Chris Cornell: A Voice Immortalized (by Jhantu Randall)

by Jhantu Randall
It was a cloudy, overcast day which held brief periods of rain throughout. Packed together in front of the MoPop museum (formally known as the Experience Music Project) the crowds gathered as 5th street was shut down. A purple cover draped over the statue of Audioslave and Soundgarden frontman, Seattle’s own Chris Cornell who tragically hung himself last year after a show at the Fox Theater in Detroit, Michigan.

While I wasn’t personally a huge fan of the genre, I’d have to be dumb, deaf and naive to stand here and say that it wasn’t an accompanying soundtrack to my childhood in the Seattle area growing up. Sure, bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam always seem to be brought up as the pinnacle of Seattle’s grunge scene in the 90’s, but during this time bands like Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden definitely made their mark on an emerging scene which spit in the face of consumerism and mocked the increasing safety and corporatization of music. Not only did the sound itself define an entire region of Generation X’ers angst, it gave a voice to a counterculture who had been burnt out by the excess’s of the watered down, big hair and spandex bands that over populated what would be later known as stadium rock.

Standing outside in the rain, the technicians put the finishing touches on the podium as all sorts of media ranging from the 4 major local stations to the Associated Press and Getty Images pulled their equipment into their designated area. In the crowd itself were people from smaller publications covering it from their perspectives. I was huddled in next to a guy who had been a die hard Chris Cornell fan since 1993. Even dawned a shirt from a tour that year where he first saw Cornell as a drummer. Through conversation, he pointed out Chris’s mother who was gathering with other family, friends and local celebrities in a marked off VIP section. He talked about how Soundgarden spoke to him growing up and how Chris Cornell was his voice to the world. He even went further by telling me stories of venues he’d go to back in the day and how he was a fan of Cornell’s short lived super group, Temple of the Dog. From there I talked to a couple who had taken time off work and driven up to Seattle from Austin, Texas just to see the unveiling. Once the event started, the local curators of the museum stood at the podium and gave their own personal experiences on how the music had impacted their lives growing up, with one saying, “I saw Chris play in a band in 1988 where they opened for Jane’s Addiction. and all I’ll say is nobody paid attention to them after they heard Chris share his almost 4 active range.”

Next up to speak was Chris Cornell’s widow, Vicki, who spoke on the philanthropy work that they were involved in. How they spent countless hours working with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and how they wanted to address addiction and homelessness which has always been an underlying layer of Seattle. To close out the speeches before the big moment was Mayor Jenny Durkin who through the family’s philanthropic endeavors, had formed a a relationship with one another. She highlighted how Cornell’s gruff yet soulful voice had the ability to capture the feelings, both good and bad, and express a sound that you could clearly put a Seattle stamp on. To close it out, Mayor Durkin used Vicky’s words to sum up Chris the best, “His voice was his vision, and his words were his piece.”

Then came time for the big moment, joined by Vicky, her daughters and members of Soundgarden, they pulled back the veil revealing the statue of Chris Cornell holding a guitar and singing to the heavens. To accompany this moment Cornell’s voice blasted through the speakers as if to say he was here with everyone who came out to show him love. And that’s when it hit me, we all live our lives in whatever it is we do, but it is the musicians who capture our memories in their lyrics. Their songs are our own personal time capsules which we escape to every day. Even in the untimely event of an artists tragic passing, they're voice becomes immortalized forever as they leave a piece of their soul with us for years to come, it’s just a shame that only in death do we take the time to truly listen and appreciate the artistry they had.

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