John Gonzalez – Chris Cornell

It was March 1990, the first day of spring break for us students at Illinois State University in Normal, IL. 2 friends and I were headed to the Smokey Mountains for a few days of backpacking, but the first day of our trip was going to be really cool. We were going to see Faith No More and Soundgarden in Champaign, IL, at a little venue called Mabel’s. I believe Voivod was the headliner in this 3 band tour.

Now, at the time, FNM was my favorite band, followed closely by Soundgarden, whom I had only recently discovered. I had the cassette for Louder Than Love for just a few months but it was like nothing I had ever heard before… I was absolutely hooked on this powerful and creative band from Seattle. So this was going to be a special show, featuring two of the most exciting bands for me at the time.

Little did I know just how special it would be…

We got to the venue in the afternoon, a few hours before the show. As we walked around town checking out shops, just milling around, one of my friends saw a few people walking down the sidewalk a couple blocks up and remarked jokingly that it looked like some of the members of FNM. Turned out that it was Mike Patton, Roddy Bottum, and Billy Gould! We hesitantly approached and started talking with them. Keeping this part of the story short (since this is a Chris Cornell tribute), they were very cool, genuine guys. We hung out with them for over an hour, just chatting and walking around.

The guys from FNM had to leave to do a sound check, and my friends and I were making our way down the other side of the block from the venue. We walked into a tobacco store and 2 of us for some reason thought it would be cool to buy pipes. As we walked out of the shop, I spotted someone who looked familiar. He’s crossing the street, coming our way, and my friend blurts out, “that’s Chris Cornell!” I can see that Chris saw us and kind of slowed down, probably off-put by us ogling, slack-jawed at the sight of one of the most talented musicians of our time.

We made a bee-line towards him, greeting him and asking if we could take a couple pictures. He was very polite and accommodating but I could tell he wasn’t as excited to see us as we were him. Looking at the photos, you can probably see why. 🙂  Those are the pipes in our hands, me trying to look as dorky as possible. After the pics I asked him how he was doing, noting that he didn’t look well. He said that he was sick with what he thought was the flu. We remarked that it sucked that he had to perform like that, gave him a few words of encouragement, and let him go on his way. I shook his hand and thanked him for his time. He seemed genuinely kind and appreciative of his fans

You would have never guessed he was sick during the show. The band was amazing and he had so much energy! I remember being just dumbfounded at his voice live. I’ve been to many, many, concerts over the years, but I’ve always said this was the best. Even without meeting Chris it would have probably been at the top of my list of musical experiences.

We had tickets to see Soundgarden this year in Denver– as it turned out, just a few days after Chris died. I can’t express how hard his death hit me. I had been looking forward to this show more than just about anything I can remember. It would have been only my 2nd Soundgarden concert, although Chris’ work throughout the years has been ever-present in my life.

I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet the man who gave the world so much beauty and art. Through his music, I almost feel like I knew him. Although his loss has been traumatic for me, I take comfort that his work will always be an important part of my life.


Chris Cornell