Inside The Tortured Mind Of Chris Cornell
Chris Cornell, former 90’s lead singer of iconic Seattle grunge band Soundgarden, and later lead singer of equally popular band Audioslave, committed suicide in 2017. Cornell had struggled with alcohol, drugs and depression for many years, but in recent times it seemed he had conquered his demons and was living a healthier life.
Cornell’s death was a tragedy in many respects. First and foremost, he left behind three children who loved him, and a host of other loving family members and friends.
He also left behind his millions of adoring fans.
But just as importantly, he robbed the world of his supreme musical talent, and the life lessons he was able to impart through his dark, pained lyrics.
Soundgarden’s biggest hit was probably “Black Hole Sun,” released in 1994. It’s a shadowy, brooding track about life, loss and suffering.
As a 19-year old sophomore at Oberlin College in Ohio, when I heard “Black Hole Sun” for the first time I immediately loved it. It spoke to a deep pain I was feeling over my desire to be with women while simultaneously fearing them.
The whole song is one long cry of pain and torture. Needless to say, it resonated with a 19-year from New York City who was terrified that he was still a virgin and worried he might be gay.
All of these fears would be allayed in due time, but Soundgarden, and the whole grunge movement, were about making disaffected youth feel comfortable and loved and offering them a community that their parents or friends couldn’t provide.
Eventually Soundgarden broke up, and after a few solo tracks, Cornell joined newly formed band Audioslave and began recording songs in 2001. Grunge was officially dead, the world had moved on from Seattle, and it was time to for Cornell to try something new.
Audioslave would prove to be nearly as popular as Soundgarden. Their style might be described as post-grunge hard rock. Cornell sang of dark, weighty topics, and his voice was still pained, but he had left adolescence behind now and moved on from teen angst ballads.
Audioslave scored numerous major hits. Their top three most recognizable songs are probably “Like A Stone,” “Be Yourself,” and “Show Me How To Live.” All three are about decidedly adult topics such as unrequited love, the need to be independent, and the need to enjoy life to the fullest.
But the song I like best by Audioslave is “Fell on Black Days.” It’s a powerful recording of a man who has lost his way, and may or may not be in prison or going to prison for some terrible crime he’s committed.
In the chorus Cornell cries out:
’Cause I fell on black days
I fell on black days
How would I know
That this could be my fate?
How would I know
That this could be my fate? Yeah
Cornell repeats the phrase “‘cause I fell on black days” in a way that makes you feel he speaks from personal experience. We can feel the pain in his voice, and we know he’s suffered a lot emotionally and psychologically on his journey from middle-class Seattle teenager to worldwide mega superstar.
In interviews Cornell gave to various news and music outlets over the years, he talked about his struggles with drugs and depression. He went to rehab in 2002, and finally quit drugs and alcohol in 2005.
But in an extremely prescient and poignant interview he gave in 1996, Cornell told the interviewer:
I know what it feels like to be suicidal, and I know what it feels like to be hopeless. There is some point where I learnt enough about myself to know that I don’t have the tolerance to create other hurdles as well.
And later, in 1999, Cornell spoke about depression again:
No one really knows what run-of-the-mill depression is. You’ll think somebody has run-of-the-mill depression, and then the next thing you know, they’re hanging from a rope. It’s hard to tell the difference.
Here was a man who had been tortured by demons his whole life, a supremely talented man, and he was repeatedly discussing suicide. Even the method he mentioned, hanging, was how he eventually killed himself.
The whole story is absolutely tragic, and it’s one that’s stuck with me since Cornell committed suicide in 2017.
It’s just hard for me to fathom how someone with so much talent, and so much material wealth and success, and so much love in his life, would want to end all that.
Then again, I can’t enter his heart or mind and feel the pain he was feeling.
All I can do is listen to his music and enjoy the catalog of songs he left behind for all of us.
And maybe we can all be a little more aware when someone we know is struggling with depression or mental illness.
Because God knows we can’t afford to lose another Chris Cornell.