Chris Cornell: Soundgarden’s dark knight of the grunge-music scene

“Chris Cornell painted in song the darkness and beauty of life in Seattle,” said Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready. Cornell died Wednesday at the age of 52.

That voice.

It demanded that you listen, no matter where you were. In an airport, a crowded bar or a sold-out theater.

It was low and smooth, rising from under a drape of curls, or a bare-throated, roof-scraping howl. It could effortlessly ride a churning, thundering wave of sound that rose and fell, but never broke.

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Chris Cornell sang for the last time Wednesday night in Detroit. Hours later, the Soundgarden frontman was found dead in the bathroom of his hotel room. A medical examiner said he died by hanging. Suicide. He was just 52.

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It is an awful refrain in this city of music, something we thought we had lived through and grown away from after the untimely losses of homegrown Andrew Wood, Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley.

But no.

And so we hold onto each other and talk about what Cornell meant to our city, our sound, ourselves.

“Chris Cornell painted in song the darkness and beauty of life in Seattle,” said Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready.

Cornell could do that because he was born here, one of six children whose parents divorced when he was young. He attended Christ the King Catholic elementary school and Shorewood High School.

In a 2013 interview with The Seattle Times in advance of a solo acoustic show at Benaroya Hall, Cornell spoke of feeling “super disenfranchised” as a teenager and being a “super emotionally intense kid with bouts of depression and anxiety. And that would be my reaction. To close down.”

Cornell started listening to the Beatles after finding a stash of records in a neighbor’s basement.

“That sort of fostered me,” he said in the interview. “I wasn’t good in school. I didn’t do sports. I sat in the bedroom and listened to records. Because the Beatles did whatever they wanted to, I took that as a kid and said, ‘That’s what rock is.’ ”

Still, he described himself as a “highly functional, depressed kid” who grew up and moved out, working at R&R Seafood as a wholesaler and a cook at Ray’s Boathouse.

At the time of the interview, Cornell had been living in New York City for several years, and described coming back to Seattle as “a little strange at first.”

“It always takes me a minute because it has changed a lot. But it is a place I know better than any other place in the world.

“Part of my creative life is there.”


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