The theatre went quiet, just before a spotlight shone down, as if God himself had chosen and he stood before us. Tall, lanky, full bearded, Chris Cornell stood on the stage, holding a guitar. The theatre erupted into a mass of cheers and applause. And as Cornell launched into an acoustic rendition of Scar on the Sky, the crowd went silent once more. His voice rang out, echoing through the hall and we were awestruck. We were witnessing a God at work. But I noticed something else that I never noticed about him before that, when I only ever saw him on late night television and YouTube…
Depression is, undoubtedly, the bond that links Chris Cornell and his fans.
It is almost eleven years ago at this writing that I first discovered the music of Chris Cornell and yet it feels an eternity. I can recall the precise moment I first became enamored with his music. I was twelve years old, and the first Daniel Craig James Bond 007 film Casino Royale (2006) had just released in theatres across the world.
The film opens with a particularly brutal fight followed by the introductory credits, over which the film’s main theme, You Know My Name, is played. That was my introduction to Cornell’s art. The film was outstanding and Craig gave a stellar, gut-wrenching performance as Bond, but I didn’t leave the theatre that day thinking about the film. It was the voice that had echoed throughout the theatre that captivated me most.
Something in Cornell’s voice struck me someplace deep. I knew I needed to hear more. The next song I discovered an acoustic rendition of Black Hole Sun. That was that.
Within a month, I explored most of Soundgarden’s catalogue and Audioslave was next up.
It wasn’t long before teenage me thought of myself as an expert on all things Cornell, and not a day has passed since that I haven’t listened to his music. Middle school, high school, familial deaths and depression, yet his music remained. It still does.
Fast-forward eleven years.
I was drifting off the night I opened my phone to check my Facebook one last time before sleep. The first item I saw in my news feed was from CNN.
Chris Cornell was dead at 52.
From there, I don’t even know where to begin.
Chris Cornell’s music meant more to me than any words can possibly describe. I discovered him at twelve and his voice was there for me in a way that nothing else was. I went through middle school, and high school and he was there for me. In my time of need, his voice was the one thing I could count on continuously. My grandmother and my grandfather were like parents to me, and as they passed, one by one, into the next world, Chris Cornell remained.
My Grandmother passed on when I was sixteen and my grandfather checked out when I was twenty-one. When my Grandmother crossed that divide, my Grandfather and I stayed up most of the night with Temple of the Dog flowing through the speakers of a phonograph somewhere in the darkened room.
When my Grandfather passed, I carried on the ritual. Alone.
For reasons that are obvious, Say Hello 2 Heaven is particularly close to my heart.
Now I find myself once more removing the Temple of the Dog record from its sleeve, and taking it for a spin. The night I heard of his passing, I got physically ill and honestly, I haven’t slept well since.
Someone once referred to his voice as an “echo of the soul” and while I do not know who said that, it is as close as anyone can come to describing him.
I only ever saw Chris Cornell perform once. It was the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pennsylvania on April 10, 2011. Times were better then and my grandfather was still with us… But I also remember times when Chris Cornell’s music was the only thing that could get me through the day.
Sometimes it still is.
The only live performance I witnessed was beyond comprehension. 27 songs over two and half hours. No backups, no bands, just a man, a guitar and a voice. That memory will forever live with me, just as his music will continue to guide me through the dark times, inspire me to do my best and continue to be help me find the light.
Even as a writer, I have trouble finding the words to describe his presence in my life. His voice, that echo of the soul, the understanding of it all, and his dark, poetic lyricism have all been there through the years.
In short, his music is always playing when I write and is always omnipresent in the darkened corridors of my own memory palace.
With Cornell’s guiding voice, I wrote a novel last summer and recently, I have started another. This one, with great admiration, will be dedicated to him. After all, it should be, as it is a novel about and allegorical of depression. That great, untamable beast lurking the shadows, waiting to get the better of us.
Ultimately, this is why I believe we all connect with him and why I believe referring to his voice as the aforementioned echo of the soul is the most appropriate way to refer to him. Chris is an echo of all of our souls. And for those of us who suffer depression, the music is more relatable and accessible then to those who don’t have to deal with it. It spoke to us, became a part of us, as he understood in that unique way we all did. His voice and poetic words said the things our hearts were feeling. And when he died, a part of us died with him.
It is never not going to hurt hearing his voice from now on.
And in the end, all I can say is thank you Chris.
And Rest in Peace.
Cornell was all alone up there, standing in the darkness of the stage with only one light shining down from above. He was alone in a roomful of people. Like anyone who lives with the beast. Only for a moment, I felt his eyes caught mine. But for that one moment, I felt closer to him than anyone I ever knew before or since. The music that spoke of darkness and depression, of Black Days and Seasons gone by connected us, as it did with all of your fans…
No one sings like you anymore.