A Broken Eulogy for Chris Cornell
Please, mother of mercy, take me from this place
Disclaimer: this article contains graphic language. I don’t mean to hurt or offend anyone.
Chris Cornell died yesterday. I don’t know if ‘died’ even properly states the fact. He self-destructed in a casino bathroom in Detroit. I have given rats under my house a more proper end than that. My girlfriend told me in passing as I was leaving for work; now I know how Achilles must have felt as his tendon was cut, his fate as impossible to be foreseen as the distant stars are impossible to be seen by the naked eye. Some of my friends have had to grieve recently for David Bowie, some for Prince, some for one of the other great inspirations who have passed in these recent months. Chris Cornell was what broke me.
If you don’t understand what this means to so many people, it is hard to explain. I grew up around the Seattle area, and despite being an easy target for jokes the grunge music movement is still something palpably meaningful and tactile to those who get it. And not just people around here. All over the world, this music touched the hearts of so many fucked up people — so many losers who felt like this was the only thing that made any sense, especially when you’re a kid. Especially when you’re a loser kid that popular culture never seemed to include. When I was in middle school, my music appreciation teacher made sure we knew who Mother Love bone, Temple of the Dog, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, all these bands were. I got an A+ for the entire semester because I fulfilled his dare to try to find a copy of the Temple of the Dog and Mother Love Bone CDs. That’s how much it meant to him. I’m younger than most of the grunge folks - I was just a kid in the early 90s - but it was made perfectly clear how important these guys were. Not only were these bands some of the first cool things to come out of Seattle (many other musicians and artists did as well, but usually left the city to find their success), but they were our voice.
And one by one, like some sickly real version of Final Destination, we have seen them smeared into the pavement.
Kurt Cobain’s head exploded.
Layne Staley overdosed and rotted in his apartment for almost 2 weeks before he was found.
Fuck, please stop.
Chris Cornell suffocated, likely self-induced, in a bathroom. In a Casino. In Detroit.
There is no way to express this. This is the man, the voice, that somehow got my childhood self to come out of the shadows. That has inspired so many people, who has screamed LIFE for so many people. He died like a fucking criminal, alone.
I am an instrumentalist, and a vocalist. Though instrumentalists will begrudge the fact, there is nothing to make up for the passion of the human voice. The voice can lift us up, bring power to lifeless limbs, and what’s more, it inspires others to sing. When my music instructor, and later a good friend, passed away, Say Hello to Heaven was virtually how I coped. This song, and even more so this whole album, was created in the memory of a friend who had died (another prominent member of the early Seattle music scene), yet still held so much power. The very essence of the human condition and experience of loss was so perfectly expressed, a scream to the heavens, I miss you, how could you leave like this…Say hello to heaven for me.
Now I’m warm from the candle, though I feel too cold to burn.
A memorial was held for Mr.Cornell today at the KEXP studios. Either you have heard of this station via their numerous awesome live footage youtube videos, or you live under a rock. If it’s the latter, you should fix this situation.
For someone like me, who was born just after the real Seattle Grunge generation, the occasion was quite a thing. The feeling is hard to put into words; I am surrounded by the people, the essence of what supposedly made the old music scene so great, so alive, but it felt somewhat…defeated. Between 200–400 people had gathered by 4:30 for the 5PM memorial and moment of silence. People in their mid 40s with their kids sulked around, talking to friends or looking off absently in chairs. Some people gently sobbed on and off, myself included. I tried talking to someone I knew, but felt too dead inside to say anything meaningful apart from happy times in the past that had tied Chris Cornell and his music into our lives. My friend was originally from Mexico, and it made me happy to hear how touched he had been by this music scene from so far away.
I needed these people, these sad strangers, to join up with me, I needed something alive. For fucks sake, this man was a MUSICIAN! Where are the modern musicians of Seattle?! Where are our current legends? Fuck, I need to feel my voice with you people, why does this feel so…dead.
Eventually, some of the KEXP DJs — who are virtually historians in their own right — spoke some words about Chris. DJ Riz had a beautiful story about smoking weed in a bathroom with Chris acting as lookout, not even knowing who he was, just that he was beautiful and kind, and surprisingly modest. After the stories, we all were silent — the thing probably most beautifully NOT Chris Cornell in any way, at least to us fans. After long enough, Say Hello to Heaven played over the speakers. I half sang, half cried through what I could. On the last refrain, I stood up and pleaded with the crowd to join. “Say Hello to heaven!” The man who gave us his voice — part and parcel, every last bit, to take, to own, to claim as our own, to be there in the hardest moments, in the best moments — the least we could do was to give our own back. I belted what my broken, choked voice could muster. Sadly, only the broken whimpers of like-minded, sad fans met me there, with a backdrop of callous, half-attentive chatter as the medium.
Is this how you say goodbye? Show you body, but turn away as soon as reality sinks in? Fuck you. When I die, if I am so lucky as to have any music that survives my name, I want people to scream it back at my dead remains. In the old days, a soldier might be buried with their sword, and today a loved one left with their most cherished possession. This man gave his voice to you, and you can’t even give one refrain back for the years of what he gave?
I wonder if he suffocated as a final act, to take back what had been given so generously. I don’t know. I just hurt and that’s all I can think.
During the whole ceremony, the thing you heard over and over was that Chris Cornell wasn’t just one of the voices of Seattle, he was THE voice. We have had many famous and talented musicians of this city, but Chris was THE VOICE of Seattle. He sang for all of us. To a situation like this, some people often see a gap waiting to be filled. Who will be next, who can express for us like he did? Or maybe the hole will just fill up with emptiness. In the bleakness that I felt there, where is the soul of Seattle waiting to rise? Does Seattle still have a soul to sell?
Now it seems like too much love is never enough, you’d better seek out another road, cause this one had ended abrupt.
As the sun set, the Space Needle was left dark until 10PM in memoriam. I found a good, isolated spot on Capital Hill with my girlfriend to see it from, a think dark outline against the lights of the city. Surrounding were the ever-present well-lit cranes, new business high rises, and luxury condos that have come to define the new Seattle. To have the iconic tower of Seattle darkened in your name must be one of the greatest honors the city could give, but in this light it all seemed pornographically morbid. The old guard of Seattle bowed its head in a quiet sadness, while the bustle of the ever-growing city sped past with a stoic indifference only capitalism and commerce can create. Will people here today tell their kids about when Chris Cornell died? Do the hipsters with tech jobs in these condos I can’t afford to live in even care? Will Seattle birth forth another voice of the pathetic masses, or are we no longer pathetic enough to deserve one? Has apathy and comfort replaced the hole in our lives that music, the arts, and sometimes excessive drug use were the only thing that could fill?
FUCK I’M TIRED OF FEELING LIKE THIS!
But does the new Seattle even care? Local government now markets us as “the city of music,” but does that mean people will actually come out to shows now? And I don’t mean for DJs.
How’s that for irony. The northern city of fishermen and lumberjacks may have gone and gentrified itself to sterility. I still live in a shitty apartment, putting up with sub-par conditions in the name of striving towards what I believe in, towards what virtually kept me alive when I was younger and want to help re-create for the people after me, but how many more will? Already the Seattle scene seems more to do about gigs and money than creating something, than Screaming Life. Fuck, I’ll just take Screaming! I can barely even gets folks to mosh at punk shows anymore.
One of the few things that felt good today was screaming; in the middle of the memorial, we were implored by our KEXP DJ saints to share in a primal scream — CHRIIIIIIIIS! — I’m quite sure my hearing was damaged. It was wonderful. But what now? Will we take anything from this, will we grow? Or will this be as a vestigial limb of a plant, left to wither away and die now that the life source has left. I pray for the former. I still believe in this place, the PNW is still gritty enough to make something beautiful. I wouldn’t live here if I didn’t. But with such a loss, I hope we can look inward and see what Chris Cornell did for us, and still does, and ask what we can do to keep this alive. And I mean actually alive. There are still hardworking, passionate artists and musicians in this place. Sometimes you just have to get your hands dirty to find them.
Chris Cornell — we lost something beautiful today. I don’t care if it was in a Casino bathroom in Detroit, or by an overdose, or floating up to heaven on a stairway of clouds and rainbows. It still means the same to me.
Somewhere up there, a new star was born in the heavens. I just hope that the city hasn’t grown too bright to see it.
R.I.P. Chris Cornell. I will miss your passion and what you gave me and so many people fucking terribly. I never cry this much, and I am definitely going to hold it against you, asshole. We love you.
Utmost condolences for the family, friends, and bandmates. I can only begin to imagine how much this must hurt.
Say hello to heaven
Thanks for reading! I don’t write on here very often, but if you are at all interested in other goings on you can find me and my music at;
I’m always sharing stuff about cool music things happening around here, so check it out, and if you live in Seattle, come out to shows! Peace and Love.