On May 18th of 2017 singer and songwriter Chris Cornell took his own life. Cornell was the lead singer of Soundgarden, and one of the most influential musicians on modern rock history. Along with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains, Soundgarden led the wave of the 1990s grunge music scene. Without Cornell’s writing and voice, hundreds of bands and thousands of popular songs would not exist.
The first time I remember hearing Cornell was from the Black Hole Sun music video. I had never heard anything like it before, and I was fascinated his voice. Cornell’s vocal abilities are impressive. He was one of few people who can scream sing and still be intelligible. You can feel the power of his voice even with the volume turned down.
Rather than comment on his suicide, I would like to focus on his music. There are so many good songs and albums to pick from. He fronted Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog, and released five solo albums. I think, however, I will go with my favorite, Temple of the Dog by Temple of the Dog.
It is rare to find an album where every song is good. This is one of those albums, and why would it not be? It is Chris Cornell singing with Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, Jeff Ament, and Matt Cameron, i.e. the group that would become Pearl Jam.
The album resulted from Cornell writing two songs in tribute to his roommate Andrew Wood, lead singer of Mother Love Bone. Wood overdosed on heroin. Cornell had no one to talk to following Wood’s death, and wrote the songs Reach Down and Say Hello 2 Heaven to cope with his feelings. He later presented them to Ament and Gossard, who were members of Mother Love Bone. The rest of the album came together after that.
Because there is not a bad song on the album, it makes it difficult to choose what to highlight. However, I think I will go for the songs I like to listen to the most.
Say Hello 2 Heaven – This is one of the songs Cornell wrote about Wood. The lyrics are impeccable. The music is insanely good. The guitar solo is full of emotion. Yet none of it compares to Cornell sings at the end of the song. The last minute of the song is a man bearing his heart. It is an incredible piece of music.
Reach Down – This song features an awesome, 5 and a half-minute long guitar solo. McCready cuts loose on this song, which was the second one written in tribute to Wood. To quote Cornell, “You almost kind of had to yell at [McCready] to get him to realize that in the five-and-a-half minute solo of ‘Reach Down’, that was his time and that he wasn’t going to be stepping on anybody else.” He did not step on anyone, but he certainly, as Tenacious D might say, came in their ear pussies.
Hunger Strike – This is a bit of a double dip as both Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder sing on this song. This is Vedder’s first featured vocals on a record. The duet works well as Vedder sings the low parts and Cornell sings the higher parts. It gives it a different sound while still keeping the same feel and emotion. This song shows why Vedder and Cornell became as popular and successful as they did.
Call Me a Dog – I love this song mostly because of a memory of my late uncle. He really liked this song, and would sing it sometimes when taking a shower. However, he could not sing very well, yet insisted on belting it out as loud as he could. What I most enjoyed was him singing the guitar solo loudly and off key. Yet on its own, this is a fantastic song, and one of my favorites.
Times of Trouble – This is my favorite Temple of the Dog song, and one of my all-time favorite Chris Cornell songs. I love the haunting guitar riff on this song. What draws me to it is how Cornell builds up to the chorus and then drops back as he finishes. It makes the song almost an anthem without being pretentious. An added bonus is that this the same music used for Pearl Jam’s Footsteps, which is the third part to the Mamasan trilogy (it starts with Alive, then Once, then Footsteps). You could almost play the two songs against each other or as if they were two sides of the same person from the trilogy, as Cornell’s song is more uplifting while Vedder’s song is the opposite. Personally I prefer Footsteps (I may write about why later on) over Times of Trouble, however, they are both excellent songs.
Temple of the Dog is definitely worth a buy. If you can get the remastered version, I would go with that one as some of the early 1990s recordings are a little low in volume.
As for Chris Cornell, I will say about his suicide that we can never assume to know what causes people to take their own lives. Cornell dealt with depression and drug addiction in the past, yet wife thinks that the medication he took shortly before his death played a role in his actions. We do not know what may have caused him to do this.
However, we try to prevent this from happening by understanding that many times when men and boys suffer they tell us less direct ways. We have to pay attention to these subtle changes in behavior. We have to learn to stop playing with men’s feelings, telling them to share and then attacking them for doing so. We have to stop throwing drugs at every issues, which is not to say that sometimes medication is not needed. We simply must understand that a pill is not always the answer.
I do want to add one more thing that bothered me. I knew it would happen, yet it angered me nonetheless. This happened last year when David Bowie and Prince died. It happens when other famous musicians pass. These people have provided us with their music for decades. We all know who they are, yet for some reason the sales for their music are not that high. Yet when they die, suddenly everyone is a fan. As noted on Wikipedia:
Following his death, the sales and streams of Cornell’s discography grew by over 550% from the week prior to his death. On platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora, his songs were streamed 32.5 million times during the week in which he passed away. The charting week prior to that, his tracks were played five million times. That same week, 38,000 copies of Cornell albums were sold, which represented a 1,700% gain in purchases. The week before his death, only 2,000 units were sold.
I am not saying that no one should buy Cornell’s music. By all means, buy it. You will enjoy it. I just think that it is sad that it took Cornell, Prince, and Bowie dying for people to appreciate the music they gave us. It is great that so many people discovered his music, but I think it is better to do this when they are still with us so that they can see how much their voice matters.