No One Sings Like You Anymore
Chris Cornell: A legacy of voice, beauty and Loud Love.
On May 18th, 2017 my heart was broken upon learning of the passing of Chris Cornell. An artist I had grown to revere was in an instant, gone.
Like so many of his millions of fans, we pondered, we questioned, we reminisced, but mostly: we cried. Once the shock started to settle and the finality of this new reality began to sink in, I was left with a surprising emotion: Guilt.
The lyrics of Pink Floyd’s ‘What Do You Want From Me’ echoed dissonantly inside my head.
Whilst thinking of the immense pain and loss that his family and close friends must be experiencing, I wondered if as passionate consumers of his art, we had demanded too much. My guilt stemmed not from a belief that he was consumed in an attempt to continously please us, but rather that we indirectly and inadvertently ‘stole’ precious time that after so many years of performing and recording rightfully belonged to his family.
While the rationale behind this idea is weak at best and obeys more to an emotional impulse to connect, it left me thinking about how we define the relationship we hold with those we’ve never met, have never physically acknowledged us and yet manage to play a pivotal role in some of our lives’ most meaningful moments.
So what did us fans lose that day ? How come our loss feels so personal ? How could it ever compare to that felt by those closest to him ?
My only explanation after sitting on this feeling for a couple of months now, is that we lost a bit of ourselves. At the risk of sounding cliched and unrealistically romantic, I believe we lost the key that unlocked our ability to understand ourselves.
Most of us do not possess the unworldly collection of talents that Chris mastered and managed to share with us. Hence, his insight, his poetic vision, ungodly voice and soul bearing performances were elements that we relied upon to make sense of our own existence in a tangible way.
Whilst going through some of the challenges that we all invariably face throughout our lives, I struggled to understand, communicate and cope with many of the experiences I’ve had to navigate. A song like ‘Fell on Black Days’ then comes along and simply encapsulates what you had failed to recognize, acknowledge and visualize, yet vividly felt. As a result, the artist becomes a conduit to connect with yourself. Incredibly so, he seems to know the language you weren’t aware your heart & soul spoke.
I never saw Led Zeppelin perform, so although I worship the larger than life personality & talent that is Robert Plant, I never got to connect with him in a live environment. I was however, fortunate enough to see Chris perform on many occasions with Audioslave, Soundgarden and in his solo acoustic setting. The biggest compliment I can pay Chris Cornell the artist, was that I always felt I was receiving something that transcended music, poetry and rock stardom. I was gifted a small but unadulterated piece of his life. Yes, I paid good money for a ticket, but that doesn’t entitle me to shares of the man’s soul. And yet, for those 2 hours, you got every last bit of raw energy that resided in his being.
Another unique and beautiful element of witnessing Chris on a stage, was that you were in the company of someone who like us, was a fan still madly in love with music and always willing to share what it meant to him. Chris Cornell’s cover versions of rock’s greatest classics reminded me that awe breeds awe. I saw Chris passionately dedicate ‘Redemption Song’ to “the most just man I know” (his fellow bandmate Tom Morello). I noticed the look on his face when he sang ‘A Day in the Life’ at the Royal Albert Hall and describe the feeling of uttering that Beatles lyric at the actual place Lennon sang about. I choked up in my seat as he performed one of the most meaningful songs of my life ‘Thank You’ as Jimmy Page himself sat in the audience two rows behind me. This was not a man going about his job, this was someone living out his life purpose of becoming one with music and allowing us to share the room as he shined.
To talk about his musical legacy feels redundant in a way. Anybody still reading at this point acknowledges this and has his/her own personal connection to the impressive catalog that he left us with. Some people’s hearts beat to the pulse of the shirtless ‘Outshined’ rock god. Some of us continue to marvel at him transforming Rage Against the Machine from a fierce political powerhouse to one of the greatest rock n’ roll bands of all time. Others have been touched profoundly by hearing a more mature voice sing about love, hope and beauty with the naked vulnerability of an acoustic guitar.
I am just starting to feel comfortable listening to his music again now that he is no longer with us. Throughout this period, I avoided the music because I did not want to fall in the trap of naively searching for meaning in his body of work. Far too many people oversimplify things and want to immediately draw a line from songs like “Like Suicide”, “Fell on Black Days’, “Cleaning My Gun”, etc… to the unfortunate events that led to Chris being gone far too soon. While I would never presume to know what thoughts traverse another man’s mind, I do know that at the end of day, your art (as pure and personal as it might be) does not define who you are as a person.
Yes, Chris was a gifted musician and lyricist with an uncanny ability to feel and describe the world in ways we could never conjure ourselves. But there are many years in a life; many hours in a day. Most of those would have been spent dealing with the task of being a husband, a father, a provider, a brother, a friend, a businessman and all those things that we never picture our idols engaging in.
To think that we can sum up a man’s life from a lyric that he wrote 20 years prior in a completely different set of circumstances is not only ridiculous but irresponsible. I’ve written things and have played my guitar with feelings that were never meant to be acted upon in my personal life. It is the very definition of art to provide a conduit for that which fails to find a natural place in our everyday lives.
In the midst of the grief we all feel, I find solace in enjoying the path and journey that Chris’ music took in the latter part of his career. Although heavy riffs and distortion will always remain my preferred canvas for Chris to draw on top of, it is comforting to see that a record like ‘Higher Truth’ showcased a man inspired by love and family, instead of angst and despair. As far as swan songs are concerned, it is fitting to bookend an artist’s career with a message and a promise of love for all that we share this moment in time & space with.
Finally, a message to those who knew Chris best and who supported him throughout an extraordinary life:
To his fellow bandmates: Soundgarden / Audioslave / Temple of the Dog. Thank you for providing the setting in which he felt inspired and empowered to create, collaborate and perform some of the hardest, profoundly touching and exhilirating rock n’ roll the world has ever known. You will forever be an integral part of the legacy that made Chris Cornell one of the greatest artists of all time.
To his family: No words will ever exist to replace the loss you must face and endure. Please know that us fans, are eternally grateful to you (his wife and children) for having allowed Chris the time to share his gift with us. Your selfless generosity has profoundly touched our lives in some of the most meaningful ways imaginable. Lives have been saved by his words, families have been forged through his bond, and millions of us have marked the best moments of our lives with his art. The impact you’ve had on our lives is immeasurable.
To Chris Cornell: Thank you from the pit of my soul for having had the courage, the will, the perseverance and the relentless conviction to lead a life where you created and shared your experience of this world through the beauty of your music. Your voice, your words, your guitar and your presence will remain long after the memory of us has faded.
With the utmost respect & gratitude,
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