Remembering Chris Cornell, forever
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
I will always think of Chris Cornell’s singular, uncanny voice. I think about it all the time, anyway. It’s a preoccupation.
This man who became something of the patriarch to the entire 1990s Seattle scene and all its offspring felt untouchable and immortal immediately, long before this morning’s news that he was gone. In interviews and between songs on stage, he seemed like an affable guy, funny and self-deprecating and aware of his place in the world and the role he played.
I think about how that humble personality butts against the image I first saw of Cornell, looking like a man possessed and singing something even deeper. Those formative years, when the radio was purposely turned on to find new music and MTV could be counted on, at certain hours of the day, to play new stuff I was looking for and stuff I might be. It was around then that this man was hanging from a fence, howling behind a wall of sludgy guitars in this almost unholy voice:
“I can’t get any lower
Still I feel I’m sinking”
Revelations like that require immediate investigation, which came in the form of Badmotorfinger and Superunknown, and not long after this, Down on the Upside was unleashed and the primal scream of “Pretty Noose” was another notch in this otherworldly band’s belt. For the next year, they were part of a tight rotation of bands, where the airplay they received in my bedroom’s CD boombox was heavy enough to memorize the finer points of “Overfloater” and “Jerry Garcia’s Finger.” They were immediately untouchable, and the period of my life with Soundgarden as a cornerstone quickly overtook the one where they were off my radar.
And then they were gone. They broke up in 1997 as Down on the Upside was probably spinning around in the player. It felt surreal that this rocket just hit the earth without warning. But music doesn’t go away, and all that digging and analyzing and inspecting continued. And soon enough he was back, first with “Sunshower” popping up on the cooler radio stations and then with his first solo record, Euphoria Mourning. A couple of years later, he was stripping the varnish off of walls again in Audioslave when “Cochise” and their first album burst from of the ashes of Rage Against the Machine.
But it was in the past few years that Chris Cornell’s impact really began to take hold. Soundgarden reunited and it was obvious that he was still in rare form. Then he stripped his catalog back to its bare bones on his solo acoustic tours, and the breadth of his work was at once easier to understand and still absolutely stunning. The Temple of the Dog album only got better as time went on. Scattered tracks like “Seasons” and “The Keeper” suddenly felt like part of a greater movement, an oeuvre of an incredible songwriter with an indelible voice who came of age at a time when marrying that sturdy songwriting craft with a sound that would send Black Sabbath to their knees felt unthinkable. But Soundgarden did it. He did it fearlessly.
His voice transcended that heavy reverberation, though. The stripped-down Soundgarden tunes, of course, held up under inspection. But his solo work and the deeper Audioslave tracks also got their deserved second look. Live, he turned “When I’m Down” into a moving tribute to the late Natasha Shneider. He reclaimed “Wide Awake” and “I Am the Highway” from Audioslave. He could lend his voice to classics like Led Zeppelin’s “Achilles Last Stand” or Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” and leave a room speechless.
But speechless is how I feel right now. This man was a giant — unique and utterly irreplaceable. He leaves behind a crater with an impact radius we’re still trying to measure. His songs were sweet and mean and thoughtful and vicious, sometimes all within the same four-minute span. He could simultaneously level a listener with a dismal notion and rally the same set of ears with a warpath-like fervor.
And now he’s gone. Again, the music remains, but there’s no third or fourth act, and no encore coming. And that realization is devastating.
May 18, 2017
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org