I really don’t know how to start this…

Thursday mourning.

I had taken off work to take my mother to the doctor, she is dying of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Her progression is advanced and everyday I am living my worst nightmare. So to say that I awoke with beaming positivity and a “Carpe’ Diem” attitude would be a bold faced lie. As usual I got up to my daughter being done with her slumber, and urgently wanting to ascend to the living room. I grabbed my cellular device as I usually do to see what overnight indulgence had graced my screen. I had 2 messages from 2 of my best friends and bandmates; one said “Dude…Cornell?” the other… a sad face emoji. I assumed maybe he announced plans to do another album with Timbaland, and people were having adverse reactions to something professional he had decided to do, so I simply responded with “???”, but before I got a reply I opened my Facebook app and immediately, what was left of my broken heart, was pulverized into a million pieces…

The headlines read “Chris Cornell, singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave… Dead at 52”

And almost like sadistic clockwork, my plutonic life partner texted back “dead man…”

I was in shock.

I am still in shock.

As I mentioned earlier, my mother is terribly ill, and coupled with a some other near tragedies, the last 2 years of my life have essentially sent my psychology into a haze of indifference riddled with a side of depression and anxiety. On countless occasions I leaned on my hero’s to get me through. Specifically Chris and Eddie (Vedder). On May 18, one of those voices went silent forever.

To some, I am sure it seems petty and trite. A selfish grasp for attention. People just taking advantage of news to draw sympathy and likes on social media. But, I can assure you that my sadness is real. Chris Cornell may have very well saved my life.

In my late teens, 19 to be exact I had just given up a full scholarship to play football at West Virginia University. I had spent 2 years there and my love for the game had vanished. I decided to stop getting my brains beat out and pursue entertainment, music specifically. So I came home. Some friends of mine had a band and I had let me sit in with them a couple times while I was in college. They let me join. I was a singer. Music was my escape from the ridicule and abuse I received from my hometown for “failing” as a collegiate athlete. Around that same time give or take a few years my parents also got divorced. At one time my world seemed so bright and limitless, my future laid out for me on a plate. Now my mood was dark and my head was filled with so much doubt and confusion.

I just knew I wanted to play music, and I wanted play it all the time.

Not only did I have no direction in regards to my life, I also didn’t have a concrete musical direction either. I remember all of the bands on MTV from the early nineties, but my taste leaned top 40 (Boyz II Men, Michael Jackson…etc). Melody made me happy. I could sing melody to girls. At that stage in life, I really didn’t know what angst was. So, when I became an angry twenty-something, I got lost in a sea of Creed and rap rock (i.e. Limp Biscuit, Korn…etc). That was the tone of the culture at the time, or at least the mainstream rock culture. I remember when the wheels started coming of the Creed bandwagon and I was devastated, and once again left without a hero. I became disjointed from my band and semi alone. I couldn’t play an instrument at the time, so I couldn’t exactly head out on a solo tour. I started hanging out with some other musicians and started living my life as reflection of my inner consciousness. I was a bit reckless. I was a lost boy, not a man, but a boy. I had received criticisms about the way that I sang. I was just copying people, mimicking THEIR voice, trying to steal the spotlight from other people so forth and so on. Also, I was a jock trying to fit in with misfits, trying to be someone that I wasn’t. They were right, I wasn’t like them, I didn’t see the world through their eyes either.

One evening, while driving around with a guy that I was doing some writing and recording with, he handed me a burnt disc and said “hey man take this home and listen to it”. He knew I was struggling, he knew I was searching. When I got home I popped in a burnt CD that read “Chris Cornell: Euphoria Mourning”. I listened to every song, every note, and every word. It was the most honest thing that I had ever heard. I felt like he written the album about me. It changed my brain chemistry.

I realized that I had the freedom to express myself anyway that I needed to, and fuck anyone who thought otherwise. From that point on I immersed myself in Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Temple of the Dog. I finally felt like I had found my place, I felt like I was no longer alone. I felt strength. I listened to everything… constantly. I screamed every song, note for note in my car. I found myself. I became calloused and strong. In 2004 I saw Audioslave in Cleveland at the Agora Theater and Ballroom. When Chris Cornell walked out of stage, I wept like I was at a Michael Jackson concert. I had never done that before, he was such an inspiration to me. I identified strength within him. I fed off of his resilience. I was enamored by his courage to push the envelope and try new things. I was inspired by the masculinity in his voice, yet his ability to be normal and soft spoken. I wanted to be him. I wanted to be me, but do it like he did… unapologetically. He let me know that it was ok to throw my voice anyway I felt necessary to get my point across… unapologetically. His lyrics were dark, yet beautifully haunting, and his demeanor was vulnerable yet commandeering. He was a rock star. He was a rock god, and he didn’t give a fuck who knew it.

Jesus Christ pose was about him I think. He knew he had to own it or he would never be successful, and he had to be successful, but it had to be on his terms. That is what living is. Doing what you need to do, exactly how you want to do it. As I sit and write this I will probably re-read it a dozen times, miss all kind of spelling and grammar errors, re-write multiple lines, second guess myself, or scrap the whole fucking thing and move on. I can never truly express what Chris’ life and music mean to me, it’s too personal. I want to throw out that I have the same admiration for Eddie V and the boys as well, but Chris was my spirit animal. He was a rock and roll super hero in vast ocean of posers and flakes. He was continuity.

Today is day 5 of life without my idol, and my heart breaks for his family and band mates. His daughters who lost their Superman, his wife who lost her partner and best friend. This is what breaks my soul apart. From all accounts he loved his kids and family more than life itself. He was a devoted father and husband and had actually been with his family and flown back the day of his final performance. Recently, I have been listening  ‘Only These Words” off of the Higher Truth album. Before Thursday, I was unable to listen and sing along with getting choked up. The lyrics are so genuine, this is the song that every father would want to write for their daughter, and he wrote it. Now, posthumously, I don’t know if I can get to the first word.

Chris Cornell may no longer travel through this plane of existence, but his influence is immortal. His pain was real, and he was tired. I will never get to drive around and listen to every song on your new album. I will never watch a new interview about an awesome project you are about to release, and I will never get to be in your presence ever again.

Thank you Chris for inspiring me to be the best me…unapologetic.

I will miss you.

2 thoughts on “Chris Cornell Saved My Life

  1. Daddy has always told me, “God is in the melody.” Thursday mourning is perfectly heart wrenching but true. For those of us that eat, sleep, breathe, and live music, it’s hard to explain to others how Chris touched us on a personal level. We may have never met him in person, but he single handedly touched me spiritually and emotionally many times over the years as we both fumbled through life- no matter the stage. Beautifully written as always, Justin.

  2. I could say so much about your beautiful eulogy, but it wouldn’t matter. It has now been said. As inspiring as Chris Cornell was to you and will remain, so too are you to many. You spilled your heart out in this ode. The the impression Cornell made on you, you have now made on us. It sounds so trite to say, but, well-spoken.

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