Thanks for the Memories Mr. Cornell

Jason Howell |

I remember where I was when Kurt Cobain's body was discovered in April of 1994.  I was working as a bank teller, listening to terrestrial radio, lamenting the fact that I wouldn't be attending the Pearl Jam concert that night.  When my slightly older co-worker found out, she wondered aloud whether it must have felt for my generation like John Lennon's death felt for hers.  I didn't know how to answer.  

Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain are both associated with the "Grunge Music" of the 1990's but for me and perhaps others in my generation  - the one marked with an "X" - they were very different.  Nirvana was the band it seemed that Geffen Records was forcing upon us in 1991.  I staged a mini-boycott of their music until that Spring of 1994.  After Kurt Cobain's suicide I wanted to go beyond the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" version of their music. I bought every album and discovered a lot of beauty.  It was somehow easy to like that other Seattle-based band (Pearl Jam) too; but Soundgarden, Chris Cornell's band, had to grown on me.  What's so striking about Chris Cornell and his musical projects is that they seem to mature with me, slowly over time.  The 1990's represent the gilded youth of my late teens and mid-twenties.  I will always think of it as the best decade for music but unlike the Dave Matthew's Band, R.E.M and so many others, Chris Cornell carved out a spot that endured.  His angst was somehow still "current." His brand of cool aged well too.  Chris Cornell was the Johnny Depp of the music world, still working, still appealing and still interesting.  As a celebrity, it's what made his existence so affirming; his death, so poignant. 

Celebrity deaths are striking for strange reasons.  It's not like most of us ever expect to meet our celebrity heroes.  Why does their death, especially when their art is still available, hurt so much?  Does it remind us of something? Over 10 years after the mainstream debut of "grunge," Chris Cornell reappeared to me as the lead singer of Audioslave.  These were all of the members of Rage Against the Machine - a powerful band - now reloaded with a lead singer rather than the "lead rapper" they had before in Zack de la Rocha.  With Audioslave, I truly heard the voice of Chris Cornell.  This encouraged me to appreciate how much I enjoyed his other music including Temple of the Dog; which I only used to know as the band where he did that "Hungry" song duet with Eddie Vedder.  After Chris Cornell's live tribute to Scott Weiland, I realized that another song I really liked, "Say Hello to Heaven" was also a product of the TotD project.  Originally the song was written for another friend that had passed away, Andrew Wood who was Chris' roommate and the lead singer of a band called "Mother Love Bone." MLB had two future members of Pearl Jam.  It's easy to trace how all of these bands from Seattle were connected and why the Seattle music scene was so authentic and  so real.  Looking back at the melancholy image of their lives it's a little sad.  Perhaps the biggest, strange, tragedy is that so many of Chris Cornell's songs - even the songs he chose to "cover" -  so beautifully and powerfully sung, were perfect descriptions (predictions?) of the pain he may have been enduring.. The irony is that most YouTube comments under his videos are notes of thanks from fans for getting them through their [sh**] personal tough times, through his melodies.  Was Chris Cornell able to be so authentic over so many years because he consistently was going through pain we never understood?  Despite the success, despite the irrefutable talent, perhaps he was in pain this whole time and all we could do - all I could do - was cheer and say thank you.

Having experienced the loss of loved ones in my family, I know that Chris Cornell's widow, children, band mates and his old friends from the Seattle scene are experiencing more loss than I or his other fans ever will. Life isn't typically short but it is always fast.  One of the reasons I like the work I do as a financial planner is because it's really life planning: for successful opportunities and unfortunate tragedies.  The work matters because the lives matter.  

The secret to life is that it ends.  I of course "remember where I was" when I found out Chris Cornell had died.  I was at the gym, with CNN on silent but with a "breaking news" report about "another rocker" who had died too soon.  I remember audibly saying "Noooooo..." to no one (and nearly dropping my dumbbells). No one around me seemed to notice; which is kind of what it feels like when someone you really care about dies. 

Mr. Cornell, I will never know all of the things that led to your sudden passing away but I will be forever grateful that you passed my way.  Your unique voice will carry on.  Your lyrics will hold deeper meaning.  You were not just "another rocker."