If you read Chris Cornell’s obituary today, you’ll learn he was the frontman for Soundgarden and Audioslave; you’ll learn he had a unique voice.
He was so much more than that.
Obviously, he was a person with family and friends who cared about him, knew him intimately, and will never forget him. But he also was one of the last remaining legends of a rock and roll era that has already lost so much or seen its heroes falter and fade.
My wife bought us tickets to see him solo a couple years back at this music hall near our home that typically hosts classical and traditional musical acts. What struck me about him was not his performance. It was his attitude and presence. Alone on a stage in front of hundreds, in a place that was maybe out of his element, he didn’t just command the room, he owned the whole damn building, because we did.
We flooded those halls with t-shirts bearing Soundgarden, Audioslave, and even Temple of the Dog album covers; everything from tattoo sleeves and beards to shaven faces and button-ups.
He owned the crowd with his candor and humility, his honesty and integrity, his humanity.
A rock and roll god walked into that music hall, nodded and waved modestly, then joined us instead of presiding over us like a superior being, and made amazing music with us instead of for us.
That is what I find exceptional about real rock music. It brings people together. No matter who you are, we’re all the same, and we’re in a community together.
That’s what Chris Cornell’s life was about. That’s why music and artists are so important to this world. They strengthen us with ideas, inspiration, and identity.
Rock music was especially influential for me. In large part, it shaped how I experience the world. Its honesty, transparency, and vulnerability taught me to connect with other people on an emotional level, and it taught me how to empathize in a way that is invaluable to my ability to create. It strengthened my introspection. It pushed me to think as well as feel and seek to understand the relationship between my thoughts and ideas and emotions.
Chris Cornell is an important part in an important chapter of rock history. It’s incredibly sad that he has gone, but the contributions he made to the creative world will continue to ripple for decades. I find some solace in knowing I will play some part in that.
As with most musician deaths, if you’re dismayed and looking to listen to that material you’ve always been meaning to get to but don’t know where to start, go with his last album. His solo work can be hit or miss, but that one was solid from beginning to end. I’m sad because his solo career was just really beginning, but if he had to go too soon, Higher Truth is a good one to end with.
But before that, he wrote the best Bond theme for the best Bond film in the series. When I first heard it, I remember thinking Chris Cornell was more than just this almost-alien voice for a grunge band. I thought he was a creative genius that would change the world long after Soundgarden passed from popularity. And he was. Then came Audioslave, which blew up in its own unique way. But for me, it was always about that solo stuff, and I knew he would influence music on his own for the rest of his life and beyond.
I think I was right about that, too.