Losing Chris Cornell hurts. Truth is, I usually don’t give a shit when some celebrity dies. What’s it really matter to me? Some rich, famous person passed away. They probably lived a good life, never knew me, and I never knew them. But this one turns my stomach and brings tears to my eyes.
Maybe it’s because his lyrics spoke to me. I still can belt out “Like a Stone” dead on and discovered that, somehow, I wasn’t a hack when I channeled my inner Chris at Karaoke night. His searching, his soulfulness, his spirituality, his solitary dance with sobriety and sanity- they were all mine too. One time after I nailed singing it, some random stranger said it sounded good but found it a little dark and disturbing. Guess she just didn’t understand- but he did and so did I. His lyrics gave voice to the ups and downs, the questions and confusions, the pain and the pleasure that I knew well.
Maybe it was his voice. Distinct, driving, and raspy, he soothed me when I needed to be soothed and often revved me up and pushed me through a run or a therapeutic session throwing weight around at the gym, like an animal in a cage. He was there after an early mid-life crisis, including snapping my Rage Against the Machine CDs in half and throwing them away. Who was I to proclaim I “Raged Against the Machine” anymore when I was enslaved by a job, a home, a cable bill, and my business casual wardrobe brought to me by Macy’s? But Audioslave and Soundgarden had the sound I loved with the words that captured a new struggle and promised a new hope. A little less rage but just as much disillusion, not as much nihilism but a continued acknowledgement of difficulty peppered with resilient individuality and perseverance. Still looking for my place and my peace, his passion and perspective became the soundtrack for a decade in my life.
Maybe it was his life. His song lyrics became a gateway to reading articles and interviews in which I discovered a man unapologetically himself- a survivor of addiction, a battler with depression, a poet who pursued his vision, a philosopher who morphed to find his truth, a loner who found solace and expression in his art, who discovered his most effective method for communication were words on a page and notes on an instrument. His life was a journey including euphoric moments and black days but he was open with the world in each changing season and mood, allowing me to feel like I knew him and pushing me to better know myself.
Maybe it’s just me. I cry for him knowing that the tears are for myself. His battles with addiction are mine. His dances with depression are some of the only steps I know. His questions about faith voice my own doubts but, just like me, his exclamations about the beauty of life often overflow. His ability to produce words that one day inspire and another day destroy are my words too. His unwavering individuality is something I can only aspire to possess. I can only hope that I find my own voice, my own lines, my own unique pitch as well.
This morning when I saw the news at first there were still questions- how did he die? did the hard living catch up? did the drowning weight of addiction pull him back down? Now I read that the cause was suicide- death by hanging in a hotel room after another rousing night on the stage. And it hurts even more.
I can only hope and pray that somewhere Chris Cornell is in a room, waiting patiently and peacefully, surrounded by other beautiful souls finally free from the torment created by our flawed flesh and exacerbated by our perplexing world. Death by suicide is not a morally wrong choice- it is a fatal symptom born of a devastating disease. The darkness of depression never gets distinguished- perhaps it gets pushed away into the attics of our minds but it’s always there lurking, waiting for free reign and a chance to cast its blindfold over our eyes.
Chris Cornell’s art lives on and, therefore, in some way he does too-that is the beauty of being an artist. But this one hurts because he was more than a celebrity; oddly enough, he was a friend. “Be yourself,” he advised, “is all that you can do.” I just wish that he was still with us to be himself too.