Remembering Chris Cornell, Grunge Pioneer and Honorary Miamian

I was just listening to "Fresh Tendrils." On my way home Wednesday evening, I decided it had been a good, long while since I'd heard that ethereal voice — that cascading voice with unlimited range that could shatter a brandy snifter but also put you in a lavender haze.

Then, this morning, I woke up to the stunning news: Chris Cornell is dead.

Cornell, frontman of the legendary '90s band Soundgarden, will forever be remembered as “a founding member of grunge” along with Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. But that’s a cheap epitaph. It’s inadequate. It’s wrong.

It’s not a stretch to say Cornell will go down as one of the finest vocalists in rock history. From "Black Hole Sun" to his stint as the frontman of supergroup Audioslave, Cornell possessed a restless, aerial voice that was an instrument unto itself.

Audiences were introduced to his operatic thrash vocals through Soundgarden’s 1990 record Ultramega OK and the platinum-selling Temple of the Dog, an album he composed for his recently passed best friend Andy Wood, along with Wood’s former bandmates (who would go on to form Pearl Jam). In 1991, Soundgarden released Badmotorfinger, and the floodgates were opened. Tracks such as "Rusty Cage," "Outshined," "Jesus Christ Pose," "Searching With My Good Eye Closed," and "Mind Riot" showcased the impossible octaves that would transform Cornell from a tall, obscure, mustached singer into a rock icon.

Those albums featured a coarse, angst-ridden Cornell belting away on each track. But on the soundtrack to the 1992 film Singles, listeners got a glimpse of his haunting, celestial range on the song "Seasons." It’s Cornell’s voice accompanied by an acoustic guitar. And that’s all that was needed to see that here was more than just another long-haired rock singer who could scream melodically. This was an artist. A poet. A rock-god troubadour in the making. A musician destined to be bigger than the musical movement he helped usher into the world.

Cornell’s artistry wouldn’t be tethered to his fronting Soundgarden, which was immediately apparent when he released his fist solo record, 1999’s Euphoria Morning. The album includes the radio-friendly single "Can’t Change Me," but dig into the deep cuts on the record and find gems such as "Preaching the End of the World" to truly understand the man’s mastery of his art. This is the album where you get Cornell at his most vulnerable but also his most powerful. Listen to "When I’m Down." Cornell’s vocals sway and crash all at once. The pain is visceral. It’s real. It’s beautiful.

It was only a matter of time before Cornell would go on to more commercial success. His post-Soundgarden era took an almost Bowie-like chameleon change into the pop charts when he formed Audioslave with the former members of Rage Against the Machine. He’d also go on to record the title-card song for the James Bond film Casino Royale and even recently the song "The Promise," for the soon-to-be-released film of the same name. Looking back at his catalog, it’s not shocking to see his evolution. He was at once a grunge godfather, a pop star, and a go-to singer for movie soundtracks.

His 2015 solo record, Higher Truth, saw him go back to his roots, and his otherworldly talent was ever-present when he made a stop at the Arsht Center in October of that year. Here, we saw an older, more playful Cornell, onstage alone with his guitar. He called Miami home (he and his family had moved here in recent years) and told the intimate crowd he’d see us all again soon.

Between solo projects and movie soundtracks, though, Cornell would return to the projects that launched him to fame. He reunited with Soundgarden in 2012 to record King Animal. And last year, he and his Temple of the Dog bandmates reunited to tour. I attended their show in Los Angeles last November and remember being floored when, at the tail end of one of their songs, Cornell shifted into a cover of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb. The raucous crowd, which had been drunkenly and poorly singing to every song, seemed to pause in time. It was as if we all knew it was time to shut up and let Cornell do his thing. It was just him and his guitar and that voice in the dark, awash in purple light. We were all transfixed. Like a thousand times before.

A post shared by Chris Joseph (@chrisjoseph13) on

Now that voice is forever silenced. And we are shocked, and we are sad, and we are numb.

But we are thankful to have experienced it.

Just before the news began to spread across social media this morning, a good friend texted me: “I drafted a text this morning at 7 am to tell you to stay off the Internet today. But I figured that would just make you find out sooner, and I would have robbed you of a few more minutes in a world where a legend still walked among us.”

Indeed. Rest well, Chris Cornell.

Say hello to Heaven.

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >