Friday, May 19, 2017

The Late Great Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell, founding member, lead vocalist, chief songwriter, and rhythm guitarist of Soundgarden, died on May 17 2016 at the age of 52. The cause was suicide.

Chris Cornell was born Christopher Boyle on July 20 1964 in Seattle, Washington. His parents were pharmacist  Ed Boyle and accountant Karen Cornell. He took to music at a young age, having discovered an abandoned collection of Beatles records in a neighbour's basement when he was 9 years old. Mr. Cornell had a somewhat troubled childhood. He struggled with loneliness and depression. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1994 he admitted to having been a "...daily drug user at 13.” After his parents divorced he dropped out of school when he was only 14. He worked various jobs to help support his mother, including working at a seafood wholesaler and as a sous-chef. Music became an outlet for him and he learned to play drums when he was 16. His first band was the Jones Street Band, in which he was both the drummer and lead singer.

It was in 1984 that Chris Cornell, bassist Hiro Yamamoto, and guitarist Kim Thayil formed Soundgarden. The band took its name from an artwork located at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "A Sound Garden". Originally Chris Cornell served as both Soundgarden's drummer and lead vocalist, but in 1985  the band hired Scott Sundquist as its drummer so Chris Cornell could concentrate on singing.

Soundgarden signed with Seattle record label Sub-Pop and their first single, "Hunted Down", was released in 1987. Their EP Screaming Life was released on the label that same year, followed by the EP Fopp in 1988. The two EPs were combined and released as the album Screaming Life/Fopp  in 1990. It was in 1988 that Soundgarden signed with independent label SST Records. Their debut album, Ultramega OK, was released in October 1988.  Ultramega OK received a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance. SST Records followed Ultramega OK with the EP Flower, released in 1989.

Following a tour to support Ultramega OK, Soundgarden signed with A&M Records. Their second album, Louder Than Love, was released in September 1989. Louder Than Love became Soundgarden's first album to reach the Billboard Top 200 album chart, peaking at 108. An EP containing outtakes from Louder Than Love as well as other material, Loudest Love, was released in October 1990.

While still working with Soundgarden, Chris Cornell teamed up with former Mother Love Bone members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, Soundgarden's drummer Matt Cameron, Mike McCready, and Eddie Vedder to record as Temple of the Dog. Messrs. Gossard, Ament, McCready, and Vedder would soon become famous as Pearl Jam. The supergroup's lone album, Temple of the Dog, was released in April 1991.

It was in October 1991 that Soundgarden's third studio album Badmotorfinger was released. It was the first to feature bassist Ben Shepherd. It proved to be their most successful album up to that time, peaking at no. 39 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. It received a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance. In June 1992 a special edition of Badmotorfinger was released that included the EP Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas. Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas included covers of Black Sabbath's "Into the Void", Devo's "Girl U Want", and The Stray Cats' "Stray Cat Strut", as well as other material.

Soundgarden's fourth album, Superunknown, proved to be their most successful album ever. It debuted on the Billboard Top 200 at no. 1 and sold 310,000 copies in its first week alone. The single "Spoonman" won the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance, while the single "Black Hole Sun" won the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance and was nominated for the award for Best Rock Song. Superunknown was released on March 8,1994. Superunknown was followed by the EP Songs from the Superunknown and the CD-Rom  Alive in the Superunknown. Both were released on November 21 1995.

Soundgarden's fifth album, Down on the Upside, was released on May 21 1996. The album debuted at no. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart, which was also its peak. Unfortunately tensions rose among the group during its recording. Chris Cornell had wanted to move away from the heavy guitar that had become associated with Soundgarden, something that Kim Thayil disagreed with. The tensions within the band only increased during the worldwide tour to support the album. It was on April 9 1997 that Soundgarden announced that they were disbanding.

In the wake up of Soundgarden's break-up, Chris Cornell began work on his first solo album. Euphoria Morning was released in September 1999. The album peaked at no.18 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart and was well received by critics.

Chris Cornell afterwards joined former Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk to form the band Audioslave. After Rage Against the Machine vocalist  lead vocalist Zack de la Rocha left Rage Against the Machine, the other members decided to remain together and find a new vocalist. It was producer Rick Rubin who suggested they seek out Chris Cornell.

Audioslave's self-titled debut album was released in November 2002. The album peaked at no. 7 on the Billboard Top 200, although it received mixed reviews from critics. Their second album, Out of Exile, was released in May 2005. The album performed even better than Audioslave, reaching no. 1 on the Billboard Top 200. The single "Be Yourself" even reached the top forty of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 32.

Audioslave only released one more album. Revelations was released in September 2006. It did very well, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. Despite this, the album received mixed reviews. Audioslave were on a break while Chris Cornell co-wrote and recorded "You Know My Name", the theme song to the James Bond movie Casino Royale (2006). At the same time Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello went to work on his solo project, The Nightwatchman. As it turned out Chris Cornell would never return to Audioslave. In July 2006 he announced that he was leaving the band.

It was then in 2007 that Chris Cornell released his second solo album. Carry On peaked at no. 17 on the Billboard Top 200, but received mixed reviews. It was followed by Scream, which was released in March 2009. The album marked a shift in Mr. Cornell's musical style, with less guitar and more electronic music. Scream peaked at no. 10 on the Billboard Top 200, but receive mostly negative reviews. It was followed by the acoustic live album Songbook in 2011. Songbook featured a mix of Soundgarden songs, Audioslave songs, and his own solo work.

It was on January 1 2010 that Chris Cornell announced that Soundgarden was reuniting. It was in February 2011 that it was announced that they would be recording a new album. Soudgarden toured for the first time in years in 2011. They also recorded a new song, "Live to Rise", that was featured in Marvel's The Avengers (2012).  Their new album, King Animal,was released on November 13 2012. It peaked at no. 5 on the Billboard Top 200, and received positive reviews over all.

Soundgarden continued to tour in 2014. Chris Cornell released his final solo album, Higher Truth, in September 2015. The album peaked at no. 19 on the Billboard Top 200 and received generally good reviews. It was in January 2016 that it was confirmed that Soundgarden had returned to the studio to record a new album. At the moment it is not clear how Soundgarden will proceed in the wake of Chris Cornell's death.

Chris Cornell's last solo work was the  single "The Promise", which appeared in the film The Promise (2017).

The soundtrack of my life in the Nineties was largely comprised of The Posies, Monster Magnet, The Gin Blossoms, and Soundgarden. Chris Cornell's work then spoke to me in a way that the work of Kurt Cobain, Jerry Cantrell, or Eddie Vedder never did. The lyrics of his songs were often deep, sometimes humorous, sometimes dark. Even when the lyrics of a particular Soundgarden, Audioslave, or Chris Cornell song were dark, there was still a glimmer of hope behind them. Soundgarden's songs were not about necessarily how hard life can be, but the will to survive that hard live. Even when things were at their worst, I could be guaranteed that a Soundgarden song would help me feel better.

Of course, even beyond Chris Cornell's lyrics there was a musical complexity to his songs that was sometimes lacking in his contemporaries' music. He often used non-standard chord progressions, and the melodies were often unusual as well. It was not unusual for his music to use only major chord changes. Chris Cornell also utilised a variety of different styles of music throughout his career. Soundgarden alone ranged in style from the proto-punk of MC5 and The Stooges to melodic variations on heavy metal to psychedelia. Soundgarden was often counted as part of the grunge movement, but I have never thought they really should have been. While I love grunge, Soundgarden worked on a much broader canvas, to the point that they should perhaps be considered simply "hard rock" or "heavy metal", rather than simply "grunge".

Regardless, there can be no doubt that Chris Cornell was one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time. He was a baritone, but his voice could span several octaves. In addition to the lower register baritone of he could sing fairly high in the ranges of tenor. His voice also packed a good deal of power, so that I have to think he would not have had to use a microphone to be heard several yards away. Chris Cornell was extremely versatile as a singer, so that he could do everything from a gentle falsetto to harsh screams. When combined with his talent for songwriting, this ultimately made Chris Cornell one of the greatest front men in the history of rock 'n' roll.

George Stroumboulopoulos on CBC Radio said of Chris Cornell that ""He was the voice of an entire generation's youth." I really cannot argue with that. With a few possible exceptions (Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies, for example), Chris Cornell spoke to me more than any other rock star my age. The music of Soundgarden helped me navigate my late twenties and early thirties. It is then for that reason that I am very sad I am gone.

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