AshaJamila Wortham – Chris Cornell

When I was 12 my life could not have been more tumultuous.

My mother was struggling to raise a family of 5 children in a small country town in Connecticut. My father was absent even when present. We knew what his long absences into the basement meant. Being high on whatever we could afford was his way of life.

Honestly, life was quieter when he was on something.

20 years later I would understand to a degree the demons he had been fighting and feel empathy for all the lost time and life we could have known had things been different.

Because of this, I was reclusive as a young person. I generally would find solace in drawing, playing a guitar that was lent to me from school and stealing my parents’ alcohol and hanging out with classmates and drinking during school hours in the practice room.

Around that time, I remember hearing Rusty Cage for the first time. Chris Cornell’s voice was so intense, it moved me to the core and it just resonated with me. I listened to it over and over.

I felt that way. I wanted to break free. I felt non-existent. Neither here nor there. I was just a shadow breathing in and out. My family was one of 2 black families in the whole town at that time. I would here the racial slurs as I walked down the hall. I would be asked questions as if I was the nation’s representative for black people. I would come home to fighting parents or none at all since dad was gone for days or weeks and mom was working 80 hours a week. Being a middle child meant playing ref for my sister’s and brothers. So my quiet times were for Soundgarden and me.

As I grew, life slowly started to calm itself down. I realized that I had 2 options. I can be a victim of circumstance or I can learn from things happening around me and teach others. I chose to learn and teach and create. Soundgarden was my fuel and my solitude.

By 1994 I had decided to graduate and go to a Fine Art school. I was playing guitar all day every day. Painting, sculpting and sketching as much as I could. My creative senses were on overdrive. I was making my own clothes and engaging in self expression at every turn, growing and exploring with each facet of my being. Superunknown was my go to when I was in my creative stage. It was like nothing I’d heard. I loved groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Mowton but Soundgarden reflected my life at that time. I could hear that it was never all just one thing with their music. Not just rock but nods to other types of music which made it completely new and I felt like that’s what I was. I was a creative, poor,  young,  black woman living in an all white environment. People didn’t understand why I liked the music but for me we were on the same creative page. By then, i felt like Soundgarden were like therapy. The lyrics Chris wrote showed he really thought about and experienced things. The music was aggressive which matched my angst but I always felt like the lyrics were helping me to see I’m not the only one to go through stuff.

Later Chris started doing solo music. I felt like a proud best friend when I first listened to Euphoria Morning. I had always known he was amazing but I was overwhelmed by how delicate and powerful, jazzy and bluesy he could be. For me, he crossed boundaries and borders which I am always drawn to. I dissected that album. I learned to play many of the songs on my guitar and even performed some at open mics with friends.  It was like a season of calm and love in my life and Chris was singing my soundtrack.

Life continues on and Chris was always woven through the good and bad times. Audioslave, more Solo albums, live performances etc. All, I kept up on and yet I had never been able to see him live.

2011 changed all of that. I finally had the opportunity to see him When he came to CT. I was so excited. I felt happy to support this tour. Chris had helped me through many things in life without even knowing and to support his tour almost felt like an honor. He performed one of my all time favorites “When I’m Down”. It literally brought tears to my eyes. To hear it live, with all the rawness and passion it afforded was exactly why I loved his music. You know what talent is when you hear great LIVE performances. Although he’s generally associated with Rock, this is a blues, love song and it made sense that he could put it together. Every genre he tried he mastered beautifully.

As you see in my picture, I supported Chris a few times that year. In New York, I had amazing seats. Center, 6 rows back. During a particular show, again I was just in awe. I was moved to tears. All my childhood emotions and nostalgia came flooding back to me. And it was there I thought, wow, his music has truly been a big part of my life. He is just as eclectic as I am. He’s been through some serious things and had used creativity to help him cope.  His music taught me to do the same. While I was lost in thought, the intensity on my face must have been visible because when I regained myself I looked at the stage and there Chris was, playing and it appeared he was staring at me with a furrowed brow. I almost felt embarrassed that I wasn’t paying attention in case he actually was looking at me. I wasn’t bored, just reflective. Either way,it was a 5 second look of slight concern I’ll never forget.

Later that night Chris walked to the edge of the stage to give a guy who also was emotional, a set list. How he cared about his fans. Clearly he cared about his family and his fans. And they have back.

Raw emotion can make you feel skinless in a world of thorns. How do you cope? You create and show love even when you feel there is none or none deserving.

I was truly saddened to hear of Chris’ passing. I felt like my old friend whom I’ve never actually met was gone. He helped me cope and grow creatively, always thinking outside the box. A multifaceted being and all his facets seemed to be genius. Even if he was not famous, he would still be loved and missed.

Take your pain and learn from it and teach others how to cope.

– Asha

Revelation 21:4 – And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and Death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.


Chris Cornell