The Sad Fate of Grunge…and Chris Cornell

Pardon the expression, but the music fascination and tragedy that has always lingered around grunge never seems to want to die.

The “scene” that famously percolated in early-’90s Seattle lost another of its founders recently, Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell. He had an exceptional, uncanny ability in a single breath to summon angels just as easily and effortlessly as conjure up dark, monstrous spirits. Along with like-sounding groups Nirvana and Pearl Jam, they transformed what was known before as alternative into the accepted mainstream. Radio stations such as Los Angeles’ KROQ, 107.7 The End in their communal hometown and Toronto-based 102.1 The Edge flipped the proverbial dial to keep up with this emerging trend. Lollapalooza provided a further platform that springboarded these artists’ careers to dizzying new heights.

Over the course of the past three decades, Cornell has had a better view than almost anyone as to the damage perceived success can cause. As hard-rocking and angst-releasing as grunge’s canon could be, no amount of accolades or accomplishments could ever really silence the audible cries for help. The accompanying playlist – highlighting many bands of the era’s final songs performed together – will hopefully prove this out.

The human being born Christopher John Boyle was the product of a system where death became as synonymous as platinum CD sales. Former roommate and Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood had his bright flame snuffed out by heroin. Shannon Hoon succumbed to cocaine just as Blind Melon were taking off. Layne Staley, whose voice could creep the bejesus out of anyone, died alone after several years removed from his last appearances with Mad Season as well as Alice in Chains in 1995 and 1996, respectively. The common thread in these cases were that there were signs everywhere. And let’s not forget the poster child for Generation Flannel, Kurt Cobain. Maybe it was because we were young and naïve like many of our counterculture heroes, it but was easy in a way to believe in a possible murder conspiracy theory against Nirvana’s torchbearer. Or simply lay blame on the two most popular letters in grunge speak, “OD”. Not that there could possibly have been more going on in terms of these individuals’ psyches.

C’mon admit it, when you first heard the news about Scott Weiland in 2015, your first thought was probably genuine surprise that the Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver vocalist lasted this long.

It appeared that out of everyone in his peer group, Cornell was the one most poised to persevere. With addiction battles supposedly in the rearview mirror, Soundgarden still had a half-dozen spring tour dates to go at the time of his passing; a rumoured new album is also on the horizon. In the previous six months he completed a tour for fourth solo album Higher Truth (removing the bad taste of Scream in the process), celebrated Temple of the Dog’s 25th anniversary, and even mended fences with Audioslave for a one-off, anti-Trump show. The revelation that Cornell’s death was in fact a suicide is incredibly troubling given everything positive he had going on.

Not that it’s the ultimate indicator or anything, but @soundgarden’s last tweet was to let fans know what time the band would be onstage in Detroit. If is to be believed, they’re ready to headline the sold-out Rock on the Range festival, even though that is clearly not happening. Other than a heartfelt Instagram tribute from Tom Morello, those closest to Cornell still seem to be in shock. Which makes this whole situation all the more sadder. No matter how cool and hardened to loss his exterior façade may have been for so long, the man was struggling. While reports have since come to light he was taking drugs to combat anxiety, it is obvious things were being withheld that are now leading to more questions than gold records Soundgarden have. Questions that may forever be the subject of speculation.

For so many people in roughly the same age bracket as Cornell who found comfort, solace and most importantly hope in the music he created, there is understandable confusion. Was there anything anyone could have done? Was Cornell desperately trying to tell us something by inserting the lyrics to Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying” into Soundgarden’s own “Slaves & Bulldozers”? Should we dig for more clues by hyper-analyzing “Like Suicide” and “Pretty Noose”? (To say nothing of Nirvana’s “I Hate Myself and Want to Die”.)

It is clear the volume needs to be cranked up to “Loud Love” proportions regarding mental health and the music industry.

About author

Gilles LeBlanc literally fell into “alternative rock” way back at Lollapalooza 1992, where he got caught in his first mosh pit watching some band named Pearl Jam. Since then, he’s spent the better part of his life looking for music to match the liberating rush he felt that day, with a particular chest-beating emphasis on stuff coming out of his native Canada. You can follow his alter ego on Twitter: @ROCKthusiast.