On May 18, 2017, the world stopped turning for me. I will never forget opening my twitter app in the morning to see my timeline be flooded with “Rest in Peace, Chris Cornell”. I was in instant shock, I felt like the airflow to my lungs had literally been halted.
It couldn’t be true.
It was a surreal moment. It was only several hours before I fell asleep, I was looking at pictures from what was to be his last show in Detroit with Soundgarden. I was listening to Chris and thinking about him, thinking about how much I would love to see him live one day and maybe get the opportunity to thank him for all he has done for me.
Could it have been at the same exact moment he chose to take his own life? The thought alone leaves me with chills.
One of the greatest vocalists to ever exist was gone, is gone, just like that. A Father, a Brother, A Friend, A source of comfort to many — like me. It was and still is the most devastating things for me to comprehend. Since his death, I spent many weeks, months and now a year in disbelief, I don’t think I will ever accept the fact that he is gone forever.
Christopher John Boyle, publicly known as Chris Cornell, was born on July 20th, 1964 in Seattle, Washington. Chris, like the most of us rock music aficionados, would seek solace in a good record at times in trouble.
Chris was known to describe himself as loner throughout a majority of childhood, and would regularly state that with rock music he was able to deal with his anxiety around other people. During his teenage years, he spiraled into severe depression, dropped out of school, and almost never left the house. At the age of 12, he had access to alcohol, marijuana, acid, mushrooms and prescription drugs and used them daily by 13, stopped for a year, but relapsed at age 15 for another year until he turned to music.
Cornell once explained that his mother saved his life when she bought him a snare drum, the instrument he adopted in beginning his path to becoming a rock musician.
Chris spent the majority of his life fighting inner demons, like a majority of us (sadly). Despite the strong character of, Chris Cornell one of the best rock musicians to ever live, that was not only given to him but at times would also exude, Chris was like any other man out there, he had demons. Some, luckily, may not relate to what it’s like to be depressed let alone chronically depressed.
But, I do.
I understand the struggle of having good days, months, maybe even years and then one day the good feelings disappear, and you are once again this vapid walking corpse. Nothing feels right, you feel out of place, everything you once loved feels wrong and agitating. People, no matter how much you love them, become unrelatable, causing irritability. You just want to hole yourself off from the world, no one understands you, no one can help you.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the greatest, most-well-known rockstar in the world. All the plaques, nice cars, nice houses, traveling experiences, meeting people who love you, none of it can fill the void that depression creates. Despite the fact Chris Cornell had a successful career, loving family, loving friends; he had a severe illness.
I, too, have a severe illness.
2017 was the toughest year of my life. I did a lot of growing. I broke up with a toxic and abusive boyfriend, I lost a lot of friends, I lost a huge sense of myself, I felt separated from “normal” young adults. I worked a job I hated, I was in a school I hated, I felt like no one understood me, to make things worse I couldn’t even talk about my horrible break up. All I had was music.
I spent countless of hours blasting Temple of the Dog and Soundgarden while staring at my ceiling. As weird as it sounds, it sometimes felt like the music was talking to me, comforting me, reminding me that someone else feels lost, but together we can overcome it.
Throughout that time, what I consider to be the darkest time of my life, I rotated a lot of PNW Grunge as I call it, artists such as: Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Temple of the Dog, Mad Season, etc. A lot of the bands that you, or someone you know who’s a big fan of these bands, grew up on. Unlike a lot of you though, I didn’t grow up listening to Soundgarden or Pearl Jam, I discovered them in the time of need
A lot of people who are fans of Chris are either children of people who grew up listening to the grunge genre in the 90s or have parents that still listen to Soundgarden to reminisce about their youth. I grew up in a Middle Eastern home, my parents immigrated to Canada in the early 80s and were a busy full-time-working-family with two children by 1995, so a lot of their memories of going out and enjoying music is either Persian artists or artists such as George Michael (RIP), and Michael Jackson (Also, RIP).
I didn’t stumble upon Soundgarden and Pearl Jam until High School, around 2011/2012, and didn’t become obsessed until 2016. The first time I heard Soundgarden, was in Seattle believe it or not. I remember the moment clear as day, I was sat in a coffee shop just outside Pike Market, near the original Starbucks. After a full day of snapping pictures around the city, visiting Photography galleries with my Photography class my friend and I stopped to get a sandwich and coffee at a local coffee shop.
Through all the chatter happening in the background, I remember clearly when I all of a sudden heard “In my eyes, indisposed, In disguises no one knoooowws…” and I remember just going “whoa, this sounds good???”. I shazam’d it on my iPhone and continued my field trip. It was when I got home that evening, I torrented the song “Black Hole Sun” and the entirety of “Superunknown” (torrenting was the norm back then!), changing my life for the better.
So lets fastforwad to the toughest years of my life 2016 & 2017. Now, I’ve been severely depressed since I was 11 or 12, but 2016 & 2017 consisted of my first real heartbreaks, romantic and platonic ones. As well as the stress of University, the stress of being so sad all the time, as well as not fitting in with my peers. Like, Chris during his adolescence, I felt alone.
My indie-rock music wasn’t cutting it anymore. The scene itself was forcing me to be someone I am not and never was. I re-stumbled upon Soundgarden, this time it was Badmotorfinger. My soul never felt so connected with a voice. It was life-changing.
Chris’ voice and lyrics were raw, unfiltered, you felt the pain, but instead of his pain becoming your pain… It was more of my pain became his pain, and I was no longer alone. One of the songs that reminded me of the sheer brilliance Chris was the song Mind Riot. To me, that beauty of the song is that it’s not blatantly describing the burden of being depressed, sure it’s in the title, but metaphorically it pulls the barring truth of how lonely you feel when being severely depressed.
“I’ve been caught in a mind riot
I’m tied within
I’m luck’s last match struck
In the pouring down wind”
(Mind Riot, Soundgarden)
However, an album that I will always go back to, no matter how “overrated” people like to say it is, is Superunknown. Not a single bad song on there, not a single song that I can’t scream at the top of my lungs because I feel like every word was written for me. From My Wave, Fell on Black Days, Superunknown, Black Hole Sun, Mailman, etc. Top to Bottom, Start to End, that album is the heart and soul of a depressed person melted and pressed into a vinyl record. I remember spending a majority of my teenage years trying to explain how I feel and why I feel the way I do.
Every time I would open to someone and explain to them how depressed I am, they would say something like “you don’t always look depressed”, which ultimately led me to isolate myself more from people, no one would get it, but Chris did. Chris’ songs did.
Chris wasn’t just a musician, he was the voice of “you don’t have to explain yourself, I get it”. He did get it. He taught me that I didn’t need to explain myself to people. He taught me: express if you must but don’t break it down for them to easily comprehend, because the people who know what it’s like will understand and that’s all that matters. That’s literally how he made me feel.
It wasn’t just his Soundgarden records, it was also in the Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, his solo work. Whatever project he was working on, a majority of his songs were on the theme of a person with similar struggles could understand, and however relatable to me it was and I know to a majority of his fans. It created a bond like no other, Chris’ music also allowed us to create friendships within the community, I’ve met people who shared their stories about how much his music has helped them through death, heartbreak, job-loss, etc. Chris Cornell saved people with his music.
I guess he just couldn’t save himself, and that pains me to say.
Knowing that the man that was my rock, even for what some may consider such a short amount of time, is gone, forever has been an excruciating pain that I couldn’t even begin to explain. I’ve spent this past year tearing up over his death on a daily basis, and I’m not even saying that with a slight exaggeration for pity. Every day I wake with a void knowing, I could never thank him for the strength he gave me.
It sounds silly, I know. I’m just a little fan from the Pacific Northwest, a faceless entity in the collection of Chris Cornell fandom, but he meant and continues to mean a lot to me. Chris Cornell’s death reminded me how fucking bad of a monster depression is. It dawned on me, that the people who write about the scariest parts of life: pain, loss, isolation, etc are the same people who couldn’t save themselves: Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Scott Weiland, Andy Wood and now Chris Cornell.
All those talented individuals who have been a big part of my battles with substances, mental illnesses, etc, are the people who taught me that those so-called flaws aren’t things that define who I am as a person, they don’t define them and they don’t define us. We have so much more to offer this world. Chris and all his peers built something out of their demons, they gave us so much. They bared their souls to the world helping so many people at every corner of this planet!
It’s just now when I think of his death, I can’t help but feel like we let him down, we let all of them down.
Why couldn’t we help them? Why is that they let their demons win? What could have we as fans done to help Chris? I can’t even imagine how much his family thinks that. It just hurts, I genuinely felt like I lost a friend, a very close one. It still hurts. Here we are exactly one year later, and I still feel as shocked as I did when I first read the news in 2017.
It’s crazy to think the same people, the same man, who gave me the strength to fight for my life is now gone because he couldn’t keep fighting for his own. However, as much as I can’t wrap my head around why we couldn’t save him, I remember that some people are placed on this world to teach us how important it is to keep fighting. Chris may have chosen to end his fight, but it doesn’t mean our fight has to end, it just means we continue carrying the torch for him.
“One promise you made. One promise that always remains, no matter the price..Promise to survive, persevere and thrive; As we’ve always done..” (Promise – Chris Cornell)
No matter how much our heart hurts, we owe it to Chris’ legacy to keep the fight going, to keep the promise. I know I’m going to keep fighting for Chris, I’m going to work so hard to keep the promise. After all his music has done for me, I feel this is finally my chance to give something in return.
Chris’ last project was to provide a safe livelihood for refugees, especially refugee children. Chris was passionate about making the world a better place, whether it was helping people like me who suffer from depression or children in danger. Chris wanted to give back to as many as people as he could, maybe because he wanted no one to feel as isolated and trapped within their own mind like he did, or maybe it was simply out of the kindess of his own heart. I want Chris to be remembered for the beautiful soul he was.
Chris spent his life helping anyone and everyone he could, whether it be through his voice and advocating on things like substance abuse, and depression, through his foundations, or simply through the power of his craft of writing songs and singing like a songbird. We owe to him to do better, to fight harder, make the world better a place by helping anyone we can.
We miss you, Chris.
I think of you every day and I know so many other people do.
My thoughts are with your family today and I hope you’re finally at peace. Your fans, friends, and family will keep the promise.
Donate here to the Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation; the donations are currently being used to support the Chris Cornell Music Therapy Program at Childhaven in Seattle, WA.
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