Most people who know me or know me well anyway know one thing true about me – music is my life. Music is who I am. If I ever accomplish anything in this world as far as an impression, I hope anyone walks away from me knowing how passionate I am about my music. Aside from being born into a family of talented singers and musicians, I developed my own love and likenesses. I remember the first time I ever fell truly in love with music and found myself in an artist, Chris Cornell.
I remember being around 6, maybe 7 years old at my grandparents house. I always loved watching MTV in the guest room on the tiniest little television known to man. Back when all they ever showed were music videos, I found that to be my comfort. I was watching Headbangers Ball, and a certain video caught my eye of a band standing on a hill top, crazy images of elders, teens and kids doing everyday things but in distortion. That video was Black Hole Sun. The guitar, the melody, the voice. I was one captivated kid and from then on forever changed.
Throughout my life, I leaned on rock music like a best friend. I was an only child, very lonely. I had one friend from school and our bond alone was born out of our love of music. A seemingly happy home – not many people knew that my mother and I were deep into the abyss of alcoholism and domestic violence. This on top of loneliness in general left me to cope with only one thing, music. I would get lost in the bliss of the radio on a nightly basis. My biggest thing was recording songs from the radio onto my cassettes. I remember hearing Black Hole Sun on the (new at the time) alternative radio station. I never hit record so fast in my life. From then on, I would wear out that radio recorded copy of Black Hole Sun everyday after school, while I played dolls, sang karaoke to it. Of course, I loved my Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls… but my heart lived for the dark sounds of rock. I feel like this sometimes separated me from my peers, I didn’t fit in. I never felt more accepted though when I put my Black Hole Sun tape on.
From then on, I became an avid Soundgarden fan and had obtained two cassettes of theirs. Lots of “Fell On Black Days” and “The Day I Tried to Live” was played during this time. An elementary school kid with a jaded perception and beloved tapes to fuel the person hiding out deep in my bones.
Upon approaching middle school, I still carried Soundgarden with me like my favorite blanket. I started attending a private boarding school with no rock music allowed. Compact discs had replaced cassettes and I had just learned to burn. Being away from my family, hours from my home, that dark part of myself needed a good comfort. I burned myself 3 Soundgarden CD’s to take with me. I sadly kept them at low volume in my dorm room and kept them hidden under my bunk, bound with duct tape. I also wore out my portable CD player with them at night when the floor was asleep, I would cry for home and get lost in the perfect words and voice of Chris Cornell.
In high school, I discovered Temple of the Dog. That opened up a Pandora’s box of excitement and wonder for the early stuff. I found myself identifying with Chris Cornell even more. That is when I found “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and sealed the spot for my all time favorite song. I continued enjoying his music as he kept going – Euphoria Mourning was so beautiful. I even loved the Scream album – and I told myself that he could never create a song that I’d hate.
Chris Cornell accompanied me through my first heartbreak, my first year at college and many commutes in between. He came with me on many friend excursions in that “weird time” of my early adulthood. As he created music, formed Audioslave, he still sang to my soul. He was still consistent. His music grew and evolved, just as I did. That’s what was so amazing about it. That IS what is so amazing about music and connecting with an artist, they can grow with you.
When I met my husband, I was in a dark and lonely place, yet again. I had given up on relationships, people. I was tired. I was plagued with depression. My husband saved me from that. He also shared his biggest passion with me, music. Finding someone that you can connect with on that level is something so rare and unique. The ability to sit and break down songs by lyric, vocal, instrument, melody is the coolest experience to share with the person you love. I shared Cornell with him, so then the music accompanied me through my new and happy life. Riding in the car, we jammed Soundgarden. We would sit and talk about grunge music and watch music videos on YouTube for hours, just getting lost in the music created for people like us. Dark music rooted from nasty depression and anxiety, but also hopeful.
I remember a night after becoming parents, we went downtown to an Irish pub packed with college kids. My husband pushed through all of them to make his way to the digital jukebox. He spent almost $10 making sure “Say Hello 2 Heaven” was at the top of the playlist for me. I had no idea, I just thought he was changing up the vibe. Many times I wanted to go ahead and leave, he begged me to stay, just so I could hear that song that night. It made me feel so grateful to have someone who understood me in that sense.
After battling a gruesome bout of PPD, I had really come into my own as a positive, functioning adult. I found running to be a safe haven, paired with music? Even better. Paired with Soundgarden? Masterful. I remember spending hours looping my backyard while my daughter played just listening to “Head Down” and “4th of July” on repeat. I allowed these songs to embed themselves into who I was, more so than before. They pushed me out of bed each day, they accompanied me on the way to doing better as a person.
The year I turned 26, my parents surprised me with tickets to Chris Cornell at the Ryman in Nashville. I think I cried for a good hour and just fawned over those paper tickets. My husband and I had made the decision to try for a second child, so my emotions were really off the charts at the time. We were holding onto hope that if we did get pregnant, we would have a son. A son I could share music with, who my husband could teach guitar, who I could buy band tees for and host band practices for him and his friends. I knew if I had a son, he would be musical and talented and I felt my purpose was to nurture it. Two days before going to the Cornell show, I got a positive pregnancy test.
I had never felt SO in my element than I did at this concert. To know I was drowning in a sea of people who shared the same love. The fact that I could walk into the crowded bathroom and hear women chattering and saying “I hope he plays All Night Thing!” I thought “Hey! That’s my kind of talk!” I couldn’t even believe that I got to be around that. Kindred spirits and like minds. He played the classics and I sang loudly, every word. My spirit flew up into the rafters of the Ryman and soared. Then came the chills – A Day in the Life. No song will ever hit me harder than that one. As he played and came to the ethereal vocal bridge, I felt myself bottom out and tears overwhelmed me. I saw in my head – my son, the future I was hoping for. A smiling baby, a wild child, a deep poetic soul that would be more like me than I imagined. I placed my hand on my stomach and something about that moment, I just felt complete. More complete than I ever have. I felt like in that moment I had arrived in life, the bad memories I carried with me…irrelevant. It made me thankful, joyful, safe. Songbook and Higher Truth carried me into this great place that I had always hoped for but never thought was possible. A place for hope and a concept that I was not my past. And this big moment in my heart, background music by Chris Cornell. Who knew? The next June, I gave birth to our son, Everett Christopher.
Screaming vocals of Slaves and Bulldozers to the kids in the kitchen or torturing them with frequent playing of Black Hole Sun, that music was just my everyday life. Always a constant. It’s who I am.
Then I woke up at 5 am on a May morning and found out that Chris was gone. Words cannot truly explain the amount of heartbreak and loss this brought to my life. The only thing that could encompass that for me would be to say that I felt like a huge part of my life and who I am was gone. I mean – I lost Cornell. A man whose words got me through every stage in my life so far. Someone who grew and evolved with me and had no idea. I watched as some of my Facebook acquaintances carelessly shared the article, diminishing it down to nothing but a news story that day. Endless amounts of hyperbolic click bait, it was a stinging pain each time I scrolled. So many speculating his death. It hurts more than anything that it was ruled suicide, truly. We were all fighting this battle together and our leader unfortunately gave up his fight. Someone who so impacted ME as a person and gave ME the courage to keep going everyday with my head high, I cannot wrap my head around it. But I’ve been there and you just never know how hopeless someone can feel. It has broken my heart. And truth be told, it doesn’t even matter how it happened. It happened. And nothing can change the fact that he’s gone from the world. And I feel that absence every day now. I’ve cried, I’ve been angry, I’ve felt everything. I’m a writer and when someone connects with that part of you, you do feel like you know them. That is why music is so powerful. You connect, you share the feeling. These artists mold and shape you, they’re there for you. So when you lose that, you feel as if a part of you is lost.
But one thing, I’m still here and for the sake of Chris and all of us who carry him with us, I am strong. I will still play those songs of his shamelessly as I continue to live my life. I will teach my son and daughter about guitar and self expression, writing. And sadly though I have no new albums to get me through the rest of it, I can be satisfied knowing he left everything I’d need going forward.
Chris Cornell, you changed my life and I will carry your words, talent, inspiration with me forever. Thank you.
“No matter the price, a promise to survive, persevere and thrive as we’ve always done.”