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Cornell’s death feels like a personal loss for many even if it’s not

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By now you’ve likely heard the news that Chris Cornell, lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave, most notably, died at age 52 of an apparent suicide. If you haven’t I recommend checking out the eloquent obituary in the New York Times here.

I don’t have any personal connection to Cornell, but his music left a mark on me during my formative years enough where it feels like he did. It’s that reason that I’m feeling shaken to the core this morning. It’s almost like how you feel when you hear that a friend you knew from a long time ago died unexpectedly. Almost, but not quite.

Part of the reason for that feeling, is the fact that Cornell’s voice could plant a sonic kernel inside your being and, if you’re like me anyhow, it would stay there indefinitely.

I remember reading interviews with other grunge bands from the Seattle area that were playing shows around the same time Soundgarden was, and they would say, I’m paraphrasing here, but they would say that Soundgarden was like the perfect grunge act. They had a talented singer, creative and thoughtful musicians and a strong brand/persona. They were THE band to aspire to be.

When I was 15 or so, I discovered that Cornell had played in Temple of a Dog with the guys from Pearl Jam. It felt like I found a secret that only I knew about, like when you find a hidden video game level. Even if you’d later found out that a lot of people also knew about it, at the time I couldn’t believe it. That the music was awesome made it even better.

Every generation has musicians that represent what that era stood for, and Cornell, along with a few others, was that man for my generation. Like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were for the 60s or Billy Idol and Pat Benatar were for the 80s. Of course they’re not the only ones, but they’re definitely on that list.

Part of what makes music great is that when you hear a song after not listening to it for a long period of time, it takes you back to that era when you listened to it a lot. With Cornell gone it feels like part of my childhood has died, too, as cliched as it sounds. It’s still true, though.

I don’t have a story of how when I was going through something dark, his music helped me overcome it, although I’m sure many others do. Songs like “Outshined” or “Burden in My Hand” have powerful messages that speak to humanity and the uncertainty that involves living in these crazy times. When you take a look at some of the lyrics from those songs, you start to further appreciate just how masterful Cornell was, which when combined with his amazing voice, you start to understand why he was such a force to be reckoned with.

One of my favorite Soundgarden songs is “Fell on Black Days.” In particular the part where he sings,

Whatsoever I’ve feared has come to life
Whatsoever I’ve fought off became my life
Just when everyday seemed to greet me with a smile
Sunspots have faded and now I’m doing time
Now I’m doing time
‘Cause I fell on black days
I fell on black days

Just reading those lyrics give me the chills, in fact. Such a raw, vulnerable piece of music. It’s a piece of humanness that everyone is sure to experience at one point in your life.

Then, when Audioslave started, I remember how my friends and I would have conversations about how lucky we were to get to be in this moment in time when the dudes from Rage Against the Machine and the voice of Soundgarden teamed up. Their music holds up, too. Like, if their self-titled album came out today it’d be just as popular as it was back then.

Right now I’m just a big jumble of emotions and confusion. What happened? Did he leave warning signs? Was he still playing music? Did he leave a note? Do we know for sure he committed suicide? It’s all a Superunknown at this point.

This also plays into the cliche that rock stars have a habit of dying too soon. Andrew Wood, Kurt Cobain, Scott Weiland, Layne Staley all gone before age 55. Cornell seemed different, though, like he had things figured out. In interviews and in shows he was always cool-headed, strong and confident. It goes to show that you never really know what’s going on in someone’s personal life. The strongest people on the outside can be just as broken on the inside as anyone else.

I’ll miss you Chris. Your music inspired me and an entire generation like me. I’m thankful that we got to witness your talents for as long as we did, even if you did die at a relatively young age. You will be missed.

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