coming from longing, from loneliness - from a place of pain. There were innumerable reference in his songs to depression, escape, nooses, death, to destruction and to … suicide.
(Although a few years ago I managed to hear a live performance of a Soundgarden reunion where amidst a standing crowd of twenty-year old junkies - I just realized I was too old for the act, if not for the sound.)
His death came as a numbing shock to me. While he, like most in the industry, had his issues with substance and depression, seemed to be doing fine. Or at least that's what his Twitter suggested.
And then it struck me the other day - that Eddie Vedder’s voice of Pearl Jam is the only one who survives of those five bands I loved growing up. Those that gave company, in their weird lonelinesses, to my young reclusive self.
I loved Cornell's voice and his sound arrangements and lyrics - from the inscrutable wordplay of 'Black Hole Sun', to the hypnotic opening riff of 'Fell on Black Days' to the newer, mellower 'Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart'. His music was the sonic knell of our times.
And then there is “You Know My Name” for the Bond film Casino Royale - probably my favorite song of all time. Brilliantly written and almost absurdly well performed, the song is Chris Cornell at his absolute best. Dark, powerful and to-the-point.
Here is a Spotify playlist of my favorite 30 Chris Cornell songs - across his various bands and solo acts. Easily one of the great rock works of our time.
Thank you, Chris, for giving us moments of great joy even at a great personal cost to yourself.
I’ve seen angels fall from blinding heights
But you yourself are nothing so divine
Just next in line...
You Know My Name - Chris Cornell