Chris Cornell tribute: The grunge gladiator with a pained soul
"Black hole sun, won't you come and wash away the rain..." That was the mournful, monumental soundtrack to my life in 1994.
Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun is the devastating centrepiece of their finest album, Superunknown, a sad, raging, defiant cry for change, set to a backdrop of sludgy rhythms, ringing open chords and fuzzed-up distortion.
It is a track that builds in power as it circles around and around. It is a call for things to be wiped away and renewed. But it sounds, too, like an elegy for something or someone lost: "No one sings like you anymore," sang Chris Cornell, silenced now at only 52.
On Wednesday, he was found dead in a hotel bathroom in Detroit, just hours after playing a show. In a preliminary autopsy result, the city's medical examiner ruled that he had killed himself by hanging.
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Cornell is perhaps best known for You Know My Name, his theme for the 2006 Bond film Casino Royale. But his place in the musical firmament rests on far more than that: his was a considerable talent that made a genuine contribution to the history of pop music.
As one of the key architects of the grunge scene, Cornell helped restore faith in rock and roll. In the early Nineties, amid the flouncing blow-dried pantomime of American hair rock, a trio of US bands brought back some muscle, purpose, power and dignity to guitar music: Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Cornell's quartet were the first of the original Seattle grunge groups to sign to a major label, although the last to really break through commercially.
Cornell sang, played guitar, and wrote all their key songs. The band took their cues from Black Sabbath's open tunings and threatening grit, and Led Zeppelin's blazing swagger and attack, while adding a welcome hint of Beatles-y melodiousness.
Cornell had the command of four octaves, a big range for any singer, which allowed him to shift gear from low gritty intensity to a wail that soared high above the band's thunderous drive.
Cornell had pain in his soul; there was a sensitive, depressive aspect to his character and it was there to be heard in the grain of his voice. But there was fortitude and defiance too, very gladiatorial qualities.
He was a good-looking man who bestrode the stage with vigour and charisma. It is easy to see why, when they wanted to introduce Daniel Craig's new James Bond with a tough, rough, masculine modernity, they picked Cornell for the soundtrack.
Soundgarden broke up in 1997 after a series of intra-band clashes. In 2001, he then went on to form alt-rock supergroup Audioslave - essentially a collaboration between Cornell and heavy-rap rock act Rage Against The Machine - with whom he came close to really achieving his full potential as a rock star. With the blazing Tom Morello on guitar and Cornell's vocals, they had the potential to be one of the all-time great bands.
But Cornell was beset by demons, primarily problems with alcohol and drugs, and despite flashes of brilliance, the group stalled and broke up in the mid-Noughties.
Cornell made five solo albums, and reunited with Soundgarden in 2012. They were in the process of recording a seventh LP, a follow-up to 2012 comeback record King Animal; some reports have claimed it was completed before this week's shocking news.
This year has not yet proved as awful as 2016 for pop music. By the end of last December, it felt as if we were caught in a tsunami of reckoning. Part of it is just the inevitable process of mortality, a reminder that rock and roll is reaching the end of a human lifespan. But there is surely no doubt that the destructive lifestyles associated with fame - and rock and roll - have taken their toll.
We don't yet know what part, if any, Cornell's addictions played in his death. In interviews, it seemed he had struggled but come through. Cornell went through rehab in 2003 and has spoken candidly about it. He talked about overcoming "the drudgery and depression" and admitted "you have to want to not do that crap anymore or you will never stop and it will just kill you".
He was married twice, had three children, and with second wife Vicky Karayiannis ran a foundation to support vulnerable children facing homelessness and poverty. Cornell was one of the good guys, something that clearly comes across in his music.
The Black Hole Sun has set and Cornell's sad hook line, "No one sings like you anymore", will forever take on a different meaning now.
WHERE TO GET HELP
Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354
Depression Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 111 757
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Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
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Your local Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)
Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.
For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).
- The Telegraph, London