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Fell On a Black Day: Grunge Rocker, Chris Cornell, Dead at 52

May 19, 2017

Most students at LOLHS have most likely never heard of rock legend Chris Cornell. The news of his sudden and unexpected death has little to no impact on most students, but many don’t realize that Cornell’s death is a major current event for rock music fans. For those who don’t know, Chris Cornell was one of the most important musicians of the 1990’s, leading the grunge music scene among visionaries such as Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Layne Staley (Alice in Chains), and Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone). On May 17th 2017, Cornell was pronounced dead at the age of 52 after performing with his group, Soundgarden, in Detroit. The singer’s sudden and unexpected death shocked many fans, especially after finding out that his death was most likely a suicide. To understand the magnitude of the loss of Cornell, it is important to first understand his vital role in rock music.

In October 1991, Chris Cornell was about to enter the history books of hard rock music as a legend. Released just months after Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten, Cornell and his grunge band, Soundgarden, would release their breakout album Badmotorfinger. Hits included “Rusty Cage,” “Outshined,” and “Slaves & Bulldozers.” Cornell had formed his grunge band, Soundgarden, several years earlier in Seattle. When grunge music exploded to the mainstream in 1990, the band was at the forefront with Cornell leading the way.  In 1990, Cornell lost one of his best friends (and his roommate), Andrew Wood, to a severe heroin overdose. Wood, the lead singer of grunge group Mother Love Bone, would leave behind a massive legacy and have a major influence on Pearl Jam. While the existing members of Mother Love Bone (Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, and Jeff Ament) formed Pearl Jam, Cornell had a vision for a band composed of those closest to Wood. The product was Temple of the Dog. In 1991, Cornell along with Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron teamed up with Gossard, McCready, Ament, and Eddie Vedder to release self-titled, Temple of the Dog. The album was a revolutionary tribute to Andrew Wood, and highlighted the skills of what would become Pearl Jam, and what already was Soundgarden. Highlights from the album include “Hunger Strike” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven.” Following the success of Temple of the Dog and Badmotorfinger, Soundgarden would follow up with the critically acclaimed Superunknown. The album featured Cornell and bandmates at the height of the band’s success and the grunge movement. Major hits from the album were “Fell on Black Days,” “Black Hole Sun,” and “4th of July” showed Cornell’s incredible songwriting, singing, and guitar playing. The album was released in 1994, which was a substantial year in grunge music as it was the year Kurt Cobain committed suicide.

Following grunge music’s demise, Cornell went solo until he collaborated with ex-members of Rage Against the Machine (Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk) to create his new project, Audioslave. The band centered on hard rock music for the early to mid-2000s. The band’s sound was interestingly unique and didn’t sound too much like Rage or Soundgarden but instead stood as its own distinct project. The band’s first two albums, Audioslave and Out of Exile were massive critical successes and housed hits such as “Like a Stone,” “Be Yourself,” and “Cochise.” During his time with Audioslave, Cornell finally faced his demons with alcohol and pills. Cornell had abstained from the typical heroin addiction pattern of grunge rockers, after seeing his friend Andrew Wood die from the drug. However, throughout his involvement in Soundgarden he had been a heavy drinker and prescription drug abuser. Cleaning up his act, he continued to focus on Audioslave until the band broke up in 2006. He continued his solo career, and in 2006 was acclaimed for his song “You Know My Name.” The song would go on to be featured in the 21st James Bond film, Casino Royale. The song, featured during the opening credits was explosive and rightfully captured the feel of a James Bond theme with rock influence.

In 2010, Soungarden would reunite and release one last album, King Animal. The band would continue to regularly tour, while Cornell continued solo work and numerous projects and events. Cornell was happily married and had several children and continued his work as a prominent music figure. While touring with Soundgarden in Detroit, Chris Cornell decided to take his own life. The event is shocking, and the evidence of his last evening proves to be dramatic and troubling. During his onstage performance in Detroit, Cornell appeared tired and at times uninterested. For Soundgarden’s final song, the band performed a 13-minute version of “Slaves & Bulldozers,” which Cornell intertwined with sections from Led Zeppelin’s famous song “In My Time of Dying” from their album Physical Graffiti. Cornell’s choice to cover this song as the night’s final performance is quite chilling. Following the concert, Cornell returned to his hotel room, where it is that he apparently hung himself. Cornell was found unresponsive, and was pronounced dead on the scene. The news of Cornell’s suicide is saddening, and far too similar to the same news which was delivered in 1994 about Kurt Cobain’s death. Grunge music has few surviving innovators from the movement. Andrew Wood, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, and Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots) compose a list of members of the movement who died from issues with drugs, depression, and suicide. After Cornell’s death, the surviving members of the movement are Dave Grohl (Nirvana and Foo Fighters) and Pearl Jam. Cornell’s death marks another great loss in the hard rock genre which defined the 1990’s sound. Many friends and family have already disclosed their love and admiration of the late singer, who will surely be missed. While Chris Cornell’s influence on music may have been less prominent in years past, he still stands as one of the greatest and most influential hard rock artists of all time. His expansive songwriting, cutting edge guitar skills, and distinct, defining vocal capabilities will be remembered as some of the best developments in modern music. A legend of rock has been lost, but his memory will live on, making this the best time to turn up the volume and allow his memory to live on in hits such as “Fell on Black Days” and “Black Hole Sun.”

 

Chris Cornell

1964 – 2017

Cornell (center) with Soundgarden, 1990s

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2 Comments

2 Responses to “Fell On a Black Day: Grunge Rocker, Chris Cornell, Dead at 52”

  1. Guy Genest on May 20th, 2017 11:01 am

    Well written WildMan! Keep up the good work! NYU School of Journalism in 2018? Regards Pal

    [Reply]

  2. Ms. Carbone on May 24th, 2017 2:44 pm

    A very well written tribute to one of rock’s great talents. Thanks, Alec, for sharing Cornell’s influence with the LOLHS community.

    [Reply]

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