Farewell to a rock God
Thursday, May 18, I woke up about 6am. Tuesday and Thursdays are days I get to sleep in. But since my body is so used to teaching 530am boot camps, I still wake up early. So, I usually wake up and realize that I can sleep in, then go back to sleep. This time, I checked the notifications on Facebook and saw that an old friend tagged me in a post. I was still half a sleep so I didn’t even read the post and fell back to sleep.
I woke up a couple of hours later and checked Facebook and the first thing that popped up in the feed was Chris Cornell dead at 52. Then It donned on me why that old friend tagged me in his post! I was the one that introduced him to Soundgarden (Chris Cornell’s band).
I couldn’t believe it. Of all the brooding Seattle grunge gods, he always seemed like he had it together. Plus, he was at such a high point in his career that it didn’t make sense.
Within the last few years the music industry has lost a lot of icons. Scott Weiland, David Bowie, Lemmy Kilmeister and Prince. All of which I loved. But Chris was my man. There is no other musician that I held on a higher pedestal.
I was first exposed to Chris Cornell and Soundgarden in 1988. I was 16 years old and living in Belgium. My father was in the military so we moved around quite a bit. At that time, Guns n’ Roses were my favorite band. But I was always looking for the next big thing. At that time, there was no internet. I kept up on the music scene through Rock and Roll publications like Circus magazine.
I read all of the articles in Circus mag and would get tips from the album reviews. There was a review for Soundgarden’s album Ultra Mega Ok in one. Their name intrigued me right away. They gave it a really good review and raved about them. So, I looked for it at the Post Exchange. The PX was our equivalent of Target on the military base we were living on. Problem is, they didn’t get those obscure bands on indie labels. They only got what was popular at the time.
I few weekends later, my family took a trip to Amsterdam. A-Dam as we called it, was only a couple of hours away from Belgium. So, we used to frequent trips there.
We were walking around and I noticed a record shop. So, I ran in there to see if I could find it. They had it! I bought Ultra Mega Ok on vinyl. I could barely contain myself on the drive home.
I immediately ran in the house and put the album in the record player. My ears were not prepared for what I was about to listen! I have never heard anything like that before. It was Grunge before that term had even been coined! It was alternative, mixed with metal, blues, punk and God knows what else. It was different and I loved it! Cornell’s voice blew me away.
A few years later we were stationed in Wurzburg Germany. At that time Soundgarden had released another album called Louder than Love. My love for the band grew stronger. I found out that they were playing in Frankfurt which was only an hour or so away! I begged my parents to let me go. They agreed to take me. I even brought my younger brother and his friend Andrew with me. Neither of them even knew who Soundgarden was. They just took my word for it that they were the shit!
So, my parents dropped us off at the Batchnap club where they were playing. It was a very small venue. I’m not even sure if a 100 people could fit in there. All I know is that we were early and were got up front center stage! Standing room only. Chris Cornell was literally singing a foot away from me! Shirtless, long curly locks head banging, Chris Cornell blew everyone in that place away with his vocal range! To this day it is still the best concert I have ever been to.
Afterwards while waiting for my parents to pick us up. We noticed the whole band was just kicking it outside of the club! We were like, “holy shit, isn’t that Soundgarden?” So, we walked up and had a chat with them. They autographed their song list and were super cool. My brother and friend became a fan for life after that.
That friend, was Andrew. The one who tagged me on Facebook the day of Cornell’s death.
Again, through magazines, I learned of a project with Chris Cornell and members of Pearl Jam called Temple of the dog. This time I found the album on the economy in Germany. I played it and it was nothing like Soundgarden. At the time Pearl Jam wasn’t even a name. To be honest the album didn’t even resonate with me. I guess I was expecting a heavier vibe on the album. But it was the exact opposite. It was slow, bluesy, melodic and kind of dark. But since I was such a huge fan of Cornell’s, I had to give it another listen. With each listen I started to realize how genius the album was. It was beautiful. Temple of the dog was a tribute to their late friend and singer of Mother Love Bone, Andrew Wood.
To this day, Temple of the Dog is one of my top 5 albums of all time.
A few years later, they released Badmotorfinger. It was their breakthrough album. Their single Outshined had a steady rotation on MTV. At that time, I was playing guitar a lot. I’ve actually been playing on and off since I was 10. I had purchased a drum kit and I kept it in my friends Ryan and Mike’s house that they were renting. It was a big house that often turned into a spot for afterhours parties. They had introduced me to their new roommate Scott who was a drummer in a local band Rear View Mirror. We eventually became friends as well. I told him that I play and we should jam sometime. He said cool. What do you want to play? I said have you heard of Soundgarden. He said he had heard them and what particular song I wanted to play. I chose “Outshined”. I could play it on guitar from start to finish with no problem. He said that he would need to listen to it so he could play it.
I put the album in and played the song. He listened to like 10 seconds of it and was like, ok I got it. I was like, don’t you want to listen to the rest of it? He said, no I got it. I thought to myself, there is no way he could play that song after only listening to 10 seconds of it. I mean, Soundgarden is known for having odd time signatures in their music. Not the easiest to play for any musician.
So, we geared up. Scott and I played outshined perfectly! I could not believe that Scott could play like that. It was the first time I had ever played with a drummer of that caliber! It felt so amazing!
I continued to follow Chris Cornell throughout his entire career. He was the only artist that if he released and album, I would immediately buy it without hesitation.
A couple of years ago. I was on my way to Rome to compete and teach. I had a layover in Sweden. So here I am walking around the Swedish airport and Chris Cornell walks right passed me! I turned around and spoke his name. He turned around and said “hey man” with a smile on his face and started walking toward me! I was like, “OMG!” I shook his hand and for the first time in my life, I was at a loss for words. He was larger than life and towered over me! I stuttered words out of my mouth and hoped that he would understand. I felt like a little kid all over again. Maybe it was meant to be.
I don’t want to bore everyone with my countless stories of Chris Cornell. I don’t even know why I’m writing this. I guess maybe I feel I owe him this much for giving me so much. He was a musical genius. He could sing acapella and blow you away. Just check out “all night thing.” He could serenade you with just an acoustic guitar. Check out “Seasons.” His lyrics read like poetry. Just check out like a stone.
I’ve been listening to his music nonstop since his death. He did talk about death a lot. I thought maybe it was because some of his close friends like Andrew Wood and Kurt Cobain had died. Maybe he was fascinated by death.
I had no idea he suffered from depression. I lost my own father to depression. It’s a horrible disease.
Let this be a reminder to all of us, that life is short. I’ve lost more people close to me than you can imagine. Why do you think I do what I do? I’m living the life I want and doing what I love. I may not be rich. But I am living a fulfilled life.
In the song “Like a Stone”, Cornell’s lyrics read, in your house, I long to be, room by room, patiently. I’ll wait for you there. Like a stone. I’ll wait for you there. Alone. I read an article, where the bassist of Audioslave, asked Cornell what he was talking about in the song. What was he waiting for? Cornell turned to him and replied, “I’m waiting on death.”
Just like that, the greatest musician my ears have ever heard is gone. A bonified rock God laid to rest. “I, I never wanted, to write these words down for you. With pages of phrases, of things we will never do. So, blow out the candle and I lay you to bed. Since you can’t say to me now, how the dogs broke your bone, there is just one thing left to be said. Say hello to heaven.”
Farwell to you Chris. I feel like I lost a friend. I hope you look down and see all of these famous bands playing tribute to you. We will always love you. Your music will live for eternity! Thank you☹
Farewell to a rock God