Chris Cornell Remembered

I was shocked and devastated when I received a news alert from a friend late last night informing me Soundgarden singer/guitarist Chris Cornell had passed away a few hours after performing a show at a Detroit theater.  It was even more shocking and devastating to find out today that the coroner concluded Cornell had committed suicide.  His passing marks the loss of another iconic figure from Seattle’s grunge scene which upended and dominated popular music in the early 1990s. It also means that three of the iconic voices of Seattle’s “Big Four” are gone: only Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder remains.

Cornell was a supporting character in my Alice in Chains biography, for his role as AIC manager Susan Silver’s boyfriend and husband over the years.  Most of what I wrote about him or Soundgarden in the book is (usually) seen through the prism/perspective of Susan or Alice in Chains.  I never got the opportunity to meet or interview him, but through my research over the course of several years, I felt as if I did know him, to a point.

I was fortunate to be able to see him perform live four times over the years. The first was in Virginia when Audioslave co-headlined the Lollapalooza tour in 2003.  The second was also in Virginia when Soundgarden did their first headlining tour in 2011 after reuniting the previous year.  The third was in London in 2014, when Soundgarden were on the British Summer Time bill in Hyde Park along with Black Sabbath, Faith No More, Motorhead and Soulfly.  Not only was it a killer bill, but they performed Superunknown live in its entirety.

The last time I saw Cornell was at the Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles on January 20, 2017. Prophets of Rage had booked the venue for an “Anti-Inaugural Ball” benefit show that coincided with Donald Trump’s swearing in as President of the United States earlier in the day.  The bill for that show teased an Audioslave reunion, what would be the band’s first live performance in almost 12 years.

In the middle of the set, B-Real and Chuck D left the stage and stood off to the side as everyone knew what was coming next. Tom Morello started playing that choppy helicopter introduction for “Cochise” and when the main riff kicked in, Cornell ran onstage and took his place behind the microphone.  The crowd went nuts.  They performed three songs, all from Audioslave’s debut album: “Cochise,” “Like a Stone,” and “Show Me How to Live.” Cornell looked and sounded great, and he appeared to be in a good mood.  He even crowdsurfed, as if he were a young man again.  He hugged every one of his Audioslave bandmates, and they all seemed genuinely happy to be performing together again.

There wasn’t much talk with the audience, nor did any of them say anything about the possibility of a reunion for a new album or a full-blown tour.   Cornell left after the set, but came back at the end of the night with all the other performers of the evening to do an ensemble version of “Killing in the Name,” with what seemed like 20 people onstage. Cornell was given one of the several microphones that were circulating onstage, and he sang one of the verses himself.   He sounded fantastic and seemed to be in good spirits.  That is how I will always remember him.

There was a general sense at the time that we had seen something special in that all-too brief reunion. None of us knew at the time that we had just witnessed something historic: Audioslave’s final performance.

My condolences to his friends and family in Seattle; his bandmates Matt, Kim, Ben, Tom, Tim, Brad, Mike, Stone, and Jeff; as well as his wife Vicky, his ex-wife Susan, and most of all to his children: Lily, Toni and Chris.

Godspeed, Chris.  Thanks for the music and the memories.

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