It’s been a week since Chris Cornell’s death. I assumed that he committed suicide when I read one of the early reports and, sadly, my assumption was later confirmed. I always had the impression that Cornell faced mental-health issues, partly because of the themes in his music and partly because of the lives, and deaths, of other frontmen from the early-90s Seattle scene. I’m not a hardcore fan, but I’ve always respected Cornell.
His longevity and versatility stand out to me, even among Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, and Layne Staley. Dave Grohl has had a more successful and sustained career, but he wouldn’t be depicted on the Mount Rushmore of Grunge Rock if that ever becomes a thing; Cornell and Grohl are both drummers who’ve become guitarists and singer-songwriters, but Grohl hadn’t been a frontman during this era. I think that Cornell is the best singer of this era.
Ironically, I became a fan of grunge well after it heyday. I was too young to appreciate the likes of Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Alice in Chains when Seattle was the Mecca of “alternative” rock; I started listening to these bands around the time when former Mouseketeers ruled the airwaves. Cornell and the other members of Soundgarden re-united and toured a few years ago, but they didn’t play in arenas like they did 20 years earlier.
The only Cornell work that I own is A-Sides, a Soundgarden compilation, and I haven’t listened to it in years. I still like certain singles as well as singles from his other projects. I have emotional connections to these songs.
“Blow Up the Outside World” (1996)
This song is the the sixth track and third single from Down on the Upside. I was hooked when I first saw the video; the stock footage was pretty edgy at the time. I’ve since realized that the concept is inspired by A Clockwork Orange. I like the soft-loud structure as well as the bridge to the chorus.
“The Day I Tried to Live” (1994)
This song is the tenth track and second single from Superunknown. The opening riff is the perfect soundtrack for a movie or TV protagonist waking up from a nap in his car that’s stranded on a desert highway. I was personally encouraged when I read that Cornell had written the song about his self-diagnosed agoraphobia.
“Can’t Change Me” (1999)
This song is the first track and only single from Euphoria Morning, Cornell’s only solo album. The video is weird, but I like the lyrics and the melody of the verses. I remember working out to this song in my bedroom.
“It Doesn’t Remind Me” (2005)
This song is the fourth track and third single from Out of Exile, the second Audioslave album. The video is somewhat politically charged, given the climate at the time, but the concept and execution is tasteful. The song has a soft-loud structure like “Blow Up the Outside World,” though the soft part is really catchy and the loud part is relatively tame. The theme of the song lends itself to funny non sequitur while adding to the underlying sadness.
“Black Hole Sun” (1994)
This song is the seventh track and third single from Superunknown. “Black Hole Sun” is Cornell’s most famous work, as shown by the tributes that other famous musicians have done in the days following his death. It’s easy to sing along to this song and I’ll have buy it as DLC for Rocksmith 2014.
Whenever I hear the song or see the video, I always think about my seventh-grade music project. I choose to profile Green Day for my project, but my friend, who sat at the same cluster of desks, chose Soundgarden. I suggested that he could draw a bed of flowers with musical notes to represent a metaphorical garden of sound. Nowadays, I think of a couplet in the song: “Heaven send Hell away / No one sings like you anymore.”