The Night I Met Rock Legend Chris Cornell
He’s not listed among Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers Of All Time. He usually isn’t mentioned in the same breath as Curt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. But in the rise of grunge and the seismic shift in rock music in the early 1990’s, the influence of Chris Cornell cannot be overstated.
Just by fate I happened to be alive at the time when what was termed “Alternative” music arrived. In the fall of 1991 I was the program director of WABB, a Top 40 station in Mobile, Alabama. The hottest songs at the time were “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch, “Can’t Stop This Thing We Started” by Bryan Adams, “Emotions” by Mariah Carey and hair bands like Poison and Ratt were still mixed into the sound of the station.
I remember it like it was yesterday. This single arrived from some band called Nirvana, and I put it in the c.d. player to give it a listen. Imagine my surprise when the first chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” assaulted my senses. It was like nothing that was currently on the radio, and I remember thinking, “I don’t know what this is, but it’s really cool.” Little did I know at the time but it was the beginning of a rock revolution; an alternative to hair bands and wimpy pop music had arrived.
Though Nirvana was not the first grunge band, it was the first to have mainstream success. Soon what had become known as “grunge” was proliferating. There were Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots.
My favorite album of that entire era came out in 1994. It was Superunknown by Soundgarden. There was the dark sound that was driven by Kim Thayil’s guitar and Hiro Yamamoto’s bass. But it was the songwriting and vocal prowess of Chris Cornell that made songs like “Fell On Black Days”, “Black Hole Sun”, and “Spoonman” instant classics.
I got the chance to meet Chris and the band when they played a concert in Gulfport, Mississippi, when they were touring to support Superunknown. I don’t remember much about the backstage meet-n-greet, except that Kim Thayil was just a regular guy who loved talking baseball. Chris was more introverted which typified the lead singers of that grunge era. But the music at the concert itself, I do remember that. Soundgarden pummeled you with a wall of sound that you could feel to your bones. And Chris’ voice reached down into your soul.
Today’s news of Chris Cornell’s passing is shocking and it’s sad that we must add another talented musician to the list of those done too soon. He has left a lasting legacy of music in Soundgarden, Temple Of The Dog, Audioslave, and his solo projects. Chris–no one sings like you anymore.