On May 18, 2017 my lifeline to music suddenly……tragically…..unbelievably died. Chris Cornell hung himself and the next morning as I sat in front of the television in shock, tears streamed down my cheeks and I felt as though I was going to pass out. For over 20 years his music had narrated my life through meeting my husband in 1989 and experiencing Soundgarden during Lollapalooza in 1996 along with the Ramones, The Shaolin Monks, The Screaming Trees, and Metallica. During this time I was an undergrad – completely out of place at a private college but finding myself at home among the media-hyped Seattle scene labeled ‘grunge’ – something that would forever be more comfortable among the pages of magazines than with the artists themselves. Chris Cornell quickly became one of those voices that was identifiable among a sea of angst-ridden twenty-somethings….someone that we all knew would last beyond the genre of the moment. Life went on as I continued in marriage, grad school with two master’s degrees and a baby late in life….and every iteration of Chris along the way. Having his music – Solo, Soundgarden, Audioslave, or Temple of the Dog – was a comfort. We saw him in each of these entities other than ‘Temple’ multiple times in multiple states, and his intimate solo acoustic shows were practically a religious experience – and I am not the religious type. To choose a favorite song is impossible….Sunshower when I am happy, Like a Stone or Cochise when I am angry / sad…..Say Hello to Heaven and Hunger Strike……but for me the most impactful song of his career that I always relate to is Seasons – it hits, tells the story of anyone’s life.
Soundgarden came to our city on May 10, 2017 and we did not go because it was a venue that we were not crazy about and we had just seen Chris’s acoustic show about 11 months prior at a small, intimate venue. I was disappointed, but was sure I’d see him soon enough. A week later there I was, sobbing as the news played. The voice that narrated my life for the last 20-plus years was dead. Reportedly by suicide. Impossible.
Something inside me just…..broke. I couldn’t listen to his music. More than that though, I couldn’t listen to any music. My world, my life, was music – as I worked in the community going home to home doing my counseling with children and families I listened to music – it helped me cope and escape. I listened and danced at home. I listened during my walks, my gym time, while working on my art – all the time. After Chris Cornell died my heart was just – broken. It was subconscious – not a decision I made….it just wasn’t the same. And I had listened to more than just his music before – Pearl Jam, POD, Andrew WK, Bush, Green Day, The Ramones – but now….things were just…..different.
Then a young man from Manchester changed my life. In 2015, about 2 years before Chris’s death I was reading some literature from the British Humanist Association online and I read this quote: “…..The one responsibility that I believe that I have is to stand up against ideas that promote inequality….The empowerment of women maps directly into the secularism and the reduction of power of religion. And that’s what I’m about.” – Matt Healy, The 1975.
I had to know more. Thank goodness for Google and YouTube!
So this guy, Matt Healy, is lead singer and rhythm guitarist for the Manchester, England-based band The 1975 who began when its members were quite young – aged 13-14 – and like so many teens wanted to participate in performances. I don’t recall the first song I listened to but among them were Sex, The City, Robbers, Chocolate, Medicine, Woman, and Girls. Ranging from sex to weed to relationship troubles, their music has pop-punk roots that instantly took me back to my 1980’s youth listening to bands like INXS, Simple Minds, and Tears for Fears. The 1975 mixed all that was good about these bands with a harder edge of punk from more recent music – think Green Day, Sex Pistols, or Sum 41. Band members include Matt Healy, Lead guitarist Adam Hann, Bassist Ross MacDonald, and Drummer George Daniel.
We’d seen the 1975 twice when Chris was still alive and I really enjoyed them – but Chris Cornell was always my foundation – as I said, the narrator. Then on May 12, 2018 (post-Chris) we attended their show in Cincinnati and something inside me woke up. It is in the music of course – but more than that it is the idea of being unapologetic in presenting oneself – being you completely and unabashedly; that was what this band is about and that is what we all should be. The 1975 and more specifically Matt Healy presents full-on energy, open emotion, honesty with his own life (Birthday Party), the cultural norms (I Like America and America Likes Me – sharing titles with the famous work of artist Joseph Beuys), the environment (Love it if we Made it), and social media (Love Me), showing up for fans in a way that today’s performers rarely do.
So what about all of this relates to me and Chris Cornell? When Chris took his life, my heart was broken and the music that meant my world – that took me from client to client, day to day, narrated my life so perfectly – just died. And along with it my joy for music died. Turning on the radio, YouTube, Streaming, any playlist – just wasn’t the same. Hearing Chris’s music – especially Seasons – sent tears streaming down my face and I just couldn’t take it. As time passed we’d see various concerts that my daughter and husband wanted to see and I’d muddle through….I’d listen a bit to The 1975 and it was good…but still it was no Chris (nobody ever will be). Seeing The 1975 live (and the multiple times since then – this year we are on times 8 and 9) – has allowed me to have fun with music again. Watching Matty dance, be goofy, sarcastic, just have fun with lyrics well beyond his years has allowed me to let go again and stop being so fucking serious. I’ve even been able to start listening to the Michael Hutchence INXS again – which is brilliant! I’ve recently brought 30 Seconds to Mars back into my playlist as well as some Bush and STP, both of whom we’ve recently seen in concert (and yes, Scott Weiland’s death was quite a loss).
Middle of last year (2019) after learning to enjoy music once again and becoming a bit lighter – in other words not being so into my own self-reflection – I pulled up my Chris Cornell playlist. The studio version of Seasons is at the top of that list – and there I sat in front of my computer watching Chris in his headphones, swaying his head gently back and forth as he waits for the cue…..then that Oh-so-familiar voice….and I smile and tear up all at once for this amazing, unforgettable legend. Surely it is a challenge to find a musician who has not been influenced in some manner by Chris; he collaborated with, contributed to, and inspired those younger and older from within and outside of the Alt / grunge music scene – contributing to countless soundtracks and charitable causes including the one he and wife Vicky started (https://chrisandvickycornellfoundation.org/).
In life we move on – I’ve left out so many of Cornell’s songs here….Black Hole Sun, Pretty Noose (another favorite), Jesus Christ Pose……but you know those. I can venture to guess that most adults know very well Chris’s songs more than they do those of the 4 young men from England….so give those a try. And revisit those who shaped your younger life; learning to dance to a new tune is awesome and important. Sad, maybe. We miss those we lose along the way – friends and family (yes, I’ve lost those recently too – 3 friends in 2 years plus my father) – but it’s important to evolve and grow….allow ourselves to put one foot in front of the other, to twirl, to smile, to cry……to dance.