First of all, I want to give my sincerest condolences to the family. My heart is with all of you. I have had many musical heroes in my life. Chris Cornell was one of them. He is perhaps the only singer/songwriter this guitar head ever really connected with.
It all started with my Mom’s collection of Beatles movies and old records. I used to listen to the Beatle Years with J.J. Jackson on Sunday mornings on our classic rock station when I was only 7 years old. (I remember Chris saying that John Lennon was like a father to him in the Live in Cuba documentary.) Later on, most of my musical heroes were masters of the guitar; particularly the Stratocaster. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, John Frusciante, and many others inspired me and made me beg my mom for a guitar for years before I actually got one.
I think I always had depression but it was more noticeable in my early teens and onward. It wasn’t just angst and teenage hormones. I dove into music in order to save myself but none of the lyrics really resonated with me because it was mainly blues and songs fueled by drugs and other things I didn’t quite understand. Haha!! To this day, I still have depression and recently problems with anxiety. I have taken Prozac and Xanax for a while now.
During my freshman year of high school, I was casually listening to the radio on my way to school then this helicopter sound grew louder and louder. I realized it was the radio and the helicopter sound was actually Tom Morello tapping on his strings with a pencil and a delay effect. I turned it up and immediately heard a voice that shook me to my core. It was the song “Cochise.” In that moment I felt some kind of primal urge that I wanted to rock out to. I felt this deep connection with everything in the song; especially the 10 second long scream near the end. A few weeks later I bought the album and became a huge fan. This time it wasn’t the guitar that drew me in, it was the lyrics and melody. Despite my love for Tom Morello I could care less at the time who was playing guitar. That was the first time that ever happened to me. In adolescence you begin to understand different themes in life and Chris Cornell was the one who gave me my first guided tour. I connected with the album because of my depression but also my grandparents’ failing health. I would get comfort from songs like “Like a Stone, What You Are, and I Am the Highway.” “Like a Stone” always reminded me of my grandfather because he was such a loner and kept his emotional cards close to his chest, a lot like his grandson.
I listened to the album religiously and as soon as Out of Exile came out I went out and bought it with whatever little money I had. (I remember my mom yelling at me on the phone because I spent my money on music instead of whatever the hell I was supposed to spend it on. Fun times!) I was a junior in high school by then. I had to buy at least three other copies of that CD and two copies of the “Live in Cuba” DVD because I scratched the disks so bad from so much use they were unreadable. I think I watched the documentary from “Live in Cuba” more than the actual concert. I was fascinated with Havana. I loved that I got to see it trough their eyes. They are the reason I want to go to Cuba and explore it for myself.
My grandmother died in January of 2007 during my freshman year of college. I was devastated because my grandparents raised me along with my mother. I was extremely close to them. I found solace in Chris’s voice and lyrics. Not only from my Audioslave albums but from Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog albums as well. As I grew older I began to understand the lyrics more and it was as if he had written those songs for me as a way to express myself when I couldn’t find the words. He was my champion in that regard. Because of Chris I began working on songwriting and not just guitar playing. I love the way he would use the Sun as a central theme, for example. I felt less alone in the world and more understood throughout the years not because I talked to parents, or teachers, or friends but because of Chris. His words are what I turned to a few years later when my grandfather died and more recently as it has been hard to find a suitable career.
I was in disbelief when I woke up to the news back in May. Then that disbelief turned to sorrow. It was like in his songs when the pain would block out the sun. I feel in these troubled times we need a champion like Chris more than ever. But I take solace in the fact that wherever he’s at, he’s at peace. His beautiful spirit will live on forever in the hearts and minds that loved him. I never met him or knew him but I have a feeling he knew me. His songs were like stories of my life. Stories that I didn’t have the words for.
Thank you for everything, Chris. May you rest in peace.