By Adam Waldman
A year ago today, the rock world was dealt a devastating blow with the shocking passing of Chris Cornell. Rock star deaths have become all too familiar in recent years, but still, there was something more painful about Cornell’s passing than any other in recent memory.
Was it his relatively young age? Was it his immense talent? Was it the way that he touched us with his mesmerizing vocals? Was it the shock of losing an icon in such a senseless way?
The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES!
Chris Cornell was not a part of the soundtrack of my youth. Not really anyway. Soundgarden’s debut album came out just before my 20th birthday. By that time, my musical taste had been well formulated. And though I always thought of Soundgarden in a different way, they were considered to be a part of the movement that basically ended the music of my teens. Truth be told, I didn’t really know much about the band until their 1991 release, Badmotorfinger. By that time, I was already out of college and working in the music business.
I became a Soundgarden fan in the early ‘90s largely because of Cornell’s voice. It’s why I became a fan of Audioslave and Temple Of The Dog as well. I’ve always thought of him as being one of the great rock vocalists of all-time, but that’s not why his passing hit me harder than most.
As much as I loved Cornell’s soaring rock vocals, it’s his more recent acoustic work that moved me like few others ever have.
Back in the early ‘90s when I first discovered Cornell, I was at that stage in my life where I felt immortal. Life was simpler back then…no wife, no kids, no real responsibilities to speak of. If Cornell had passed away back then, it would have felt similar to the tragic death of Kurt Cobain. It would have been sad, but probably wouldn’t have hit so close to home.
In recent years, I’ve felt a deeper connection to Cornell because our place in life. Yes, music is still a big part of life at this age, but being a dad to school aged children takes precedence over everything. Cornell’s children are around the same age as mine. So, when I learned of his passing, my first thoughts went to his children. It made me think of my own mortality, and the thought of my children having to deal with that kind of loss.
For several weeks after his passing last year, I listened to his acoustic covers constantly. There is a soul-penetrating quality to his vocals on these songs that is unlike anything else that I’ve ever heard. His musical interpretations and vocals on these songs took the same lyrics and gave them an entirely new meaning. If a picture is worth a thousand words, Cornell’s vocals are worth much more than that.
The other thing about Cornell’s live acoustic work is that it gives you the chance to get to know his personality. While Cobain’s suicide was tragic, it wasn’t a total surprise. There was a seriousness about him that made it feel like he wore his tortured soul on his sleeve. Cornell, on the other hand, actually seemed happy and at peace with himself. He had his demons, but they seemed to be (to the outside world) under control.
As I listened to Cornell’s live acoustic songs in recent years, I felt that the mature version of him was his best self. He was not the kind of outspoken rock star that defined the decadent ‘80s. He also never seemed to be the depressed rock star of the grunge era. A bit reserved perhaps, and soft spoken, but with a sense of humor and engaging personality. This is purely anecdotal, but to me, he seemed to be content.
Cornell’s passing a year ago today felt like such a tremendous gut punch because I didn’t see it as another rock star gone too soon. I saw a once-in-a-lifetime talent gone too soon. More importantly, I saw a peer (of sorts), a loving husband and father’s life ended in a way that feels incomprehensible.
No one can ever say for sure what would have happened if Chris Cornell knew how beloved he was by the masses. I suspect that the outcome wouldn’t have been any different. But unlike other rock star passings, Cornell’s death felt different. He touched more lives that he could possibly have known. His death left a void that is unlikely to ever be filled.
As the saying goes…“time heals all wounds.” A year ago, I couldn’t listen to Cornell’s music without crying. Today, I can appreciate his music as if he never left. Still, as I listened to his acoustic version of “Billie Jean” today, I couldn’t help but get choked up as I pondered his loss.
Please feel free to share your thoughts about Chris Cornell on the anniversary of his passing…