I was and still am shocked by the passing of Chris Cornell. People are not supposed to die like that once they are out of their twenties. Not that anyone should ever die so tragically. It is just by the mid to late thirties, we are supposed to have ‘gotten past that,’ past the demons and struggles that probably led us to find solace in music, and later to escape the haunted inner landscapes that such trauma causes using drugs and booze. We are all supposed to be post-rehab, post-alcohol, post-drugs, onto Pilates, into green smoothies and anti-oxidants, more obsessed with trying to preserve what we have left rather than destroying the demons inside causing turmoil.
I remember when Kurt died. It was a shock. He had been US. He publicaly and loudly rallied against the establishment which had created the very framework providing a young adult in the mid 1990s few obvious opportunities and less financial stability. He looked like me and my friends in his ripped jeans and tatty hair. He supported women, gays and all the outsiders that I hung out with, openly embracing the communities that had historically been on the fringe of any sort of mainstream recognition.
Kurt was young, though. He was on the cusp of the big 3-0, the age we all knew meant real adulthood had been entered. Whether he was murdered or took his own life, Kurt’s passing also seemed to be the death nail in our own possibility for change. If one of the most famous rock stars in the world could not handle what life was throwing us Generation Xers, with all his money, access and influence, then how were the rest of us supposed to get through it?
Alice in Chains, though in my mind equally good (CONTROVERSIAL!) as Nirvana and Soundgarden, was never as big as either of the former bands.
Maybe because Kurt was a cute blonde, then died a seeming martyr’s death at the height of his fame or because Chris Cornell was just a beautiful man, Alice frontman Layne Staley never got quite the attention and acclaim. He fit perfectly into the commercial grunge aesthetic, with his stringy, muscular body, dreaded hair and open use of heroin.
Yet as Kurt died and Chris cleaned up, Layne sunk deeper into addiction. At the end of his life, drugs had cost him his looks, his health, his teeth and his social life, as he became reclusive, rarely leaving his University District condominium in Seattle. On April 19, 2002, after accountants contacted Staley’s former manager to say that money had not been withdrawn from his bank in over two weeks, police broke into the singer’s apartment, where they discovered the decomposing corpse of Staley. He was just 34 years old.
Kurt’s passing was a media explosion, while Staley’s was more of a footnote to those still interested in that scene. Kurt left while at the top, while Staley sadly sank all the way to the bottom with his own self destruction.
Which is why when looking at all three of these rock icons now, it seems that much sadder. Cornell was the happy ending, the positive outcome, the light at the end of the tunnel of addiction, a beacon for the possibility that life can get better.
I met him during his Euphoria Morning solo project. He was kind, he was gentle, he was generous with time and attention to fans. Everyone was dying, it was CHRIS CORNELL, rock god. But he was humble. It is a nice surprise when working with an icon to find them relatable.
It is always sad, and always a waste when someone young dies. But in this case, it seems especially tragic. Maybe Cornell never fully escaped those demons of his youth. I hope and pray he is at peace now. And I thank him, for the time he did light the way for me and so many of my generation.