Chris Cornell - The Voice of a Thousand Gods

By: Slim Jim Keller

 

It’s been two months since the passing of Chris Cornell. It has taken me this long, 60+ days, to be able to even attempt to sit down and write about his suicide.


I don’t have any special Chris Cornell stories, I never met the man, we never partied back stage, and I never did any shows with him or his bands. But I did have that voice. One of the best voices in music ever, hands down. Amazingly strong, timid, demanding, beastly, nail dragging, beautiful, mournful, soulful, so full of joy and pain all at once. And that scream? C’mon man, forget about it… soul ripping and gut punching don’t begin to describe that scream.

I had the privilege of seeing Chris Cornell and Soundgarden perform twice. Once in 1991 for a Day on the Green in Oakland with Metallica, Queensrÿche and Faith No More and again in 2014 with Nine Inch Nails in New Jersey. The first show was magical, Soundgarden was still on the rise, Badmotorfinger had come out a month prior and Jesus Christ Pose was my new favorite song. While they only had like a 45 minute set, they laid waste to the Oakland Coliseum and the 30,000 or so people in attendance.

I can remember spending that summer in the Navy, our ship in dry dock in a San Francisco port, working on the kitchen barge. I would get up at 4am and stumble down into the storage compartment at the bottom of the barge and throw on Metallica’s Black Album or Guns N’ RosesUse Your Illusion I & II while counting supplies and setting up food orders for the day. One day a shipmate came in with this CD called Louder Than Love by some band I’d never heard of called Soundgarden. It was one of those moments…. You might have a few in your life, when you are attached to music, that will stop you in your tracks, and something in your brain shifts and never re-corrects itself (or UN-corrects itself). This was one of those times. The first few songs were sonically full and lush with a noisy grindy (grungy) lumbering tone to it. It wasn’t until Loud Love came on, and it hit me… That voice. That transcendent voice. That demonically angelic voice. There was no one out there that could compare let alone hold a candle to that voice. And then Big Dumb Sex came on and it was all over for me. Soundgarden was the new ‘it’ for me. Sure Alice In ChainsFacelift had come out a year prior, and Nirvana had just dropped Nevermind… the album that would kill hair metal, but none of that mattered as much as Soundgarden because they didn’t have Chris Cornell’s voice.

And shortly after hearing Louder Than Love for the first time, Badmotorfinger came out and my axis tilted ever so slightly again. Rusty Cage, Outshined, Slaves and Bulldozers, Searching with My Good Eye Closed and of course the aforementioned Jesus Christ Pose… I mean, come on. Nevermind never stood a chance against that album. How and why it outsold Badmotorfinger and how and why the mumble-mouthed Cobain ever became more popular than the voice of a thousand gods himself is beyond me.

With each successive release after Louder Than Love, Soundgarden seemed to purposefully distance themselves from the grunge sound. The droning, naval gazing, mommy hates me and daddy touched me in the no-no place music that defined Seattle’s ‘sound’ and put a bullet in the head of the feel good/party music of the 80s. Everything became as depressing as Seattle’s weather. But there was one beacon that shown through it all. Chris Cornell’s voice radiated like a light house cutting through the fog and din of the slit your wrist – depression as a means of escape – heroin is our savior – nothing can kill this numbness droning and incessant melancholy music pouring out of everyone’s speakers at the time. Granted it was never the feel good – party music of the 80s, but it wasn’t grunge either. It was…. Something else. Something that stirred and moved you, something you felt, more than a razorblade against the skin while sitting in a warm bath, or the barrel of a shotgun in your mouth, it was hope maybe. Hope that this world wasn’t as dark and bleak and morose as everything coming out of Seattle said it was.

Temple of the Dog, the Pearl Jam/Soundgarden tribute to Andrew Wood just celebrated it’s 25th Anniversary, and there may not be a more perfect album to ever come out of the ‘Seattle Sound’. Reach Down, Wooden Jesus, Say Hello 2 Heaven, Pushin Forward Back, Times of Trouble, and more… just amazing music and again, the angelic rage fueled voice of Chris Cornell, rock god, crooner, soul provider/soul shaker, your prison, your pain, and your salvation all rolled into one. Forget the hit Hunger Strike, sit down and give the album a proper listen again. If you can push past the pain and loss right now. Allow the magic that is Reach Down or Four Walled World, or All Night Thing to wash over you, to captivate you all over again, to transport you to a better time, a time where we still had ‘The Voice’ with us.

And then Soundgarden was no more. There were solo albums as varied, if not more so, than the Soundgarden sound we had known and loved so much. There was the Audioslave moment that should have been so much more than it was, yet somehow gave us even more chances for the voice to soar. And again, that scream in Cochise? C’mon man…. Don’t be ridiculous. This wasn’t the scream of some 18 year old just starting out, this was a man in his 30s, with thousands of miles and thousands of shows under his belt, no one his age should be able to sustain a scream like that and not blow out a vocal cord or ten. Yet Chris Cornell did just that. The man never held back, never kept anything in reserve, never kept anything for himself.

And sadly, as we have seen today with the suicide of Chester Bennington, may have been his downfall. When you wade through the darkness as long and as far as he apparently did, and offer up everything to your art, eventually you find yourself at the end of the journey unexpectedly and you simply can’t put another step forward.

And for that, we are a much poorer world for it. There will never be another Chris Cornell, there will never be another voice of a thousand gods. Hopefully the man has finally found the peace he so desperately needed. And hopefully his music, his words, and most certainly his voice will continue to help others find their own personal peace.

Thank you, Chris, your magic, your words, and your voice will never be forgotten.

 

chris cornell