"Black Hole Sun," Cornell with Soundgarden
Though the "Grundge" label was always slapped on Soundgarden, and ipso facto Chris Cornell, to we Hard Rock and Heavy Metal fans, they were something else, and something very special - the Last of the Classic Metal Bands. The drug-hazed, psychedelic lyrics, the powerhouse, wide-ranged vocals, the thumping, grinding riffs, the hypertensive guitar licks, the oft bluesy and soulful oases midst the burning heat, Soundgarden was right there with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin.
Chris Cornell died today. He was only 52. They say he hung himself. He always was a nut. He never knocked it off with the partying. Lemmy Kilmister, the Dark Unholy Lord of Heavy Metal Excess, died a little over a year ago... he was 70 (his liver was 154). Ronnie James Dio, who had a very similar voice to Cornell's, died around 70 years old (his age was always a secret, but he has recordings going back to the 1950's), in 2010. Ozzy Osbourne is still alive, or at least he seems to be. Many of the great names are still alive, and many were already performing when Cornell was born. A few are still out there touring and playing. He was only 52.
Of course, it's a little different for high-skill singers. As you get older, your voice goes. Those cords have a shelf life. And if you drink and smoke and all that? Well, you get raspy. You can work with that rasp, but only for so long, and not for very long if you're performing difficult material. Those cracks that make that rasp, they only get bigger and wider and then eventually there is no there there. Just a wheeze. But Cornell never seemed much the worse for wear. He was getting away with it. Critics remained always amazed by the constancy of his performances. He wasn't loosing his voice, which is something that drags many a great frontman down to the depths, he just hung himself.
It fits him, though, the way he died. He was always quixotic. Everyone thought he was pretty much as far out as you can go without being plainly crazy. Scott Weiland, the prototype "Grundge" singer (meaning not a tenth the singer Cornell was) from the band Stone Temple Pilots, came from the LA wing of the same scene as Cornell, made it huge, was a notorious substance abuser, and died on a tour bus at 48 years old. He had a congenitally bad heart, and the booze and drugs caught up with him. Not Chris Cornell.
Odd one, that fella.
He'll be missed, though. Among us classic metal guys, he was a late burst that came when it seemed the standards were changing for good. The studios didn't want to deal with quixotic, high-talent guys anymore. They wanted an easy template - like Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam - that could be filled by any schmucks, singing of nothing but teenage angst, selling flannel and uncomfortable boots at Hot Topic. The 90's and 2000's have been full of them, one after another, staffed with singers who have nothing but plain ol' men's narrow baritones, and bland, unoriginal musicians. The rise of the internet has helped to change things a bit, with the studios forced to deal with better talent, because one way or another they're going to get out there. There will never be another Chris Cornell, but their will be others, and when asked about their influences, you can be sure Cornell will be among them.
Rock the Hell outta Heaven, Chris Cornell! And thank you.