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Flashback Friday: Chris Cornell, RIP

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Yesterday Chris Cornell committed suicide at the age of 52. It is indeed a very sad day for rock music. We’ve lost not only a singular voice, but also many in the rock scene have lost a dear friend. The lead singer of Soundgarden in the 1990’s and Audioslave in the 00’s, Chris toured and sang with many other icons including Rage Against the Machine and Pearl Jam. Even until his death, he was still working as a solo artist and playing concerts.

I thought about compiling a list of Black Hole Sun covers, for which Postmodern Jukebox has a great one as does the soundtrack to Westworld. In my research, I discovered that Chris was actually a great cover artist on his own. So it feels much more fitting to remember his talent in the way he honored other artists and added his own value to their songs. There are so many of them, so I’ll post the videos of my top three and give you a list of links at the bottom.

“Nothing Compares 2 U”, Prince

“I Will Always Love You”, Whitney Houston

“Redemption Song”, Bob Marley

This is from his appearance on Jimmy Fallon back in 2011, but there is also a very sweet version of this song he performed with his daughter during a live concert in 2015.

The Telegraph reports that Cornell’s last performed song was from Led Zeppelin, “In My Time of Dying”. If there is such a video, I’m hesitant to post it because it would feel like romanticizing his suicide.

Other honorable mention that wouldn’t fit in this post:

“Hotel California”, Eagles

“Seven Nation Army”, White Stripes (performed with Audioslave)

“Billie Jean”, Michael Jackson

“Thank You”, Led Zeppelin

“One (U2 Music with Metallica lyrics)”

“Thunder Road”, Bruce Springsteen

“Long As I Can See The Light”, Credence Clearwater Revival

“Imagine”, John Lennon

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  • DiTurno

    As someone who has friends and family members who have attempted or committed suicide, my heart goes out to all his loved ones. But musically, Chris Cornell was a guy who started out parodying and reworking the Rock Star cliche, then slid into the cliche itself. After “Louder than Love,” his music was always, inevitably safe. Sometimes the guitars were loud, sometimes he did Prince and Michael Jackson covers, but he was always a product, a kind of less pretentious, hard rock version of Sting.

    • I think that’s understating his importance to the 90s alt scene. A friend of mine recalled him as one of the sensitive boys of rock that helped kill off the last vestiges of “cock rock” from the 80’s. Not to mention you’re totally writing off his associations with RATM, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam.

      • DiTurno

        I’m not sure how anyone could see Cornell as helping to “kill off the last vestiges of “cock rock” from the 80’s.” Soundgarden often played with cock rock cliches: look at the cover of “Louder than Love” (which I think is a very good album), or even the title “Badmotorfinger,” which is an obvious play on Montrose’s (whose vocalist was Sammy f’ing Hagar) “Bad motor scooter.”

        For my money, Tad, Mudhoney, and the Gits were all vastly better bands that anything Cornell was involved in. And they were a lot less cock and/or butt rock.

        • Crusty

          It depends on what you call cock rock.

          Soundgarden certainly saw themselves as a loud rock band with strong influence from Black Sabbath. But that doesn’t make them Def Leppard singing about pouring some sugar over me.

          • DiTurno

            Their main influence isn’t Sabbath; it’s Zeppelin.

            That’s the problem.

            • tsam

              1–Zeppelin? No. Not even close

              But then what the fuck is a problem about that? Are you one of those people who think that anything that gets popular is shit?

              • Crusty

                He listens to bands that are so cool and good, he is the only person that has ever heard of them.

                • John F

                  Back in the early 90s I had two Mudhoney cassettes that it a lot of play in my cars tape deck.

                  They were an interesting band, but comparing them to Soundgarden is kind of an apples to oranges type deal. Sure they were a lot less “cock rock” than Cornell, but they were also clowns, their song writing/composition certainly no better, and in the end a lot less interesting sound sonically.

                  OTOH Living Wreck is a great great great pop rock song.

                • cleek

                  i saw Mudhoney on New Year’s Eve, 1991 at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. The Lyres and The Mummies (in full mummy wrap, of course) opened. i got to chat with members of Sonic Youth and Mudhoney while the openers were playing.

                  looking at SG from that perspective, they were nearly a mainstream metal band. but looking at them from the mainstream, they were definitely outsiders.

                • nixnutz

                  Never seeing the Mummies is probably my biggest rock regret, I lived in S.F. for their entire run and I liked 60s garage but only thought of revivals through the lens of 80s bands, grew up in Boston and never managed to see the Lyres either. Also never made it to Maxwell’s even though I’ve been in New York for 14 years. For me Mudhoney’s first couple singles were a real revelation but I’m not sure I’ve heard anything they did after Superfuzzbigmuff.

                  I also agree that The Gits are much better than any of the Grunge bands from Seattle, and I’d put the Supersuckers above them (who are extremely cock rock), but that’s very much apples and oranges.

              • cleek

                any heavy band with a singer with a high upper range, like Cornell, can’t avoid the Zep comparisons.

                but musically, there’s not much overlap. SG never did folk songs, didn’t take much from the blues, didn’t do 15 minute solos. and Zep rarely played with time signatures like SG did. IMO, the closest point of contact is Zep’s “Black Dog” – it’s loud and fast and heavy and the timings are nuts. but “Black Dog” is also an unusual song for Zep. they didn’t have anything else like it.

                • tsam

                  Right–and here’s further destruction of the Zeppelin comparisons: (Since the beef seems to be with Louder Than Love)

                  You hide your eyes
                  But the ugly truth
                  Just loves to give it away
                  You gave yourself
                  If you were mine to give
                  I might throw it away
                  You share but money can’t give
                  What the truth takes away
                  Throw it away

                  I painted my eyes
                  Ugly isn’t what I want to see
                  I painted my mind
                  Ugly isn’t what I want to be
                  I don’t mind but the truth
                  Don’t look that good on me
                  Throw it away

                  I don’t think I really
                  Understand you
                  And I can’t see why
                  I’d ever want to
                  And even if it isn’t mine to say
                  I’ll say it anyway
                  It’s ugly

                  If you were mine to give
                  I might throw it away
                  But money can’t give
                  What the truth takes away
                  Throw it away

                  Hands all over the Eastern border
                  You know what? I think we’re falling
                  From composure
                  Hands all over Western culture
                  Ruffling feathers and turning eagles into vultures

                  Got my arms around my baby brother
                  Put your hands away
                  Your gonna kill your mother, kill your mother
                  And I love her

                  Hands all over the coastal waters
                  The crew men thank her
                  Then lay down their oily blanket
                  Hands all over the inland forest
                  In a striking motion trees fall down
                  Like dying soldiers

                  Hands all over the peasants daughter
                  She’s our bride
                  She’ll never make it out alive
                  Hands all over words I utter
                  Change them into what you want to
                  Like balls of clay
                  Put your hands away
                  Your gonna kill your mother
                  And I love her

                  I got an idea of something we can
                  do with a gun
                  Sink load and fire till the empire
                  reaps what they’ve sown
                  Shoot shoot shoot till their minds
                  are open
                  Shoot shoot shoot till their eyes
                  are closed
                  Push push push till we
                  get some motion
                  Push push push till the
                  bombs explode

                  I got an idea
                  We can do it
                  All on our own
                  Nothing to worry
                  Regret must weigh a ton
                  Kick kick kick till the
                  laws are broken
                  Kick kick kick till the
                  boots are worn
                  Hit hit hit till the
                  truth is spoken
                  Hit hit till
                  the truth is born

                  I got an idea of something
                  we can do with a gun

                  No substance to any of that, right?

            • Crusty

              No.

        • tsam

          Read the lyrics to Jesus Christ Pose.

          Your assessment of Cornell is 100 miles off the mark.

          ETA: I fact read all of Cornell’s lyrics.

        • Dennis Orphen

          Tad would be a lot less obscure if they didn’t alienate their record companies, or potential record companies twice. First was the found photo used for the cover of 8 Way Santa (google the story, if it’s out there, I’m not gonna repeat it here, although I’ve gotten it from the source many times over). The second time was using a thinly veiled version of the Pepsi logo for the Jack Pepsi release (can’t remember if that was a single or an EP). Anyways, sued again, and after something like that happening twice none of the bigger labels trolling Seattle for grunge bands to sign wanted to deal with Tad. But they didn’t really care, real rock and rollers don’t ask themselves ‘how can we avoid litigation?’. They just go for it on principles, deal with the legal consequences later, although the first time, no one could have predicted what happened there and the second time was kind of asking for it.

          • drwormphd

            Some details need refining here:

            – the main issue with the 8-Way Santa issue was that nobody at Sub Pop realized that they might need permission to use the photo on the cover. It’s not a reckless rockstar choice by the band so much as an indie band on an indie label being naive.

            – the Jack Pepsi cover was all Sub Pop’s idea: they didn’t have the money to promote the single, so they used the Pepsi logo to gin up some controversy (and it worked too well). Again, not the result of a band trying to alienate its label; indeed I don’t think Tad were keen on the idea

            – Tad did indeed sign with a major label, Warner Brothers (although their records were released on some of WB’s fake indie imprints). In fact, the two stunts above can fairly be said to have worked, because they earned Tad some attention during a moment when Nirvana and Pearl Jam were sucking all the oxygen out of the room.

            So Tad did not wreck their career by alienating anyone. If anything, they suffered from a bit of bad timing, and from their sound being a lot rawer than any of the ‘grunge’ bands who struck gold.

    • cleek

      no, Cornell never got close to the Rock Star cliche. he got older and mellowed out a bit – something that happens to pretty much everyone, eventually. but he was never a groupies-and-limos douchebag.

      • DiTurno

        I have no idea how you could possibly say that Cornell never got close to the Rock Star cliche. That was his *entire* persona. All of it.

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          jesus, do you have to be the epitome of a certain kind of cliche yourself?

          • DiTurno

            Thanks for that utterly vacuous response.

            I can’t believe that anyone who’s seen or listened to any Soundgarden performance could argue that Cornell wasn’t flirting with the Rock Star cliche. That’s so obvious it borders on the banal.

            • jim, some guy in iowa

              I believe when you say Cornell’s entire persona was the rock god shtick, and then a couple of comments later talk about how he “flirted” with it, you’re doing some goal post moving

              the guy pulled his own plug. He probably thought worse things about himself than either of us can imagine, and you come around to an online wake and want to talk about what a hack he really was. I’ll *take* “vacuous” over whatever it is you’re doing

        • cleek

          i can only assume that you have a very idiosyncratic definition of “Rock Star”.

        • NewishLawyer

          I never liked Soundgarden but this isn’t the time or place for critique dude…

        • Harkov311

          I have no idea how you could possibly say that Cornell never got close to the Rock Star cliche. That was his *entire* persona. All of it.

          I ask myself: do I care?

          Then I ask you: why do you care so much?

          It’s just music, dude. Lighten the fuck up.

      • drwormphd

        A lot of people would disagree that Cornell was not a ‘groupies and limos douchbag’

        What made Soundgarden somewhat interesting was the tension between Cornell’s conventional rock god poses and the more indie/punk leanings of other in the band, particularly Kim and Hiro (the band went downhill quickly after Hiro left IMHO). There’s an argument to be made that Soundgarden killed off some cock-rock cliches, but i think Chris is the wrong person to credit for that.

        • nixnutz

          Sean O’Neal’s tribute at the AV Club covers that angle pretty well. Personally I hadn’t listened to an entire album of theirs since Louder Than Love but certainly my first impression was that it was novel for a more-or-less punk band to sound so much like Zeppelin. Which is neither a good thing or a bad thing, in ’89 it really was kind of novel and if you can pull it off, why not?

          • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

            From my limited vantage as a too-young Seattlite at the time (I was 15 when Nevermind was released), most of the grunge band were more Sabbath focused (somebody described grunge as a contest to see who could play the loudest and slowest). The band everybody loved and thought would be/ should be huge was Mudhoney (Mark Arm had charisma to spare – Touch Me I’m Sick was the anthem – as much as he protested with songs like Outshined; Mudhiney’s Overblown was about Chris, people assumed), Soundgarden never quite fit neatly into the grunge shoebox – they were a group people admired & loved but not like *that* (everybody suspected Chris Cornell could go Hollywood at any moment), and Nirvana was this bunch of talented oddballs nobody expected to get huge.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      Please recall that by the time Soundgarden rolled around, the Rock Star cliche was embodied by Vince Neil. And stop being a putz.

      • tsam

        And Kip Winger, who’s magnum opus was a song about how awesome it was to fuck a 17 year old girl.

        • Srsly Dad Y

          Well TBPF, as I recall, it was! But then again this was 35 years ago, maybe I’m nostalgic.

    • The Great God Pan

      If you are opposed to cliche then you might want to rethink this whole “overbearing 90s record store clerk” thing you’ve got going on, unless of course you are parodying and reworking the cliche.

  • Crusty

    I just saw a report that his wife and family are disputing the finding that it was a suicide and was more likely a drug related accident, although I’m not sure how you hang yourself by accident. Whatever, its terribly sad either way.

    • rea

      I just saw a report that his wife and family are disputing the finding that it was a suicide and was more likely a drug related accident, although I’m not sure how you hang yourself by accident.

      He was on a prescribed drug (Ativan, a/k/a lorazepam) which has the following side effect warning:

      Common (1% to 10%): Depression, emotional lability, confusion
      Frequency not reported: Hallucinations, insomnia, psychosis, excitability, irritability, aggressive behavior, agitation, hostility, anxiety, vivid dreams, hyperactivity, organic disinhibition, depersonalization, apathy, excitement, feeling mad, illusion, nightmares, sleep disorders, suicide ideation, rage

      There is some reason to believe that he may have taken too much of the drug:

      http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/chris-cornells-wife-questions-cause-death-says-loss-has-created-emptiness-my-heart-1005408

  • soundgardener

    There’s nothing more cliche than an amateur music critic trashing an artist or a band in a tribute thread. If you want to righteously trash a dead guy, goto the Roger Ailes post. It is possible for a band or an artist to be both popular and good. I don’t know if you’re a musician or not, but SG’s music was technically sophisticated for the genre.

    • tsam

      SG’s music was technically sophisticated for the genre.

      This is understated and objectively true.

      • vic rattlehead

        It’s remarkable how well it holds up. A lot of music doesn’t seem to. But to my ears at least, Soundgarden still sounds interesting and fresh. There’s not a lot of bands I can say that for. It’s not so easy to ape technical sophistication. That’s sort of where I am with Tool-influenced a lot of later metal bands but they still sound fresh because they were so good it’s hard to completely imitate them.

        • tsam

          I have a theory about that…

          There are bands like Soundgarden and Tool–experimental in many ways, goofing with odd time signatures, no fear of alienating any type of fan base, a general no-fucks-given approach to song writing, and the result was something you can’t classify, can’t group with anything else, an aberration.

          As popular music evolves, it mostly rolls along with people doing a “thing”–metal, pop, hip-hop and it’s full of currently popular hooks and markers. That stuff never holds up. The stuff that sort of blew everything to pieces (despite being sort of destined to fail because it didn’t conform to the norms and standards), is what hangs around decades later and could conceivably be a hit in any decade…

          • Vance Maverick

            I think this is broadly true of art. The art that keeps its value is not the art that was mainly trying to conserve values.

            • tsam

              I think so–a manifestation of Sturgeon’s Law maybe?

              The art that keeps its value is not the art that was mainly trying to conserve values.

              That’s brilliant. I love it.

              • Vance Maverick

                Not an original observation, just trying to highlight the near-oxymoron.

                Consider the fairly recent vogue for 19th-century academic painting….it has only gone so far, and hasn’t displaced any reputations.

    • gorillagogo

      My favorite is how Outshined is written in 7/4 time, then switches to 4/4 for the chorus.

      • tsam

        Yes–as a novice guitar player, that stuff gave me fits, but I loved how you could make a LOOOOOONNNNG riff out of it that just seemed to work despite sort of smashing the rules about rock timing.

      • cleek

        and the timing in Rusty Cage is nuts. the ending is something like 19/8.

      • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

        I took music theory in college, and our professor (a young pianist who tried to be hip and reach out to us) asked us to bring in examples of challenging meter for class. So I listened to a bunch of songs in my CD collection, and came up with “New Damage.”

        When I played it in class, she cocked her head to the side, made about 3-4 game attempts, then just kind of BS’d something (“(8+1)/8” was her answer IIRC).

    • nixnutz

      I don’t know if you’re a musician or not, but..

      If there is a more annoying cliche in rock discussions I’d nominate this one here.

      • soundgardener

        Nuxnutz: Whether a person is a musician is not a qualifier I would normally attach to a music discussion, but when someone says an artist is playing it “safe,” it begs the question whether he/she understands how complex the subject matter is that they’re attacking. SG was just miles beyond most rock bands in terms of the ambitiousness of their composition.

        • nixnutz

          Which has zero relation to whether something is enjoyable to listen to or has anything relevant to say about our experience. Soundgarden is better than the Stones and Marillion is better than Soundgarden and classical music is a billion times better than rock music because the only relevant metric is how difficult it is to learn to play. Go fuck yourself.

          • soundgardener

            Wow, that escalated quickly. What music is “better” is a pretty subjective question. What music is more technically complex is a bit more objective. Someone above said Cornell and SG merely played it “safe.” Whatever “safe” means in this context, it would seem that playing very technically challenging music is definitely not it. Being a musician or someone who is familiar with some of the technical aspects of music is pertinent to that question.

            The poster above didn’t say SG’s music was not enjoyable. He said it was safe. That seems objectively wrong to me.

            I’ll still fuck off if it’s that important to you, but you seem to be a little overly put off.

  • MikeJake

    I find it interesting that many of the rap contemporaries around the grunge era made repeated reference to their tough upbringings, while all these Seattle guys (and several gals) had substance abuse problems from a young age and we’re all just “Oh, the rockstar life.”

  • ThresherK

    I heard the Billie Jean cover on the radio yesterday. It really works. I never thought it could.

  • Domino

    One scene I absolutely love is when Michael Mann used “Shadow of the Sun” in Collateral

    Fits it perfectly.

  • tsam

    Cornell’s death affected me deeply.

    Soundgarden came into my life in a time when I was just out a military prison, ravaged by drug abuse and entirely lacking in any semblance of an identity. A walking automaton with no future.

    I came up in my teenage years with California punk. It was the most beautifully disastrous thing I’d ever witnessed. As with any movement like that, as soon as it grew legs, it grew parasites–the Nazi’s showed up and ruined everything.

    After utterly destroying my life and losing touch with music, Ultramega OK came along and swallowed me whole. It was metal, it was punk, it was screaming, blistering vocals over a bloody, serrated edge guitar sound, an underlying anger and angst that vocalized my turmoil and a whole bunch more. Then Louder Than Love comes along and just drags me further in. Now the Seattle thing is becoming a thing and I’m starting to get better, more focused, an eye to the future and a sense of who I am and want to be. Soundgarden (and other bands) played a central role in picking my broken ass up off the floor.

    Then Badmotorfinger hit and was forever in love with this monstrosity. It was everything that the Seattle scene was–a jab at the hair metal it destroyed, a Mind Riot of existential thought and of course near perfection in sound and fury and everything not-nice.

    I would go on to have a family, rely less on music to carry me along, but Soundgarden, Audioslave and Chris Cornell were always there for nostalgia, help in the low times, and a fun launch in the good times. Cornell was around the whole time, at once a dreadful reminder and nostalgic reminder of those days when I had nothing, WAS nothing, and got a hand from this band out of Seattle who knew exactly how to talk to me.

    • Thom

      This is one of the best tributes to the power of music I have ever read.

      • tsam

        Thank you!

    • vic rattlehead

      Wow dude. *hug*

      • tsam

        Thanks, man

    • Crusty

      Well said.

    • solidcitizen

      Good stuff. Happy you’re still around.

    • Dennis Orphen

      Well written, well said.

  • gorillagogo

    I remember the Lollapalooza tour in 1992. Soundgarden played one of the heaviest sets I’ve ever seen live — when they played “Gun” it sounded like a brontosaurus was trudging through the stadium.

    Later, Cornell and Kim Thayil came crashing into a mosh pit we were in during Ministry’s set. There was a moment where everyone around seemed to simultaneously realize who it was and rush into the pit. It was awesome.

  • Dilan Esper

    Re : In My Time of Dying- is it possible Cornell wanted us to romanticize his suicide?

    • tsam

      Well, maybe, but I feel like this would be an invasion and wrong.

      • Dilan Esper

        I’m not sure.

        It’s macabre, but there’s something that might be called a rock and roll death. Jim Morrison is probably the ur-example, and his demise was definitely turned into something of a spectacle by Doors fans. Given what he stood for, I don’t really think that’s inappropriate.

        If Cornell was saying “I’m about to end it all, and I’m playing this song about death as my last public performance”, well, that’s a statement of sorts and a very “rock and roll” thing to do.

        • tsam

          Yeah, but I don’t want to try to get inside his head and make any reports. That’s…not OK.

          It doesn’t help that he’s one of my all time favorite musicians, so it feels really wrong to assign motive to the performance or his suicide. At this point, I’m just trying to come to terms with the loss and remember why I came to love him in the first place.

  • tsam

    While we’re here, we should give a nod to what Cornell did better almost any lyricist in history–his masterfully deft use of metaphors:

    Sitting here like uninvited company
    Wallowing in my own obscenities
    I share a cigarette with negativity
    Sitting here like wet ashes
    With X’s in my eyes and drawing flies
    Bathed in perspiration drowned my enemies
    Used my inspiration for a guillotine
    I fire a loaded mental cannon to the page
    Leaning on the pedestal that holds my self denial
    Firing the pistol that shoots my holy pride
    Sitting here like wet ashes with X’s in
    My eyes, and drawing flies
    Hey what you yellin’
    About, conditions, permission, mirrored self affliction
    Hey what you yellin’ about sadist’s
    Co-addiction, perfect analogies
    Hey what you yellin’ about conditions
    Permission mirrored self affliction
    Leaning on the pedestal that holds my self denial
    Firing the pistol that shoots my holy pride
    Sitting here like wet ashes with X’s in my eyes
    And drawing flies

  • tsam

    WAIT WHAT THE FUCK?

    Is he playing left handed in the last video?

    • cleek

      nah. that video is just flipped. you can tell because the Margaritaville logo that pops up at the end is reversed.

      • tsam

        WHY WOULD SOMEONE DO THAT?

  • Bootsie

    Say Hello 2 Heaven is one of the greatest songs ever sung.

  • Dennis Orphen

    How many turnip trucks did you all just bounce out of the back of, sheeple?

    FOPP.

    If there’s ever a thread where we discuss ranking Ohio Players songs from best to worst I’m ready.

    (hard to decide which one is first though, it’s a toss-up between Fopp, Love Rollercoaster and Far East Mississippi).

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