Friday, May 19, 2017

Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell, Soundgarden, Apocalypse Club, Toronto, Nov. 1989

CHRIS CORNELL HAS DIED, AN APPARENT SUICIDE. I can only imagine the pain this has left his family and friends to suffer.

I was a big fan of Cornell, and especially his first band, Soundgarden, who I saw several times on either side of the turn of the '90s. He was a spectacular front man with a phenomenal voice that was clearly some sort of gift, which is just one reason why his death seems - at least from this fan's perspective - a terrible waste.

Chris Cornell, Soundgarden, Apocalypse Club, Toronto, Nov. 1989

My earliest memory of the band is their first Sub Pop album. My editor at Guitar World magazine in New York, Jesse Marinoff Reyes, once sang "Beyond the Wheel" over a dinner of fried alligator to Chris Buck and I, trying to sell us on what he felt was the obvious genius of one of his favorite hometown bands.

I saw them not long after in a dingy basement club in Toronto, packed in the front row where I was basically shooting right through Cornell's hair, just a few feet away from where Derek von Essen stood with his camera. I'm not sure if we were using the "grunge" word yet; there were a lot of great, loud, hairy bands playing clubs like the Apocalypse at the time, but I remember thinking Soundgarden might have stood a chance of making it big, thanks mostly to Cornell's incredible voice.

Chris Cornell, Soundgarden, Lollapalooza, Molson Park, Barrie, Aug. 1992

It would be almost three years until I saw them next, but I have no problem remembering it since it was the week of the Rodney King riots, and we left the Concert Hall after the show to find Yonge Street blocked off by the police after copycat riots broke out way up here in Toronto, far from Los Angeles. The next time I saw the band with a camera in my hand was at Lollapalooza, and the rise above dingy basement clubs was obviously well underway.

Having photographed the band from mere inches away, I wasn't particularly into shooting Cornell over the lip of the stage and past the stage monitors. I got maybe two or three half decent frames before I started turning around to shoot the vast mosh pit behind me, which was where I thought the real action was that hot August afternoon.

Chris Cornell, Soundgarden, Exhibition Stadium, Toronto, Aug. 1993

Cornell had cut his hair by the time I saw them next, on a bill with Blues Traveler and Pearl Jam supporting Neil Young with Booker T's MGs at Exhibition Stadium, on assignment for SPIN magazine. I've written before about how little I enjoyed that particular assignment. The band were just a few months away from releasing Superunknown and the single "Spoonman." I slipped away from the band around that time, partly losing interest in their musical direction, partly feeling that I was getting a bit old for the rock thing.

Cornell's voice never seemed to fail him, and over a decade later he recorded the first Bond movie theme I've liked since "Live and Let Die." I remember thinking at the time that it shouldn't have been at all surprising that he turned out to be the Tom Jones of my generation.

After witnessing the tragic ends of Cornell, Scott Weiland and Kurt Cobain, just to name a few, it would seem that the rock stars of my generation are a troubled bunch. I wish I could explain this with something better than a half-hearted guess or an overused generalization, but I can't. Weiland and Cobain's deaths weren't, either in retrospect or at the time, terribly surprising, but Cornell's came as a shock. I don't really have much to offer except a prayer for his family.

Chris Cornell died in Detroit on May 17, 2017.

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