R.I.P. Chris Cornell
Requiescat in pace, Mr. Chris Cornell, of Soundgarden and Audioslave music fame. I did not know you in person, but I loved your music, and I have a personal connection to it that will last out my own lifetime. I am sorry that you died at age 52, whereas I already have made it to the big 5–7, and I only have three things to say about your death, my personal experiences.
I did five and a half years in a state prison, for Armed Robbery (pocket knife, no injuries occurred is the only excuse-sounding fact I will offer), and I was allowed to own a Walkman and five cassettes. On the downside of my bit, over halfway through, in 1994, I owned Soundgarden, Superunknown. I listened to it, not while I was lifting weights, but while I was walking around the track. I drowned out all but the sound of music, and the sun and the breeze. Sometimes, if I were lucky, I could forget where I was for four minutes. No, I did not forget — but I drowned it out. I walked alone, mostly. My brother went home after the first three point five years, and I was transferred to “minimum security” for my last two years inside. I worked in a greenhouse, inside. I had a few acquaintances, I saw one old friend from drug treatment 20 years in my past (but he only stayed in six months, possession of firearm by a felon, automatic year, minus County time, he just stayed long enough to process out), and I made one friend, a civilian who ran the greenhouse. He made it so every time the sun shone, I was outside. I planted flowers, and watered them. I made up arrangements that were allowed to decorate the visiting room. I also read books, and I received visits from my wife, Dotty, who was my girlfriend at the time.
So I want to thank you, Chris Cornell, for you gave me relief while walking around a prison walking track in 1994. An image stays in my mind of walking around the track, shirtless, in the sun, after doing my workout. I weighed 165 and I could bench press 275 in those days. I did three sets of 10, squats, with 315. It is all I did. Try to become better, rather than worse while inside. Try not to get sent back to Maximum Security, try to write a letter to my daughter and to Dotty, each week, and work out. I tried to never go inside the 20 man dorm except to sleep, shower, and wash my clothes. There was nothing for me in there, but noise I did not want to hear, and endless bullshit. As I walked around the track, one day, listening to Fell On Black Days, that one note of feedback on Kim Thayil’s guitar, a note of feedback — not even a note, touched into my lonely soul, and I raised both of my hands into the air. It is about at 3:30 on the YouTube studio version of Fell On Black Days (the actual number varies with each playing), but you can hear it well, if you use headphones or iPhone earbuds these days:
I do not know exactly what I felt. But, that I would live, that someday this would be a dream. The lyrics were ironic, “now I’m doin’ time”, and “how could I know/that this would be my fate” It helped me. Thank you, Mr. Cornell. Thanks also to Kim Thayil on lead guitar, Hiro Yamamoto on bass, and Scott Sundquist on drums, in Soundgarden for their 1994 release. I listened to that album many times, since then. My daughter, Katie, and my wife, Dotty, like it, too, today. Chris Cornell, and Eddie Vedder are my wife’s two favorite male vocalists (with Keith Urban on the side for eye-candy, she says).
After that unfortunate listening experience in 1994, Mr. Cornell, I have a second experience to thank you for which was a more positive experience. I have an image in my mind of riding through a canyon in Utah, in 2013. I was riding alone, on my way home from Canada, where I had ridden in the Three Flags Classic Tour 2013, from Mexico to Canada, over Labor Day weekend.
I was happy, riding on a beautiful day on my way home to see my love, Dotty, on a bad motorfinger of a bike, a six cylinder, 1800cc F6B, leaned way over in a curve in a canyon, when this song came on my helmet headphones (I was playing one of my free Pandora Radio stations)and I saw god, so to speak. I am the Highway, by Audioslave:
I’m not your rolling wheel, I am the highway; I am not your carpet ride, I am the sky; I am not your blowing wind, I am the lightning; I am not your autumn moon, I am the night. Yeah. I am the night.
I am not ashamed to say that tears have streamed from my eyes in my helmet, before. I have to lift up the faceshield and wipe them off, but I do not mind. It is a happy cry. This was not a bad dream; it is forever my good dream. Riding along, on my way home to someone I love forever,
no matter what, inspired by music to see each photon of light anew, and every unexpected patch of gravel on every turn. I am confident I can swerve around or full-brake and avoid any unforeseen obstacle with such angelic noise surrounding me. If I lift the front wheel coming out of that last corner, that was for you, Chris. Thank you for that, Mr. Cornell. Now, you really are the night, are you not? Blow easy on the wind, roll on through the sky happy as you have made me, many times. With all my love, I wish my family’s condolences to the families of Mr. Chris Cornell, and to all of his loved ones. I am so sorry you are gone, sir. You were the lightning, man — a bad motherfucker on the mic. NOBODY can argue with me on that.