When I was a teenager I was – at first – a little leery of grunge rock. Through a combination of extreme self-awareness and classic insecurity, I was always worried, at that age, about appearing too much like the stereotype of the “typical angst-ridden teenager,” so I actually didn’t listen to too much music in that style.
Sure, there were a couple of Nirvana songs I liked, and with the surfeit of Alice in Chains songs my friends listened to, it was inevitable that I started to appreciate their songs – but at the end of the day, too many grunge bands took themselves too seriously, I felt at the time.
Then, I stumbled upon the work of one the most recent grunge legends to recently pass away: Chris Cornell. There was something different about Cornell’s style of singing. Not just in his ability to hit so many high and low ranges without a beat. The brand of grunge rock Cornell belted out in the many octaves in which he could sing was a breath of fresh air, to me.
Admittedly, his songwriting and singing were in the same vein as the rest of the gruff, rough-around-the-edges grunge from the 90s, but one thing I personally found was that there was more to depth to Cornell’s songs – more of an emotional range to accompany Cornell’s broad vocal range.
While Kurt Cobain of Nirvana had that plaintive quality to his voice, and Layne Staley of Alice in Chains had a more aggressive variation of what Cobain had going for him, Cornell was different. Cornell had this strange, almost maniacal quality to his singing – something that set him apart from the usual group of grunge singers with whom he usually gets associated.
His voice was one that was entirely unique – there was something likeable about it. I could relate, in a way that I never found was possible with the grating vocals of other grunge vocalists – no offense to any of them, since they are all great artists.
It was in quick succession that I really got into the variety of songs that Soundgarden (and Audioslave and Temple of the Dog) performed, listening to the vacillating, zany quality of Cornell’s virtuosic vocal range.
There was something mesmerizing about Cornell’s singing, no matter what kind of song it was set to – whether it was alongside the infectious main riff in Rusty Cage; accentuating the catchy chords of Spoonman; echoing the mood-swings of the melodies in Pretty Noose or with the almost hypnotic droning of Black Hole Sun.
I don’t think I’m the only one who can claim that Cornell was the voice for many songs that got me through some rough times in life. Reading the many eulogistic pieces in magazines and on the Internet memorializing Cornell is proof enough of that.
To be fair, I feel like that the sound of Cornell’s singing being used to boost your own morale is a very fitting practice. In his lifetime, Cornell faced a whole bunch of demons all his own. He dropped out of school in his teens, battled -and defeated- a drug addiction. Up until his death, he was familiar with tremendous personal burdens that stemmed from the frightening, mentally paralyzing heightened hyper-awareness of one’s own surroundings that anxiety entails, as well as the cavernous lows of depression.
He had a strong voice anda strong character, given the man he was able to be in spite of his struggles – what a kick in the gut it was to lose such an artist.
Rest easy, Chris Cornell – you will be missed.