Sunspots Have Faded: RIP Chris Cornell

imagesAt a time when the flannel-draped paragons of the emerging new rock scene were noisily shunning the Epicurean excesses of the 70s, Soundgarden only doubled down. While Pearl Jam’s music dovetailed seamlessly into the arena-sized ambitions of bands like Bad Company and the Who, they eschewed the clichéd, Rolling Stone-friendly tropes like posing with groupies or driving limos into swimming pools. Their crosstown buddies Nirvana openly mocked classic bands like Skynyrd, proudly aligning themselves with cultish garage acts like the Melvins and the Vaselines. But Soundgarden played the music that fueled their souls and they didn’t give a shit about being associated with classic rock. That’s why they’d sell millions of records in the 90s, even as their grungey colleagues retreated from such connections and metal grew more extreme. Soundgarden were both familiar and exhilaratingly fresh, channeling the chest-swelling bombast of Zeppelin and Sabbath into swirling, proggy tempos with vivid lyrics that were simultaneously inscrutable and instantly memorable.

On May 2, 1992, Soundgarden opened for Skid Row at the Vic Theater in Chicago. Nirvana had dropped Nevermind in September of 1991 so by then, the whole “grunge” thing was in full swing. Rather unfairly, Soundgarden had been lumped in with that movement (like Alice in Chains, they never belonged in the grunge category anyway), so their pairing with Skid Row — surely agreed-upon months before the seismic cultural shift — felt a bit weird. And yet to this date, I rate it as one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. In fact, for years it was my unqualified number one. Sometimes you’re watching an opening band, knowing that it won’t be long before they eclipse the headliner and such was the case with Soundgarden. Waves of oceanic riffs, thundering tempos and Cornell’s ungodly roar left us hoarse, sweaty and rabid for more.


I learned of Chris Cornell’s passing at 6:30 this morning. Devastated doesn’t begin to approach the gut-twisting sadness that enveloped me. He was only a few years older than I – one of those artists with whom I grew up and a band I reverentially followed since their debut, never tiring of the old stuff while eagerly lapping up the new material. The online tributes are already pouring in and my email is blowing up with notes from friends equally bereft by the news. They’re investigating it as a suicide. Carl Jung said that being lonely doesn’t mean you’re not around people, but feeling like you’re unable to share what’s important to you. If it turns out to be suicide, it will be all the more tragic that somebody so beloved by so many could leave this world feeling lost and alone.

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