Why Chris Cornell means so much to me, and what we can learn from his life

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Why Chris Cornell means so much to me, and what we can learn from his life


To me his music always felt more personal than that – but then, I suspect it felt exactly that way for so many of us. His lyrics were one thing of course, obtuse and angry, but his voice was the key – soulful and strong, that perfect mix of gravel and honey. He would raise his voice to the heavens and scream, seemingly channelling our joint rage and releasing it, all at once in a glorious catharsis.

I vividly remember the first time I heard 1994’s Superunknown. Sitting in a dingy flat in my new adopted hometown. Scared of this big world I’d been thrust into and angry at the professors and lecturers that were now running my life. But there was Chris, a calm oasis in the middle of the maelstrom. The musician part of me marvelled at the weird time signatures and strange tunings. But the rest of me felt a sense of relief because it seemed that finally there was someone who got me.

Adolescent angst being what it is, it followed me into adulthood and Chris’ songs did as well – as my fears, frustrations and desires matured, so did his songs. The stories of drug addiction and teenage despair matured into ones of love and hope, and for me they were a beacon, providing direction and meaning through difficult times. And not only his direct work, but the countless others he influenced – bands like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, and Mother Love Bone were all touched by Chris and his talent. So too were most of the cornerstones of my personal musical world.

Read: This Melbourne event is throwing a Chris Cornell tribute to fight depression 

Time passed and I grew up, started a career and a family, and so did Chris. But like so many of us within the music business, he battled the Black Dog on a daily basis. You see, this industry is not kind on the creative soul. It is cut-throat and brutal, with success measured in dollars and artists seen as just another resource to be exploited. The touring life is punctuated by the intense euphoria of playing to a packed house, followed by long periods of boredom and introspection. And worse, your realities become distorted. The high of being on stage feels right, while the real world starts to feel wrong.

In the days since he passed, I’ve often wondered if he knew – truly knew – just how many he touched, and how profoundly he affected us. I remember seeing him do his solo show at the Palais a few years back, and just thinking to myself, “There’s a man who’s found his place in life”. He was everything I aspired to be, as a musician and as a person – talented yet humble, deep yet somehow still accessible. He had a way of speaking to us all as individuals, even in the noise of a sold-out St Kilda concert hall. And we are so lucky to have that live on in his vast musical legacy.

By Aidan Schurr

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