Some words for Chris Cornell…
After Lemmy died there was a period, a couple of months or so, when I listened to nothing but Motörhead. There were entire days of blasting out Overkill, Bomber, Sacrifice, a celebration of his life, with very few tracks off limits. I still can’t listen to Till The End, because Lem knew he was dying when he wrote it, but otherwise it was all just a wonderful reminder of a life lived to its fullest.
With Chris Cornell’s passing it’s different, perhaps because Chris always knew he was dying, or at least that it was something he was constantly fighting. I’ve tried to listen to his music, but with the exception of a few tracks like Kickstand, Rusty Cage, and Ty Cobb, it’s just too much, too heartbreaking. Not that he didn’t live a full life, albeit one that was cut tragically short, but there was always that dark cloud on the horizon, the black dog that finally bit him in the early hours of May 18th in a Detroit hotel bathroom. He made no secret of it, and in many ways it’s what made his music so precious, the knowledge that while we may go through depression alone, we’re not alone in walking that path. It was there in so many of his songs – all of them running around my head – and now I can’t bring myself to listen to them.
The most difficult, personally, is Blow Up The Outside World. “Nothing seems to kill me, no matter how hard I try…” He dedicated that song to me when Soundgarden played the Forum in Los Angeles a few years back, knowing how much I loved that song, and what it meant to me: “Nothing seems to break me, no matter how hard I fall. Nothing can break me at all…” Sometimes you have to kick the black dog in the teeth and tell it to fuck off, and that’s what Blow Up The Outside World was doing, why it was so very special. Now it would just make me cry.
I first met Chris in Australia on the Big Day Out tour in 1994. I’d heard that Soundgarden could be grumpy buggers, difficult to work with, which didn’t bode well for a week spent following them around for a magazine assignment, but despite the band having acquired the nickname ‘Frowngarden’, we got along famously. The memories from that week come flooding back to me now, good times, watching from the side of the stage as Chris sang his heart out into the setting sun, sitting on Coogee Beach at night, sharing jokes and cigarettes as the waves broke gently against the shore, hanging out in bars shooting the shit about motorcycles, music, life in general…
I was privileged enough to work with Soundgarden many times after that, New Orleans, Dallas, Paris, Seattle, London, Australia again, and while their so-called moodiness was sometimes apparent, it was never an issue. We even joked about it sometimes. “We’re always all dour at the same time,” Chris told me one time. “If one guy’s happy we make him leave the room until he comes back in a bad mood, like he should be.” Over the years, however, we had more serious conversations, both on and off the record.
Understandably, there’s been a great deal of speculation about what happened to Chris in the final hours of his life, his every word and action analysed, particularly the last song which included a refrain from Led Zeppelin’s version of In My Time Of Dying. There was also the fact that he had apparently over-medicated with anti-depressants – you know the ones; ‘may cause suicidal thoughts or actions’. If nothing else, the fact that he was taking medication showed that he was trying not to succumb to the darkness.
Honestly, I’d rather not think about it, although obviously that’s impossible. What I can say, as his wife Vicky said, is that Chris would never have intentionally hurt those he loved and who loved him. Ironically, he told me as much in 1994 when we talked about the death of Kurt Cobain: “You don’t know what drives somebody to do that, but if I ever committed suicide, I would do it in a way that meant no one ever knew that it was suicide – because to me, the biggest fear of killing myself would be what it would do to my friends and family. If things are fucked enough that I want to kill myself, the last thing I want to do is go out and really fucking hurt a bunch of other people.”
Whatever the case, we’re just left with a bunch of questions, ifs and maybes. I’d prefer to remember my friend in happier times; that wonderful smile that never failed to wash away the rain; that time he told me once that his nickname used to be Frisbee – there was a Chris A and a Chris B where he worked, someone misheard it and he was stuck with Frisbee; those times just hanging out… And, of course, that beautiful, beautiful voice.
We talked, one time, about how maybe people who never suffered from depression, never knew the lowest of lows, also never knew the highest of highs. In which case, Chris soared with the eagles. Rest in peace, dear friend. No one sings like you anymore.