Chris Cornell, the voice no one could ever forget, passed away four years today from an apparent suicide on Wednesday, May 18th, 2017. We still miss him. We still miss his presence in the rock and music worlds. Let’s face it- no one sings like him anymore. But instead of focusing on his death, we thought we’d focus on his life, his work, and what his art means to The Retro.
Cornell once said in an interview that he practiced his music relentlessly because when people watched him play he wanted “nothing less than to completely blow them away”. You did exactly that, Chris. Even people not of his fanbase, or the fanbase of his music, will attest to the talent of Cornell. And this is measurable too. Did you know Chris Cornell’s voice range spanned almost to an incredible four octaves?! To put that into perspective, Whitney Houston had a five octave range, while Aretha Franklin’s vocal range was just over three octaves. That’s amazing company to be in for a singer.
Brief Summary of His Yearly Years
In a family of six siblings, Chris Cornell was the son of a Jewish “psychic” mother and Irish Catholic father. His parents separated and divorced during Chris’ adolescent years, with the children opting to take their mother’s surname Cornell, instead of their birth name Boyle. As a teenager the future musician struggled with drugs, addiction and anxiety at an early age. By the age of twelve or thirteen he was using various pills, drugs, alcohol, and PCP. He struggled with depression, anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia. He described himself during this time in his life as a loner, losing himself in music like the Beatles and Little Richard. He would remain deeply troubled until music paved a way for him when his mother bought him a snare drum. Yes, Chris Cornell was a drummer first.
Chris Cornell’s Songwriting
First, can you talk about the Soundgarden singer without mentioning his songwriting? His pen birthed amazing lyrics from songs like “Black Hole Sun”, “Fell On Black Days” and “Like A Stone”. Strip Cornell of his amazing voice, his musicianship and his stage presence and you still have songs a frog could croak and they’d still be beautiful. In another life he could have lived quietly out of the spotlight, only to write beautiful songs for other artists.
But songwriting was a means to an end for the Audioslave artist. It was damn obvious Chris put an incredible amount of importance on his live performances. And it showed. Take a listen to his live album “Songbook”. In it he sings fan-favorite tunes he wrote. But he also sings a Led Zeppelin song, and a John Lennon song too. Indeed, those are larger than life artists with songs only the talented and brave few attempt, live, while recording, for an acoustic album in front of an audience! Vicky Cornell stated once that on the night he died Chris was upset with his vocal performance during the night’s concert (Soundgarden was on tour and had just played their Detroit, Michigan show). This was not an anomaly. Cornell always took it hard when his voice cracked, or he was off-key, or anything that betrayed his mortality to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Gods. But his talent was most exposed during times like these, with his deepest emotions and feelings bared naked and fragile. But that talent cannot be quantified. Just listen to his songs though, and you will feel it too.
Chris Cornell also collaborated endlessly with other talented musicians. Let’s count the ways: he was a founding member of Soundgarden. He founded the tribute band and album Temple Of The Dog in honor of his deceased friend Andrew Wood from Mother Love Bone. By the way, other band members of Temple Of The Dog included Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone & Soundgarden staples like Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready and Matt Cameron. Eddie Vedder appears on the album. Cornell also fronted Audioslave, involving the amazing guitarist Tom Morello and the other Rage Against The Machine band members sans Zack de la Rocha. He worked with composer David Arnold. He worked with Timbaland. He worked with and was friends of Chester Bennington of Linkin Park (Chester committed suicide one year after Chris, with many siting Chester was profoundly saddened by the loss of Cornell). He worked with many more as well. But the bottom line was Chris Cornell was a giant among giants in the music world.
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How Chris Affected Us
On a personal level, we were hit hard by the passing of Chris Cornell. No, we didn’t know him personally. We never had any chance meetings with him. We are as far away from him personally anyone can be. And yet, he and his art have meant the world to us. Pick a Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple Of The Dog or solo album of his and we can name a favorite track, what the album meant to us at the time of its release, and how we share the music with fans on The Retro. In fact, we started The Retro because we felt artists like Cornell, Soundgarden and Audioslave deserved much more exposure and airplay then they were getting. There are tracks we have specifically highlighted in efforts to expose them to music fans we know would love them if only they heard them. Tracks like “Shadow On The Sun”, “#1 Zero” and “Slaves & Bulldozers”.
His Family & People Close to Him
But even as I write this tribute to one of The Retro’s most beloved artists. Even as I detail the other-worldly talent he seemed to have been God-gifted (not to downplay the hard work he put into his craft), I can’t help but remind everyone today that he was still a human being just like the rest of us. He also has family and friends still missing a giant presence in their lives. He was a father, brother, son and close, deep friend to many. Let’s remember Chris’ struggles with depression and anxiety are over, but his family and friends’ struggles continue, silently, without a beautiful song to bare witness to.
Rest in peace, Chris. We love and miss you.