Northwest Music Community Remembers Chris Cornell

photo courtesy of Alison Braunstein

photo courtesy of Alison Braunstein

Word of Chris Cornell‘s death late Wednesday night was a blow to the music community, but for Seattle it feels even more personal. Cornell was a cornerstone artist for the Northwest. From Soundgarden to Temple of the Dog and Audioslave to his solo work, Cornell helped define the “Seattle sound” with his iconic voice. Trying to encapsulate his influence is a futile effort, but by listening to reflections from the artists who’ve shared this community with Cornell we can get a glimpse of his “loud love”. KEXP reached out to musicians, photographers, and record label owners from the Northwest region for their thoughts and memories of Cornell. These range from artists who were there during Soundgarden’s ascent to younger musicians building off the foundation Cornell and others built.

If you, or someone you know, are in need of someone to talk to, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You are not alone.

7 Year Bitch

“Soundgarden was on heavy rotation for all 7 Year Bitch tours and definitely a big influence. Chris’ voice is in our heads and in our hearts forever. The loss is just massive.”

Alison Braunstein, punk photographer (see her photo above)

“This is my favorite photo of Chris. I shot it in 1988 before I moved to Seattle at the Country Club in Reseda, Calif. This was the first time I photographed the band and was awestruck with Chris’ charisma. He was almost ‘Christlike.'”

Ben Rew (Dead Teenage Records, Camarosmith)

“I probably would not be doing what I am doing without the scene in the late 80’s and 90’s, specifically the records that Sub Pop and C/Z were releasing, all our bands, and Soundgarden. It was taboo to even try to sing like him, but we all gave it a go. Even if we were like “I like the more indie stuff here”, walking home from a drunk night at the Frontier Room, post Nina kicking you out, or Squid Row, where we could just be poured out of, much like the Comet, we would try to scream like “Nothing To Say” or “Hunted Down” or whatever. It was our own Led Zeppelin. Nobody else knew. I remember an (Alice In Chains) show in Everett where Soundgarden opened for them. When they played it was about 30 of us that drove up to see them and everyone else waiting outside for AIC, and SG took a few requests, to which we screamed “Little Joe” and they went into the most crushing version. Nobody will ever sound like Tom Jones super booming voice with the sensitivity of Freddy Mercury and such a unique manner of communicating a feeling which seemed to course through the veins of all my friends and cohorts that were lucky enough to be the few, the proud, the stupid, to be in that capsule of time in early Seattle — when TAD, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, UMen, Screaming Trees and Mother Love Bone ruled our planet, and we didn’t need outside labels, or radio, or bands, we all everything we could ever want right there, like kids in a candy store. I am forever grateful that I ran away from Spain and ended up there, it made me who I am today and I will never change. I love it.”


photo by Matthew B. Thompson (view set)


Ben Verellen (Helms Alee)

“When the grunge mess was at it’s full peak in 1993, I was 13 years old. I grew up in Lakewood, WA, just south of Tacoma — less than 50 miles of where Seattle bands were making history, and and less than 10 miles of Tacoma where the Nirvana guys had been living, but I may as well have been living in Sioux Falls, SD or Norman, OK, because the whole thing hit me as an MTV generation teenage sponge, and it hit me hard.

As much as I loved ‘Cherish’ by Madonna, and ‘Sowing the Seeds of Love’ by Tears for Fears, I immediately related to Nirvana ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, and Soundgarden ‘Outshined’. No idea why.

Quickly as a teen, I was wrapped up in the underground hardcore punk scene, which validated and embraced my musical ambitions fully as far as I could see. But there was no room in that world for major label mass produced rock music. Soundgarden, Nirvana, etc… despite my inherent musical interest was relegated as another of those ‘mainstream rock bands’ we weren’t supposed to like.

Over time, meeting like minded musicians with stories to tell about the Seattle’s music scene in the 80’s and early 90’s, it became clear to me that these were the guys at the shows in Seattle amongst a dozen others feeding the very fragile beginnings of a weirdo rock scene that was exploited to my teenage fascination soon after.

As years went on, classic rock radio stations blaring, at some point I realized that Soundgarden’s music really actually meant something to me. The riffs and the lyrics of this band were beyond their aspirations in the moment of the grunge fad, they were a legitimately incredible, insightful, and unique group of musicians who left a mark on people outside of their place in pop rock history, in their own right. I see them as a band that snuck their bizarre, creative, and sincere ideas into the commercial rock world, and the reason they connected isn’t a marketing ploy. I think they just happened to put themselves out at a time when the world was listening, and their beauty and strangeness were a little bit concealed. This was a really weird and amazing band, and they made a real go at it! Unheard of!

So many bands of the early 90’s seemed to latch onto (or be pitched as) the fad at hand. In hindsight, I think it’s so cool that this weird, heavy, melodic band, came up as some kind of success story for that genre. Listening now, I’m inspired and confused by a band that strange that had that kind of commercial success, which is the same way I feel about so many classics… the Beatles, the Who, etc…

I’m convinced that Soundgarden deserves any accolades, be them mainstream media or bar counter conversation, that they get.

They seem to be an anomaly of a creative rock band and I’m encouraged and excited by how far their strange music reached.

All that said, I believe that suicide is a mistake. We need all the thinkers and empathetic, creative and articulate people we can find. I think (with what little I know about the situation) that this conversation is more about a prescription drug abuse etc.. than about general depression etc…. Such a bummer.”

Brent Amaker (Brent Amaker and The Rodeo)

“I moved to Seattle in 1997 in the wake of the grunge movement. Chris Cornell and a few others created a sound that shook the world. It was the reason I came here. To be part of something special. I owe everything I have today to Chris and a few others who made this town what it is today. And while I never knew him personally, his death leaves an empty space in my heart. This is a great loss to Seattle and the rest of the world. RIP Chris Cornell.”

Champagne Honeybee

“As a child in the 90s, Soundgarden was part of the soundtrack of my life. As an adult, Chris Cornell’s vast body of work inspired me as a vocalist and songwriter, and helped me through troubling times of heartbreak and abuse. His live performances, whether solo or with a band, were spiritual experiences. His soulful, soaring vocals and thoughtful lyrics took me to a higher place. He meant so much to so many people, I hope that he could feel that love, even in his darkest times.”

Jennifer Finch (L7)

I am so shocked right now. It is mostly devastating as I knew him more through charity work and out of our mutual love for Pomeranians. I actually only met him a few times in 80s/90s now I know him mostly through Music Cares. He was very charitable and intense.

photo by Matthew B. Thompson (view set)


Keaton Simons

“Chris made the music he wanted to make. He wasn’t concerned about having a hit song. In that way he was an inspiration to all artists. He was a legend in his own time. A true natural talent. He was someone I looked up to as a human being as well as an artist. He was generous and humble. It was an honor and a privilege to spend time and make music with him. My deepest love and condolences to his wonderful family.”

Tony Reed (Mos Generator)

I think what I respect most about Chris Cornell, other than the fact that his voice and writing was a light in the dismal state of rock music in the mid to late 80s, was the fact that he kept active as a writer and musician throughout the breakups of the bands he was in. I feel like he was in it for the right reason…the music.

Justin Trosper (Unwound, Nocturnal Habits)

“I was a teenager when I was first exposed to Chris Cornell and Soundgarden — first heard on KAOS radio in Olympia and read about in the Rocket magazine (Bruce Pavitt’s Sub Pop column!). Brandt Sandeno (Unwound) and myself were big fans and bought tickets to see them and The Screaming Trees at The Moore Theater in the late 80’s. They were some of the first anti-star rock gods (whatever that means) we saw play on a bigger stage and it all made a big impression on us. I later decided they were “sellouts” (ha ha) and ignored some of the stuff they did for awhile… Later on I came back with a fresh mind and became a born again #1 fan (AUDIOSLAVE too!). I think they are the best band from Seattle ever — songwriting and playing of such high caliber. Oh my god, it is such a loss. I’m so sad for his friends, family, and fans…play on…”

Sassyblack

“Chris Cornell was and will forever be a worldwide music icon. I would have never have dreamt to have the honor to live in the same city that his artistry and genius was hatched. His music holds a deep poetic rawness that everyone can relate to. Each and every scene aches at the news of his passing and the world will mourn him for some time.”

Thunderpussy

Whitney Petty: It is a sad day indeed. Everyone in Thunderpussy is deeply upset by this horrible tragedy. Molly, Leah, and I were lucky enough to see Temple of the Dog at The Paramount this last fall, and I will never forget hearing Chris’s beautiful voice in person, or his incredible rendition of Zeppelin’s, ‘Achilles Last Stand,’ one of Molly and I’s favorites. He was so beautiful.

Molly Sides: That evening at The Paramount was paramount. Standing on the side of the stage with a smile that never fell from the edges of my face. We were finally witnessing the brilliance of a sonic movement we had missed in the years passed. It was the first time I got to see and hear one of the most unbelievable vocalists ever and to be so close felt like a dream. So did his voice. Chris’s stage presence and vocal range are like a vortex that pull you in and never quite let you go. And we will never let him go.

Whitney Petty: I just have to say, growing up in Georgia, I never experienced the now megalithic bands of the Soundgarden era. I missed Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone, Temple of the Dog, all the classic members of the Seattle grunge pantheon. It wasn’t until 6 years ago until I’d been here for a few years that I discovered how much I’d missed. And of those incredible groups– It was Soundgarden that instantly moved me. The song, ‘4th of July’. It was something in his voice, the longing and the raw power, that did it for me. The emotion. That incredible vocal range. The unbelievable harmonies. He was possibly the best singer of his generation. Chris will always be an inspiration to Molly and I. I just wish he could have stuck around a little longer.

Jeff Southard (Founder of Swoon Records)

Soundgarden’s continued existence helped me live through Cobain’s suicide during the most awkward and difficult years of my life. It probably would have killed me if Cornell had hanged himself when I was still a teenager. Cornell and Soundgarden validated my mixed-up emotions by slowing things down and combining the dark and gloomy with the bright and colorful. It felt like they were speaking directly to me: “Yes, it’s ok to be sad while you’re in a beautiful world. It’s ok to slow down and allow yourself to feel it. Even your rockstar heroes go through that.” Man, depression is a real motherfucker.

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