Chris Cornell 1964-2017
by Rob Slater on May 18, 2017
Photo via Marc Millman
Christopher John Boyle, better known as Chris Cornell, passed away unexpectedly late last night following Soundgarden’s show at the Fox Theatre in Detroit and rock has been dealt yet another devastating blow with the loss of one of its most iconic voices.
He came of age in one of the most musically fertile eras we’ve ever known as he was a pillar of the Seattle music scene that spawned bands like his own Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Nirvana and so many others. Among the many characters, Cornell was its brightest star with his rock star bravado and the voice to back it up.
Cornell was the singer Eddie Vedder still wishes he could be. He’s the frontman your favorite frontman studies relentlessly. He was equal parts power and grace, navigating Soundgarden through the 90s rock boom with commercial hits like “Black Hole Sun” and “Fell On Black Days,” among many others.
Soundgarden disbanded rather quietly in 1997 only to return 12 years later not for a money-grab reunion tour, but to return to the road and make a new album. In 2012, King Animal arrived and Soundgarden was back with their second act.
What makes this news all the more heartbreaking is that the band was in the midst of recording yet another album, another notch on their creative belt as one of rock’s cornerstone bands looked to build upon its legacy. The progress of that project remains unknown and will likely never come to light now.
Cornell’s legacy as a singer and artist is untouchable. He’ll be remembered for his patented howl and the ability to take his voice and a song to an unattainable height only comparable to Robert Plant and Freddie Mercury in their primes. Whether with Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave or his solo work, Cornell’s thoughtfulness as a songwriter will always be something to marvel at.
He emerged from the Seattle incubator that claimed so many of his peers—Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley, Kurt Cobain and Andrew Wood, the Mother Love Bone frontman who forged a strong bond with Cornell during their time as roommates. Cornell and Soundgarden, along with Vedder and Pearl Jam, forged on together as one of the most formidable duos in rock.
They’d collaborate a number of times on their road to superstardom, most notably as Temple of the Dog, a tribute project to Wood following his death. While they’d go their separate ways to explore their respective paths, a Cornell appearance at a Pearl Jam show always felt special. Whether it was a random sit-in one night or a mini-Temple of the Dog set at Pearl Jam’s 20th anniversary shows, when Cornell, Vedder, Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament and Matt Cameron got together it was a moment in history.
Pearl Jam and Soundgarden remains one of the most unique relationships in all of music. Every reason to be rivals, they chose to embrace one another even sharing a drummer (Matt Cameron) years later. That decision started at the top with Cornell and Vedder, the leading faces in front of the new rock and roll movement. It’s a testament to their grace and class in the face of success. For that, two fanbases have been extremely fortunate.
Suicide is a messy, complicated and hurtful thing. The details that emerge in the coming days surrounding Cornell’s death will certainly spark discussion and in some cases, regret. Those details cannot change the fact that music lost one of its most visceral, honest and powerful voices and characters today. One that can never be replaced or replicated.
I'll leave you with a memory from an early Lollapalooza, as Cornell and Vedder teamed up for "Hunger Strike," a career-defining song for both frontmen in the mainstream world. With the world at their fingertips and on the verge of impossibly huge fame, they stood and delivered.