Why the Loss of Chris Cornell Broke My Heart
Just as I sat down to write this post, my most favorite male singing voice of all-time cut through my thoughts to tell me that, “To be yourself is all that you can do.”
Was it more than he could do? Was being himself, being Chris Cornell, the man who wrote those lyrics, whose voice will be forever stuck in my head because I’ve never heard another like it, too much?
It’s not up to me to wonder. It’s not up to me to make assumptions about why or how he died. I really didn’t know the guy. All I knew was his voice, his songs, from the time Black Hole Sun was being played at bush parties in highschool, to when I had every single word of his debut Audioslave album memorized, to now, when I find myself crying because a man I didn’t know, who had no idea who the hell I am, has died.
“Drown me slowly,” that’s what I hear now. Maybe that is more appropriate for the occasion, maybe those lyrics are easier to handle right now while I’m trying to understand why my heart is breaking for someone I did not know but who touched me so deeply.
The world has lost an incredible voice, and what’s worse, the articles are declaring it suicide.
This man, whose songs could cut straight to your heart, felt the only way to continue on was to not. I mean, isn’t that what suicide is? The inability to face your life, yourself, each day?
I can’t imagine that kind of pain, and I’ve been in a great deal of pain, I’ve been in places where I just wanted it to end, but knew I was never so bad that those thoughts could become action. I had too much to live for.
But didn’t he as well? After all, he was a huge success, wasn’t he?
But does that matter?
I wasn’t the kind of fan who followed his life, his interviews. I couldn’t tell you anything about him, really, except how much I loved his music. So I can’t begin to guess what kind of life he had nor what would have driven him to suicide, all I can guess is what I know.
And what I know is that I’ve spent the past several months or more obsessing on my inability to find success, on every single rejection I’ve received (and there’s been a lot) and the fact that this book may not be good enough to get published, but if I could just get an agent and get it out there, have people read it and discover it’s actually good and worth their time, that things would get better. My life would have purpose and maybe, just maybe, I’d be worth something.
But look at Chris Cornell. When you look at his music, at least to me and countless other fans, he was worth so fucking much. I can listen to any of his songs (or those I know, I’m not going to pretend I was that person who knew every single track from every single album. I’m not that kind of music buff. I know what I like and I listen to what I like but I do not spend hours obsessing) and be swept away by his vocals, by the lyrics, by the haunting way he can cut right through your senses and touch your heart. I’m not kidding. His music always made me stop and just, well, feel. If that’s not success as an artist, then what is?
And was that it, did he feel too much? Is that why so many creative artists have died too early because of drugs and suicide? I mean, how else can they touch others if not by breaking down raw emotion and then repackaging it in a way that makes us feel even a fraction of what they do? Maybe, being the advocate, being the front man, takes its toll on a person. Maybe my desire for his kind of success is not actually what’s going to make me happy but might actually be what finally tears me apart.
The other day, I was listening to a 90s alternative station on Google Play, when Soundgarden came on. It was Spoonman. My kid looked at me and said, “What is a spoonman?” I cut her off with an abrupt, “Shh! Listen!” At first, she was confused, the lyrics did not make sense to her, she was too busy taking it literally. But I said, “It’s not about the words, just listen to his voice, feel what he has to say. You’ll never find someone who can wail like that in your music library” (although, their music library is matched with mine so I guess they could…).
That’s what Chris Cornell did to me, every. single. time. My entire body would say, “Shh! Listen!” the moment he began to rock those notes. But when you make everyone stop and listen, are you able to do the same for yourself? Are you so focused on putting it out there, that there’s nothing left to put back in?
Maybe that’s why I am so sad that he’s gone. It’s not about losing his music, for that will always remain. I’m sad that here was a person who gave so much to the world in terms of art, and yet, he was in so much pain that he did not feel he could continue on, that he couldn’t see how much good he was doing for those around him, or if he could, that it wasn’t enough. That here was this person who, I would have thought, had achieved the epitome of success. Not only did he “make it” decades ago when he broke out with Soundgarden, but he kept on “making it,” never going stale, never too far from the spotlight, always on the charts whether as a solo artist or as part of a group, getting better and better with each new album or release.
I’m not successful, not yet. But I keep trying and I’m going to be. But if I died right now, I’d know I was enough. Why? Because of that kid I made listen to Spoonman. Because of the man I went to bush parties with where they blasted Black Hole Sun, the man who supports me every single day. Because the sun has finally come out and is shining outside my window. Because my life, although small and seemingly insignificant, is so important to the few people in it.
And here’s the thing, as much as I’d be okay with dying today, I couldn’t bear it. No matter how depressed I might have been (and trust me, there were dark, dark times that went so far beyond upset), to die today is an excruciating thought. Not for me, I’d be gone and therefore would not feel the pain of my loss, but because I have so much more life to live. I have kids to watch graduate and grow up and become their own person. I want to see my husband’s beard turn grey and his dream of retiring to garden, make soup, and work on cars come true. I want to see so much more of the world because, even on my very worst days, I know there’s better ones ahead and I know there’s so much more to see and experience. And it breaks my heart that others can’t see that. That they are in the kind of pain where they can’t see the sun for all the clouds. Because I know it’s not easy to fight your way through depression, I know that no matter how badly you want to see the light, sometimes you can’t.
And that’s what makes me sad. The world has lost an incredible voice because he didn’t have enough to live for. Or, maybe he did and he still couldn’t do it, or maybe, he’d seen enough and simply did not want to see anymore. I don’t know. It’s not my place to know. It’s only my place to bow my head to someone who made amazing music that carried me through many years, to honor a man who did things many could never have done, and to thank him for having the bravery to do so. And if having the kind of vulnerability that allows you to write lyrics that he did and to sing the way he did also tore him down, then I can only thank him for making that sacrifice for us.
I hope you find the peace you were looking for.