The world woke to the shocking news that Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell passed away at the age of 52 shortly after the band completed a concert in Detroit.
I'm still processing this as are his family, loved ones, friends, and many millions of fans, and I still cannot get my head around it. The shockwaves continue to reverberate and I'm struck by the strange coincidence we are days away from the release of a deluxe edition of the Singles soundtrack, that not only captured a special moment in time much better than the film, but also showed us a soundtrack that much better than the film captured a special moment in time. It also showed us just some of the range of the extraordinary singer Chris Cornell was.
It has the blistering Soundgarden song "Birth Ritual," which displayed the visceral power of Cornell's voice. Many remember best that distinctive, piercing wail. What he could do that only a few others achieved, what set him apart, was his ability to howl with power and precision. Many rockers could shriek with the best of them but few had Cornell's command.
It also has what may well have been Cornell's solo debut in the form of the solo acoustic "Seasons," a song that showcased his singer/songwriter abilities. The shifts in guitar patterns felt familiar to what he did with his Soundgarden lead guitarist Kim Thayill but it sounded so different on acoustic. Cornell showed he could still sing with passion and power without volume.
It's also interesting that joining Singles in the reissue department in the past year were the deluxe edition of Soundgarden's brutal masterpiece Badmotorfinger and the sole release from supergroup Temple of the Dog. Cornell's career had many additional chapters but those three releases embody so much of what made him a unique, special talent.
Voice of a generation is a title frequently associated more with songwriting than vocalist, and Cornell's name belongs in that discussion. I think of him as very much a voice of his generation, powered by fury and rage representing the metal and punk influences on the Grunge sound, the playground of mayhem and menace. He could also sing with a vulnerability capturing the optimism of hippy bands of the '60s and the ethos that change was possible. That tenderness also conveyed the alienation prevalent among youth at that moment.
There are so many songs I could leave you with as a testament to his vocal prowess; I chronicled my Top 5 Soundgarden songs two years ago. I've chosen an odd one to leave you with this morning while we're all reeling but it somehow seems fitting to me in the moment. Chris Cornell and Mudhoney's Mark Arm teamed with Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell for "Right Turn" from Alice in Chains' EP Sap. Four of the most prominent and important voices of a moment, if not a movement.
Rest in Peace, Chris. Thank you for your gift.