By Barry Lord
Say what you will about depression, at least it’s an equal opportunist – it doesn’t care if you’re a millionaire rock star or the parent who has to weigh up buying new shoes for the kids or turning on the immersion heater.
There is no discrimination where this condition is concerned and on Thursday morning, music fans all over the world woke up to the shattering news that Chris Cornell, frontman of Soundgarden and latterly Audioslave, succumbed to his own demons and committed suicide.
For many, Chris Cornell’s name did not always invoke the instant recognition of fellow Seattle natives Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, but you knew his work – even 14-year-olds today know ‘Black Hole Sun’ – and also his voice.
Like Ian Curtis in his prime, Cornell’s lyrics were filled with stark imagery and raging despair. He had the same three octave vocal range of a young Robert Plant and the looks to match any Hollywood A-lister.
It’s true that Soundgarden rode on the crest of the Seattle Grunge wave in the early to mid-90s, but they were not gate crashers to the party, having moulded a unique sound in the rock venues of Washington in the mid-1980s.
At the height of the Grunge phenomenon in 1994, the band released what would be their seminal and most influential album ‘Superunknown’ and for this 15-year-old ‘Gen-Xer’, life would never be the same again.
Music has the power to transform, to freeze you in a moment. My father was shaken to his core by the opening lines of Heartbreak Hotel. My cousin came of age the day he heard Patti Smith sing “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”.
And for me, when Chris Cornell sang about going to the ‘Holy Land’ on the album’s opening track, Let Me Drown, I was forever a believer. And I wasn’t alone. He was, in short, the complete star. And yet…we are left with the feeling that this wasn’t enough.
Like the surviving family members of suicide victims, we are left to flail around, ready to lash out in frustration as we seek an explanation. A quest that often proves fruitless. Like fans, we share the same emotions.
Many of us would have listened back to Cornell’s work and re-evaluated each line in light of what has transpired. In interviews, he had discussed his issues with depression and several tracks on the Superunknown LP make explicit reference to his condition. Now we wonder what being ‘alone in the Superunknown’ truly meant.
Like fans and family, we are left wounded. Performers give to us as we give to them. We follow them to venues around the world. We recite their poetry back at them, and all in the hope of affirming the acceptance we believe they’ve always sought. As they leave the stage, we hope they know it.
But now a bond is broken.
Now this is a selfish standpoint. Chris Cornell had more to live for than just the adulation of his followers. A wife has lost her husband and three children have lost their father. They will be tormented by the thought that their love and support wasn’t enough to steal their beloved away from the void that consumed him.
Of course it’s not that simple. At least we pray it’s not. This brings us back to the black dog. The one that can turn up at any residence, uninvited and will stay as long as it chooses.
It takes no account of your personal circumstances, whether you’ve got millions in the bank or down to your last ten euro.
We still believe we can shoe the black dog away. We think that if you’re a real man, you’ll shake it off like cramp in the leg. It’s what Rooney or Messi would do before going about their game.
Despite evidence to the contrary, the mind-set remains that if you have exceptional wealth, the blessings of a family and God given talent, you are somehow immune to mental health issues.
If this were true, Chris Cornell would still be touring and I wouldn’t have written this feature.