Published on May 19th, 2017 | by Jon Robertson3
R.I.P. Chris Cornell: Favorite Songs, Memories, and the Influence He Had on All of Us
I woke up Thursday morning to the news that Chris Cornell had died and my first thought was “not again”. It seems like within the past year and half we have had an insane amount of talented musicians pass away. I’m not going to list all the talent that has left us because it hurts too much to go over it again and I’m sure we all don’t need the extra reminder.
Lately, I have been wondering why all these deaths have been happening; is it just that everyone is getting older and as you age you get sick, or just get tired of life, or that mental illness becomes too much to deal with, or your lifestyle becomes so extreme that your body and mind can’t take the abuse anymore, I don’t know.
What I do know is losing all these musician whose music I love so much really hurts and losing Chris Cornell feels like the knock-out punch.
Of the four big “Grunge” / Seattle bands (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden) to me Soundgarden were the most talented and their music has stood the test of time the best over the last 30-plus years. Also, as far as frontmen go I am not sure you will find a better musician, vocalist, or lyricist better than Chris Cornell. That goes for the four bands named above and pretty much for the entire existence of music. His creativity and performances throughout Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, and his own solo material is hard to match.
Chris Cornell was truly a one of kind, musical genius.
To say that Cornell and his music is loved by the staff here at B.G.M. would be an understatement. As you can read below in the collection of memories, appreciation, and dedications to him you can see that Cornell and his music has influenced and affected our writers deeply. We will miss you Chris Cornell, thank you for all the amazing music you left behind.
I’m gonna start things off with an underappreciated and amazing song off Soundgarden’s Down on the Upside, “Zero Chance” to me this song encapsulates everything that was a special about Soundgarden and really showcases the vast range of emotions that Cornell was able to touch on with his outstanding vocal performances and lyrics. Seriously love this jam. – Jon
With Soundgarden being at the forefront of what became the grunge movement, I think we can all agree Chris Cornell was one of the most important figures of rock in the early 90s.
Cornell’s near four octave vocal range and knack for writing dark poetic lyrics proved he was more than just another brooding teenager who used music to express angst. He was a pioneer and that influence is still being felt throughout today’s hard rock scene.
What set Chris Cornell apart from some of his contemporaries was his ability to utilize different styles and elements in a simple style of music.
From combining punk energy with droning stoner rock in “Rusty Cage” to channeling Jim Morrison and Black Sabbath in “Black Hole Sun”, Cornell was just as much creative as charismatic.
With a commanding stage presence and a voice that could rival the guitars surrounding him, Cornell was also capable of delicate sentimental performances as well. “Sunshower”, his contribution to the Great Expectations soundtrack, is a perfect example of this. Not only is it my favorite Cornell composition, it’s a strong contender for my favorite song of all time!
The lyrics are simple during segments where the music is complex, but get complex when the arrangement gets simple. The same structure of this beautiful ballad was used countless of times during his time with Audioslave.
No matter what he was performing, he gave it his all.
More than a frontman, a voice, or key figure in a particular movement, Chris Cornell was truly a gift to music. One that will be remembered for generations and one I will surely miss. – Aaron Cooper.
“Black Hole Sun”
The first time that I heard “Spoonman” was sometime back in junior high. I guess it would have been around ‘96. It was on the rock station, and I remember thinking that it stood out so much, compared to all the other drony crap they were playing.
It had that urban metal beat and as Cornell’s thick concentrated vocals spilled out over the guitar; it was magic.
Along with Nirvana and Pearl Jam, being the big grunge bands, Soundgarden always remained unique because Chris was that vagabond who never fell to ideals or conformity of any kind.
To his fans it seemed he held up his convictions through his music, and never cared for critics or doing what would shoot him to super stardom. It was inspiring, and it is a true shame that he went out the way he did.
“Black Hole Sun” was such a deeply impacting song to me that I did a painting with the same title in my high school art class.
It is probably long gone, but it sold for $20 at the auction! That may not mean much to you, but it was actually my Dad who bought it, and we shared the sentiment.
R.I.P. Chris. Thank you for the tunes and the joy. – Jeremy Erickson
“I Am the Highway”
Chris Cornell is the underdog when it comes to grunge gods of the ’90s. He graced the company of Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain, both of which are always in the limelight when discussing rock’s progression at the end of the 20th century.
But to think of grunge rock without the impact of Chris Cornell’s band Soundgarden is hard to imagine. Soundgarden were a unique sound; throbbing with deeper and darker rock with hints of psychedelia. Fronted by a man who could hit unspeakably high notes and still linger in growls that haunt the soul.
Superunknown is an absolute classic album, one that will only grow greater in time.
Temple of the Dog is yet another gem, collaborating with members of Pearl Jam and even Eddie Vedder on the now classic song “Hunger Strike.” I have too many fond memories of listening to that song especially growing up. This is a creative supergroup that only released one album, but that one album is flawless and always brings a smile to my face when I spin the vinyl.
What a great, underrated band. “I Am the Highway” got me out of a dark time a few years back, Cornell’s music has a special way of gripping music fans everywhere through the range of his vocals to the raw lyricism he created.
Lest not forget his song “You Know My Name” which opens the greatest James Bond film of all time in my book, Casino Royale.
I for one am extremely heartbroken about his death. Hopefully he is jamming with other past rock deities in an afterlife. – Haley Lewis
I can distinctly recall the profound influence that grunge had on my youth and even still today. You can’t spell grunge without Soundgarden and it was my mother who opened me up to the whole era at the ripe age of 10. Chris Cornell’s voice along with the other lead singers of that era was unique and provided a new perspective in a musical movement that took so many different pieces from other styles that guided not only my youth but many others as well.
You could make a case for Cornell’s voice being up there as one of the best in the business and even his song-writing was just as powerful.
Going beyond the major hits like “Black Hole Sun,” “Hunger Strike,” and “Like a Stone” was like overturning rocks to find the more underrated songs that were just as significant. It’s a weird thing to think of the death of somebody that you never met as having such an impression, but musicians have taken us through some of the most prevalent ups and downs and for that I thank you for your talent, your words, and your emotion Mr. Cornell. ‘Say Hello Heaven’ – here’s to a pioneer, a legend, and a deep musical soul. Rest in peace Chris. – Trevor Husted
“Killing in the Name”
In my first year after college, I bartended at a large rock venue in Milwaukee. The job was mostly shit, thankless work on behalf of awful employers, but there was one obvious, massive perk: getting paid to be at concerts of all shapes, sizes, and flavors. I worked shows for everyone from Meshuggah to Bonnie Raitt to the Strokes to Mike Jones; Ben Folds to Black Label Society to Nine Inch Nails to Phil Lesh & Friends.
And without question, the biggest, loudest show I worked that year was Audioslave.
4,000-some-odd people sold out the venue that night, and the crowd was very much into the show, drinking every last drop of tap beer in the entire joint (no easy feat in Milwaukee). The blending of the supergroup’s former bands’ material was a little awkward, but the show-ending “Killing in the Name” landed like a tsunami, Chris Cornell belting it out with his signature vocal dynamite on the only Rage Against the Machine song he could actually sing, given its lack of rapping.
Another cool perk of the job was the opportunity to peak behind the curtain during set up and tear-down.
Watching soundcheck, looking at riders, hearing old stories, etc. In the immediate aftermath of the Audioslave show, I had to roll a cart full of empty kegs down to the basement, which meant walking by the green room, which meant seeing these rock heroes up close and personal in the flesh for myself. I couldn’t help it, I had these guys’ posters on the wall in my guitar room when I was a kid, so I copped a furtive glance down the little hallway on my way past and saw…
Cornell standing by himself in an empty room, leaned back against a counter, smoking a cigarette, green bottle of beer in his hand, dead silent, staring holes into the carpet on the ground before him. No groupies, no music, no partying, none of the other guys, and definitely no smiling: a hard day’s work over, and he totally spent from the effort.
Right there, that second, Cornell, without knowing it, shattered for me the myth of the “Specialness of Artists”.
The man I saw wasn’t a superhero, wasn’t a god, wasn’t some kind of super special alien being unlike everybody else; he was just a guy who worked a brutal job that took everything out of him, and once done he wanted a beer and a cigarette and the company of his thoughts for a little while, same as anybody else. He’d only twenty minutes earlier been screaming “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” at the top of his golden voice in front of thousands of bloodthirsty Milwaukee drunks begging for more, and when it was over he was in exactly the same position as any day laborer, landscaper, construction worker, traveling businessman, et. al. after a long day:
A beer, a smoke, and shut the fuck up, thanks.
Obviously, he was the same guy from the records, and the videos, and that poster on my guitar room wall. But he was also someone who worked, and very, very hard, at the thing we all loved to watch him do. However else you choose to remember the man and his legacy in the wake of his passing, make sure you remember that part, too. – John Gorman
As a ‘Millennial’ I missed the grunge movement when it happened, but growing up with MTV, “Black Hole Sun” often came up on the best video compilations or best of the 90s compilations. The video was weird and the song was like nothing I had ever heard before. However it wasn’t until I was about 17 when I really starting diving into the early 90s after reading about the ‘Three Pillars of Grunge’. I knew Nirvana (hard to avoid them), I had a Jools Holland DVD which had Alice in Chains performing “Them Bones” but all I had of Soundgarden was Black Hole Sun. So also being of the generation of Limewire and Torrents (I own many of his albums on CD and vinyl now!), I decided to go investigating.
The first album I got hold of was Superunknown.
It was a defining moment. It showed me that heavy music could be diverse, interesting and weird. It was an experience from start to finish and I actually credit Superunknown as the first album I loved as a whole. Every track. I stand by it as one of the best rock albums of all time. It’s my measuring stick for everything that has come afterwards. Musically and lyrically it’s just so good. So, so good! Lyrically is where Chris Cornell really hooked me.
Cornell’s voice is obviously talked about a lot as one of the best in rock, but that voice wouldn’t mean a thing without the lyrical content to back it up.
From Superunknown to Euphoria Morning to Audioslave to Higher Truth, the lyrics have been a big part of what I love about Chris Cornell. It’s a craft he takes pride in and the different approaches he takes song to song are impressive. He has a way of setting the scene and pulling you into what he was feeling when he wrote it. From the anger of “Jesus Christ Pose,” the pain of “Like a Stone” or the laments of “Dead Wishes,” I felt every word.
I think I could write a dissertation on what makes Chris Cornell great and what he meant to me, but even 10,000 words couldn’t express the impact his music has had on me as a person and a musician.
When I read the news of his passing, my heart sank, my stomach dropped. It was like losing a friend. I was lucky enough to see him around this time last year at the iconic Royal Albert Hall and he blew me away. Only his voice could fill a venue so grand and so prestigious without a backing band. I couldn’t believe that someone who has achieved so much in music and has released so much still had so much to say. Sadly we won’t get to hear what Cornell had in store for the future with Soundgarden or solo, but the legacy he has left behind is vast and it will always hold a special place in my soul. Today, in his own words, he is the shape of the hole inside my heart. – Tom Fisher
“Nothing Compares 2U”
The Christmas before I turned 18, I received one of the worst (yet funniest) gifts ever. My mom had unknowingly purchased some empty jewel cases at a now-defunct retail store called PharMor, whose music section I often browsed for hours as a teenager. Sadly, my mom didn’t know you had to take the display cases over to the music department desk in order to receive the actual compact discs to put inside them. Needless to say, it was disappointing to unwrap this particular present on December 25th. “Well, damn!” she exclaimed when I pointed it out to her. She felt terrible, but we had a good laugh about it.
To remedy the situation, she generously gave me $40 to spend on any music I wanted. I worked at a Suncoast Motion Picture Company in the local mall at the time, so I went straight to our sister store, Sam Goody, to stretch my money as far as it would go with the help of my employee discount. One of the albums I bought with that $40 was Superunknown by Soundgarden.
Soundgarden’s video for “Black Hole Sun” was being played on MTV every five minutes back then, it seemed.
Intrigued by the images of expanding, grotesque smiles and the melting faces of Barbie dolls, I was also in awe of the handsome, dangerous looking guy with the gutsy voice that blasted my ears with a combination of soul, grit, and despair every time he opened his mouth. We were also hair twins, Chris Cornell and me. I was as fascinated by his piercing stare as I was with his vocals, not to mention the way he held and played a guitar. Like he had nothing left to lose, yet everything to give.
I played the hell out of that album over the course of the next two years. I followed his career, and always took note whenever I saw his name mentioned in music mags and such. I wasn’t necessarily as a superfan of his various bands or solo projects, but as someone whose early years of adulthood were intensely influenced by the sound he helped pioneer, I always took notice of what he was doing.
My heart dropped to the floor when I saw the news of his passing on May 18th.
And it dropped even further when I read about how he died. I’m more familiar than I’d like to be with the kind of internal darkness that can consume someone from the inside out. I know firsthand the level and magnitude of pain a human being can experience that can cause one to contemplate that point of no return. It’s something I wouldn’t wish on anybody. It’s a pain that does not discriminate. It can consume your every breath, your every thought. You can convince yourself you’re strong enough to withstand it, to ignore it, to make it go away. And it will let you think that- for awhile, anyway. Then just when you think you’ve got it beat, it can quietly return.
You know, when we hurt on the outside, we seek treatment to feel better and it’s socially acceptable and encouraged. But when we’re hurting on the inside, so many people feel such a tremendous amount of shame in seeking help or in reaching out- as if it’s a sign of weakness to admit to yourself and others that you can’t handle it alone. It’s still a stigma. I hope someday soon, it won’t be. My dropped heart heaves and aches at the thought of what Chris must have been feeling. At what his wife, his children, his family, and his friends must be feeling right now.
I’ve watched this video of Cornell singing a cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2U” at least 10 times in the past 24 hours.
I’m brought to tears by it, but in a cathartic way, if that makes any goddamn sense. He shared so much of himself and his talent with the world while he was here. For that, I am thankful. And I’m grateful for the small yet powerful impact he had on me. – Amie Taylor