Shock. Just pure, heartbreaking shock. That is what I felt this morning when I saw the story gradually trickle in: Chris Cornell was found dead in his hotel room in Detroit, just hours after a somewhat erratic performance. Then the real punch to the gut: it was suicide. Just the absolute worst news possible for any fan of him, any fan of what the 90s “Grunge Era” stood for, just the most twistedly perfect thing for him to do as he now joins the likes of Kurt, Layne, Scott and yes, Andrew (Wood, of Mother Love Bone, his former roommate) who died far too soon. Yes, 52 is too soon. Anytime is too soon when you do it to yourself.
Obviously the rest of this piece will focus on Chris Cornell the musician but I want to take a moment to point out that he was also a man and he leaves behind a family that includes three young children by two different mothers. My thoughts, condolences, sorrows, feelings of horrible solidarity, my empathy, and every good wish I can muster all go out to them. A suicide of a loved one is a literal bomb set off right in the middle of the family unit. It ruins you emotionally for a time, and in many ways you have to tear down and rebuild yourself, and your bond with one another, all over again. I’ve been there, I’ve seen, I’ve felt every agonizing second of it. It’s better now. It will never be the same. I am thinking of them right now.
That being said, it’s still difficult to process that the somewhat shambolic Soundgarden performance I saw in the summer of 2014 was the last time I would ever see them ever again. I was debating with myself back and forth for weeks as to whether I could muster the time off to see them May 25th or 26th in Dallas or Houston, shows which now are cancelled because they can no longer be played. Soundgarden has hit their final curtain, and it fell May 17th, 2017 in Detroit. These words catch in the back of my throat.
Readers of this blog need only scroll through some of my archives, particularly a long post I made in 2014 to ascertain how much the music Cornell created wove its way into my life, how it is fundamentally a part of my past, and a part on some formative level of who I am not only as a person, but a musician. I’m just an idiot with a drum set who jams with friends but still, what Cornell did was what I always wished I was able to do. Many musicians shared that wish. This death is a big hole in my heart.
Cornell was a titan of music, deservedly etched into the Mt Rushmore of rock history. An ongoing injustice, one now laid bare and made permanent by his sudden departure last night, was how Soundgarden managed to not be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame all this time. Respectfully I need to ask, what in the goddamn hell was the fucking hold up? Nirvana made it in, and of course I have absolutely no argument with that. But with all due respect, how the fuck were Chris Cornell and the rest of Soundgarden not the next band up to be inducted right alongside them the same night? What soulless curmudgeon saw fit to deny a founding member of whatever you consider “the Seattle sound” or “grunge” to be, someone whose talents overflowed in not only the actual singing of songs but the amount of raw talent and creative vision brought to bear in each and every album, his rightful place among the greats? I know, the Rock Hall isn’t supposed to mean anything. But goddamn it, this bothers me, so I’m going to complain about it. Now just like Nirvana, even if the band itself is honored one of these days, the man himself, the captain of the ship from the very beginning, will not be there to accept the award and bring the house down with a performance afterward. It’s a historical injustice, and we as fans have all been robbed today.
I need to talk now about suicide. It is a common thing in our culture, and the 10th leading cause of death in the United States using the most current statistics. Each year, just north of 44,000 people succeed in doing it, and for those 44,000, an estimated 25 times that amount attempt suicide and do not succeed or decide not to go through with it. Those are amazing and horrifying numbers. My step brother was one of those numbers in 2015. When someone commits suicide, and especially when a famous person does it, the culture sometimes does not know how to feel about it or how to respond. It’s a difficult subject, and one shrouded by taboo so it tends to not be fleshed out as a thing until someone they know or know of goes through with it and there’s an acute reaction that comes from ignorance. I have seen it myself, and felt it too. Two years ago today I would feel differently about what Chris did last night, less understanding of what would compel someone in his shoes to go through with it, more confused by the lack of logical foundation for such an act. Right now, today, I get it. I still do not accept it, I still do not agree with it, but I know pretty damn well what turns light to dark, what can happen to a person when depression, bad brain chemistry, substance abuse or a cocktail of all of these turns the simple act of existing into a torturous, never-ending nightmare that only has one escape. It’s the worst thing imaginable, and it is all too real to so many who have seen it firsthand like I have. Suicide is never really the answer to this though, and if you find yourself in this situation, know that NO you are not alone and YES there is help out there. Or, especially if this sounds like someone you know, HELP THEM. Call them, talk to them, ask them how they’re feeling, ask them the questions you’ll find on suicide prevention sites all over the place, know the signs. Do not take even the seemingly idle musing of suicide lightly. Sometimes people whose friends and family had no idea were struggling make their intentions known in subtle ways: a subtle comment here or there. The only way to know the signs is to read about them. Do it, go read. Here, let me get you started.
So the lights of the world’s musical stage got a bit darker today as a supernova-level talent was snuffed out by his own hand. Right now it’s hard to see the silver lining, but my hope is this can, as Kurt Cobain’s suicide was many years ago, be a wake-up call to those who do not know how bad it can get, even for famous talented people. It reminds us to cherish life, to never take the time we have here for granted, and to do the most we can with what we have. It reminds us to hang onto one another as much as we can, through thick and through thin, because none of us really knows what will come when the next day dawns. I do know that tomorrow, the music Chris Cornell leaves behind will still be a part of me, part of the tapestry of my life, and a source of both comfort and inspiration until my number is called.
Call someone you care about tonight out of the blue and ask how they are. And be good to one another.