A Voice Gone Silent

Times are gone for honest men

August 1994. The summer before my sophomore year of high school and I’m away from my parents for a week. Band camp. I’m walking through the common room of Apple Hall at Kent State University and the juniors and seniors (mostly the drummers) are sitting in the balcony area with a boombox and music blaring. It’s “Black Hole Sun” and it is a revelation. At this point, I don’t have my own CD player. I don’t have a collection of music. I don’t even have a musical identity, but I have this memory. 23 years later I can put myself back in that hall — the bite of the air conditioning, the squeak of our sneakers on the slick tile, and Chris Cornell’s voice.

I’m not sure if that was the beginning for me, but it’s a beginning. I scraped together the money I’d earned doing extra jobs around the house or from birthdays and bought a Sanyo boombox — cassette and CD and radio all in one. I bought a crappy Sanyo because it’s what I could afford. But Superunknown was one of the first CDs I owned.

You want to be understood, yeah well I understand.

Fall 1999- My favorite station, 107.9 The End in Cleveland — the station that helped define my taste in music — is gone. GONE. Replaced by hiphop and there isn’t any other station in Northeast Ohio that hits my craving for that blend of metal and punk, ska and alternative that I loved. So I put a CD player in my Camaro, because I don’t own any cassettes, and music and driving go hand-in-hand for me. It’s fall and I’m at a drive up ATM and the day is bright and sunny and clear, a rarity if you know anything about Northeastern Ohio. I’m listening to Euphoria Morning, and I’m not sure if I like it yet. It isn’t the driving rock of Soundgarden, and I’m very into driving rock at the moment. Then “When I’m Down” comes on, and I know…he’s even better now. It’s the first time I appreciated how amazing his voice really is, how it cuts you and heals you all at once.

I don’t want to learn what I’ll need to forget.

Fall 2006- I’m living in Illinois now with a new husband and a new baby who will only sleep if I drive. So I drive along the cornfields as the giant threshers cut the stalks, clearing them for winter. I’m not adjusting to motherhood as easily as I thought I would. I feel lost. Unmored from who I thought I was. And I think I’m dealing with some delayed postpartum shit that I wasn’t expecting. I’m not driving a Camaro any more, but if I have to drive a shitty Toyota, I made sure to get the multi-disc changer, because this is before IPods become the only way to listen to music. I’m listening to a mix I burned myself, and I hit repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat because “Doesn’t Remind Me” is the song that makes me feel like I’m not losing my mind or my whole self.

November 2011- I’m a writer now and I’m going to write a book in a month. My headphones are on and Chris Cornell’s Euphoria morning becomes the voice of my pirate. The book gets me the agent I stay with and a deal with a big five publisher in New York. Everyone will say that my Hook is Killian from OUAT. He’s not. He’s never been Killian. From his sharp chin to his dark locks, he’s always been a younger version of Chris.

Tryna take a picture of the sun
And it won’t help you to see the light

December 2015- I missed Soundgarden (too young). I missed Audioslave (too broke in grad school). I am not missing the opportunity to see the Higher Truth tour. I buy tickets that cost way more than their face value, and still, they’re up in the rafters. We’re at Strathmore, a gorgeously modern hall intended for an orchestra, and I spend two hours with chills. My husband buys me a record player for Christmas that year, and he gives me Higher Truth to commemorate seeing the tour. It is my favorite album on vinyl. The sound is so much deeper and richer than the same song as an mp3. It was made for vinyl.

Time ain’t nothing if it ain’t fast
Taking everything that you ever had
And giving nothing in return
But a cold bed in a quiet earth

January-April 2016- I’m writing The Last Magician and I’ve realized that the Higher Truth album is the only thing that centers me enough to start each day. It has nothing to do with Old New York, but it becomes the soundtrack for my book. Chris Cornell’s voice once again becomes my muse. I write him into the acknowledgements of the book, because I owe the album and his voice that much.

But I fear
That time can hide the years
Like we were never here

Yesterday- I woke up and checked Twitter, as I often do, when I’m trying to avoid pulling myself out of bed. I see the post: Christ Cornell, singer, dead at 52. At first I think it has to be a hoax. One of those terrible Twitter deaths that turn out not to be real. Then I see that it’s from the Post. And I sit straight up saying, “No. No. No. No. No.” Because it cannot be real. It can’t.

I listened to the Higher Truth album on the way to work and when “Before We Disappear” plays, I can’t stop the tears. But I hit repeat anyway. And then I hit it again.

I’m the tail end of Gen X. A lot of people my age consider themselves Gen Y or that weird generation between X and millennial. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the Midwest, and things are a little behind there in terms of the fads, or maybe it’s just my dark soul, but I will always consider myself squarely Gen X. Maybe Cobain died before I discovered Nirvana. Maybe I was way behind those lucky bastards who saw Pearl Jam before they got so big they stopped touring because of Ticketmaster. Maybe. But grunge and the rock it inspired has been the soundtrack to my entire life, and Chris Cornell’s voice has always been there, breaking the backs of the notes, stitching them back together, and offering them up, an offering to all of us, who couldn’t possibly ever be worthy of them.

I’m supposed to be journaling my writing process, but yesterday was a shitty day for words. I got in maybe 1.5k. But it’s really hard to write when your muse is gone.

Rest in Peace, Chris. I hope you’re raising all kinds of hell wherever you are. I’m so, so grateful to have had your talent in this world.