Truth be told I haven’t followed Chris Cornell’s music career since that first Audioslave album. Call it moving forward with ones life or just not really being into what he’d been doing since “Show Me How To Live” burned into my brain. But that’s not to say he didn’t make a HUGE impression on the younger J Hub back in high school and my early 20s. The fact that he’s suddenly gone and never going to tear the roof off a theater or stadium with that massive, “Thunder-0f-the-Gods” vocal weapon of his really is quite depressing.
I bought Louder Than Love in December of 1990, on my 16th birthday, and I never looked back. That album was unlike anything I’d ever heard. It was heavy, dirty, dark, and hissy in a way that you’d a thought this cassette came out from under the front seat of some dude’s ’78 Olds Cutlass covered in dirt, dust, and THC resin. It stood in stark contrast to the Rush and various LA hair band albums I’d been slurping up heartily to that point. That album led me to Screaming Trees’ Uncle Anesthesia which led me to Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff which led me to Nirvana’s Bleach which led me to everything else. And as much as I dug Kim Thayil’s howling abuse of his Guild, it was Chris Cornell’s voice that kept me entranced and enthrallled.
Though the guy bemoaned the Robert Plant comparisons, you couldn’t help but go there. He was my generation’s Plant(no offense to the very much alive and well Robert Plant), except better in that he was an incredible songwriter and musician. He wrote complex songs with unique chord structures and lyrics that ranged from poetic to cryptic. Badmotorfinger contained some of my favorite Soundgarden tracks. “Searching With My Good Eye Closed”, “Holy Water”, “Mind Riot”, and “Rusty Cage” were some of the best songs to come out of the 90s for me. Every Soundgarden album, though maybe not all classics, had at least three or four shining moments easily. And when he stepped out on his own with Euphoria Morning it was apparent he was the main music muscle in Soundgarden. Not taking anything away from Matt Cameron, Ben Shepherd, or Kim Thayil, but the feel and off-kilter melodies were all Cornell. With the help of Eleven’s Alain Johannes and Natasha Shneider, Euphoria Morning turned out to be a rather unique and quite beautiful record even without much in the way of great reviews.
Audioslave was one of those projects that seemed like the greatest idea in the world and the worst idea in the world at the same time. Fortunately the good ideas outweighed the bad, at least on that first record. The grooves of RATM with the soulful, powerful belting of Cornell proved to be a lightning in the bottle moment. When they hit they hit strong, but the power quickly fizzled for me. “Show Me How To Live” was that band’s shining moment. Pure power and hooks. It was the best thing Cornell had done in years.
I was lucky enough to see Chris Cornell live twice. The first time was August of 1993 at the World Music Theater in Chicago. Soundgarden and Blind Melon opened for Neil Young who was doing both acoustic and electric sets. Seeing Soundgarden live was unreal. They were so powerful on the stage. Cornell hit every note while also expertly playing rhythm guitar. Neil Young was amazing, but Soundgarden were breathtaking, even in a mere 40 minute set. The next time I saw Cornell was in October of 1995 in Indianapolis with Audioslave. Again, amazing show. His voice started out a little rough, but by the time they closed the night out with Rage’s “Killing In The Name Of” he sounded absolutely incredible. One of the best concerts I’d ever seen.
Chris Cornell as a guy seemed like he was pretty down to earth. He had struggles with drugs and alcohol and made it through the other side. He was interviewed by Marc Maron a few years ago on Maron’s podcast and it was an enlightening conversation. He seemed very humble about the mark he’d made on the world, almost uncomfortable about it. In that respect he seemed very punk rock. He liked his privacy and he’d follow the musical muse wherever she led, whether fans dug it or not. He was a pretty funny guy, too. Soundgarden covered Cheech and Chong and Spinal Tap in the past. They also covered plenty of their influences over the years; from Devo to Black Sabbath to the Beatles to Sly and the Family Stone to the Doors. He was as much a fan as he was a music titan.
Don’t know the circumstances behind Chris Cornell’s passing, and frankly it doesn’t matter. We’ve lost one of the best rock and roll voices to emerge in the last 30 years. No one belts it like Chris Cornell. Nobody.
Go spin Badmotorfinger a few times today in honor of the man. I’m looking Indiana, and feeling kinda bummed.