FreakSugar contributor Andrew Keith gave his thoughts about the passing of musician Chris Cornell on the morning his death was announced.
I stumbled out of bed like I usually do, making my way to the coffee pot to turn it on and opening the side door to let my Rottweiler out for her morning constitutional. After the coffee had finished brewing, I poured a cup, carried it to the living room, and opened my laptop. We all have our morning rituals. I usually check my email, both private and school and afterward, I’ll pull up Facebook to see what important information I missed while asleep. This morning, however, turned out a little differently. As I was scrolling through my news feed, I saw a post stating Chris Cornell, sometime solo artist and front-man of the band, Soundgarden, had passed away at the age of 52. I did a double-take and then a triple-take, then looked up news sources online to confirm. It appeared to be true. One of rock-n-roll’s all-time greatest vocalists had died.
Like most people, I usually see those who have earned a certain celebrity status and their passing as something that is unfortunate, but something that doesn’t hit me too hard in the “feelies.” I enjoy actors, authors, musicians, and the like, and I mourn their passing, but I don’t think too much about it. Chris Cornell’s passing, however, made me think pretty hard about this mortal coil and what has happened to the excitement and panache of the music industry over the last two or three decades – namely, how I viewed music, how I listened to music, and what music really meant to me from an early age to today.
I started really listening to music with stark appreciation around the age of eleven. With Van Halen’s 1984, one of the best rock-n-roll albums of all time, I listened to Eddie Van Halen make a symphony out of a guitar, doing things with the strings in his hands that almost no one before him had ever done; I also listened to Alex Van Halen pound away at the drums, his gift of making syncopation still fit the song unparalleled. I would listen to David Lee Roth hit notes that I could only imagine castrated bulls made when being neutered – in a good way, of course. Combine this with Night Track videos on WTBS as well as MTV, and I was hooked.
I still remember how new album release dates would get me excited. I remember standing in line at the Sound Shop in Somerset, Kentucky, the night Motley Crue’s “Dr. Feelgood” was released at midnight, waiting for over an hour to shell out twelve bucks for a cassette tape I would listen to over and over and over again. I didn’t get a CD player until a little later, but at that time, cassette tapes were still a commodity and could keep personal trade a viable option. I remember opening these immediately upon purchase, being careful to cut away the terrible plastic sleeve that was put on them by the record store to prevent stealing. If you weren’t careful, you would crack the plastic case the cassette rested in – which really, wasn’t that big a deal; you could always trade this cracked plastic case out with a lesser band or with a blank cassette purchased from your local Wal-Mart. Opening these albums, cassettes, and CDs took on a special ritual – and not just for me, but for all my friends, both guys and gals alike. There was excitement at purchasing your favorite, listening to the good songs and bad songs alike, reading who was responsible for the lyrics, who was responsible for the music, and doubly-awesome if the lyrics were included with the purchase. We didn’t have the internet back then to confirm a misheard word or phrase; we would guess for weeks until we or one of our friends purchased the music from the band.
My taste changed a bit when I entered my junior and senior years. I would bet that’s the way it is for most lovers of music – you begin with what you first love, but you experiment as you go along. I remember my senior year, our drama teacher would let us watch television if we weren’t working on a play or in the middle of a lesson, which was quite often. The school had cable and our teacher didn’t discriminate on what we could watch. We would usually turn it over to MTV and listen to the latest videos, varying from the latest pop artists like Janet Jackson, Bel Biv Devoe, and the like, to the hair bands such as Poison, Warrant, Motley Crue, etc. One band that came on with a little known video would change my taste forever.
A melancholy sound with a dark video showing images of mother earth and the destruction being done to her, along with the hard, fast drumming of Matt Cameron, the long beard and high pitched guitar of Kim Thayil, and Chris Cornell belting out his banshee-eque wailing like a man on fire, singing “Hands All Over” from Soundgarden’s album “Louder Than Love”. I was hooked. More importantly, I was introduced to the first stirrings of what would be known as the “Grunge Scene,” most specifically linked to the Seattle area. The introduction and love of Soundgarden would spread my music tastes to Nirvana, Mudhoney, Candlebox, and more.
There was an excitement then that we don’t feel now, I’m afraid. We have an accessibility that can give us everything we want, from videos, to digital downloads, to all facts about a superstar that can sometimes, unfortunately, bring that star crashing to earth faster than Lucifer fell from heaven. We’ve lost something with our instant access. Not only do we not get excited over bands the way we used to, we don’t appreciate them, either. I’ve noticed more and more the acts who tour from city to city are bands who became popular in the 80s and 90s, bands that still lived for the thrill of performing for their fans. Those few kids who do get into music usually end up getting excited over going to a concert of one of these oldies – which is a good thing, but even so, not the same. Another great of rock-n-roll has perished, another memory gone. I mourn the loss of Chris Cornell because of his contribution to music, but also because of his contribution to the love of music as well. He’ll be missed.