This is a film/TV site, not a music site. So, the sudden passing of a rock star doesn’t really have any bearing on what I normally write about. But, damn, this one hurts.
Chris Cornell, the Temple of the Dog/Soundgarden/Audioslave lead singer and frequent solo artist, has died at the age of 52. The cause of death has yet to be determined, but it is known he died mere hours after performing a Soundgarden concert in Detroit. Soundgarden, those formidable grunge godfathers, had been on a summer tour in anticipation of a new album, a follow-up to their 2012 reunion record King Animal. Cornell’s “sudden and unexpected” death, as his representative put it, has obviously canceled all of that and left his wife, family and friends shocked.
As countless others on Twitter have quickly noted:
You can’t have Eddie. You hear me Lord! You can’t have him! At least not yet. The man was literally just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month. He can’t die now. He’s not Dewey Cox.
Back to Cornell. I can’t claim to be a huge Soundgarden or Audioslave fan. Nor can I claim to have followed Cornell’s solo career all that closely, although I still have a CD copy of his first solo album in a box somewhere. In fact, I can’t even recall the last time I listened to “Spoonman” or “Black Hole Sun” or “Like a Stone” or any other famous Cornell song.
But I was still a fan. Heck, I only first started becoming a fan in the late 90s when it wasn’t even all that cool to like grunge anymore. Everyone else was into Third Eye Blind while I was first discovering how much I actually liked all those grunge bands my older brothers had listened to. True story: I was listening to Soundgarden’s “The Day I Tried to Live” from Superunknown when I was caught trying to ditch school one day. My song choice was not meant to be ironic.
However, no band loomed larger over my youth or even into my college years than Pearl Jam (as I’ve written about before), and without Cornell they wouldn’t even exist:
Cornell’s the one who put Temple of the Dog together after his roommate and Mother Love Bone lead singer Andy Wood died of an overdose. It left him so down that he wrote several slower, more melodic songs in tribute to Wood, but knew they wouldn’t make sense as Soundgarden songs. So, he recruited Mother Love Bone’s guitarist (Stone Gossard) and bassist (Jeff Ament) to help him record the songs as part of a one-off tribute band called Temple of the Dog. They brought along a hair metal enthusiast lead guitarist (Mike McCready) they’d met at a party and shy surfer dude from San Diego (Vedder) they were auditioning to be the lead singer of their Mother Love Bone follow-up band; Cornell brought along his Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron. The 15 days they spent together produced the self-titled Temple of the Dog album and directly led to the formation of Pearl Jam.
And through the years Cornell always maintained his status as Pearl Jam’s cool, older brother, occasionally appearing at their concerts to sing “Hunger Strike” with Vedder. The love between him and the band was always unmistakable, and it is their immense loss which saddens me, not my own. People I adore and admire just lost a brother.
Every since I heard the news Temple of the Dog’s “Say Hello To Heaven” has been playing on repeat in my head. Cornell wrote it shortly after learning about Andy Wood’s death, and he obviously meant it to be a tribute to a fallen friend. Now, it seems like a fitting tribute to both of them:
Of course, Cornell was more than just a grunge godfather and Pearl Jam’s cool, older brother. He was a husband and father, with two kids by his now-widow Vicky and one by his ex-wife. He was also a charitable soul. In 2012, he and Vicky created a foundation that works with vulnerable children facing poverty and homelessness.
Let this be a reminder: go see the bands and singers you like whenever you can. Don’t think “I’ll wait to see them next time” because there might not be a next time. Sometimes lead singers die hours after a concert without any warning.
R.I.P. Chris Cornell
UPDATE: Since I originally published this article Cornell’s cause of death has been ruled a suicide via hanging.