No one knows whether Chris Cornell thought of the granite, circular monument in Volunteer Park when he wrote “Black Hole Sun.”
Fans flocked to the sculpture, named Black Sun, anyway. All afternoon, people pilgrimaged to this spot across from the Asian Art Museum to honor Cornell, the Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman who took his life last night after playing a show in Detroit.
Mourners struggled to process the sudden and violent death of an iconic Seattle voice. Some quietly cried on benches with views of the Space Needle. Others left tributes at the base of the sculpture: Roses. A half-smoked joint. A Sub Pop Records sticker, bearing the name of the label that signed Soundgarden in 1987 and helped vault this city’s burgeoning rock scene onto the national stage.
Scrawled on a postcard of the city skyline, addressed to Cornell: “There’s something in your voice that got me through some hard times. First Walkman, then portable CD players playing Soundgarden and Audioslave. Loud, SO LOUD, rocking music. Your music is what I needed.”
As a speaker blared Audioslave’s “I Am the Highway,” Lacey Alameda, 34, and Brian Tinsley 32, took swigs of red wine from a bottle encased in a blue sleeve. The pair of roommates reflected on the imprint Cornell’s music left on their own understanding of Seattle, their hometown.
“It feels comfortable, like it’s home,” said Tinsley.
“We’re kinda depressed out here,” said Alameda. “He puts words to that depression.”
“It goes with the endless, gray haze,” Tinsley added.
Richard MacKenzie, 47, woke up this morning to a push notification reporting Cornell’s death. Like many others, he felt compelled to stop by the donut-shaped monument to pay his respects. “For my generation, Soundgarden is the soul of your youth,” MacKenzie said, tearing up behind sunglasses. “Death is weird for me, so I like to take some alone time. The suicide makes it even more personal.”
MacKenzie moved to Seattle in 1990 to go to college. In ’93 or ‘94—he can’t quite remember—Soundgarden played Memorial Stadium, but MacKenzie didn’t buy tickets. It turned out that he didn’t need them. “The sound was perfect on Capitol Hill,” he said.
It’s tough for Charity Drewery, 42, to pick a favorite Soundgarden concert—she’s been to “too many to even name”—but a 1992 show at Kitsap County Fairgrounds is a strong contender. “It was rainy and muddy. It was like being at Woodstock or something,” she said. Or it could be last year’s show at the Paramount Theater, on the 25th anniversary of the album Temple of the Dog. “That was one of the better days of my whole life,” she said.
“This is the worst day ever,” she added as she led a group of visitors on Stalking Seattle, a tour of landmarks central to Seattle’s 90’s grunge scene. “He was the voice of this city.”
Three miles away, at the KEXP station studios near the Space Needle, dozens of people with watery eyes milled around a stage bearing another flower-laden memorial. A screen displayed quotes from Cornell and the number of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Linette Wilson saw him once. It was eight or 10 years ago, and she was partaking in the same ritual she and her friends did every year on August 22. Since 2002, they gathered at the Seattle International Fountain by the Space Needle on that day in memory of Layne Staley, the lead singer of Alice in Chains.
Wilson was about to get out of her car, and she saw a man in a bucket hat quickly cross the street. She recognized him immediately. "Chris!" she shouted.
This evening, Wilson, 49, wiped tears off her face and touched a cedar rose she bought from a vendor outside the radio station. She thought about leaving the rose here, at the base of a memorial to Chris Cornell on a stage at KEXP, but has decided to keep it instead.
Wilson moved to Seattle from Sequim as a teenager after surviving the plastic, big hair bullshit of the '80s. That's when her life changed.
"I'm Seattle," Wilson says. "Everything that's happened, I am that. Since I can remember, practically, it's always been the music."
Wilson loved what she found. The power, the realness, the grittiness of it all. Badmotorfinger. Ten. Nevermind. Dirt. It all happened at the same time. And it felt new. "It was almost like this supernova," she remembers. "A fucking supernova in my life, in my brain, in my conceptions of what music was."
Kurt delivered the angst, Eddie had the tenderness, but Chris was the "heaving soul underneath it," Wilson said. She struggled with depression too, especially at that age, but she's better now. Part of what she doesn't understand about Chris's death is its timing.
"We're not 25, we're not 27. We're not even 34 like Layne," Wilson said, wiping away more tears. "We're 50-something, we're well-adjusted, we have kids. We know better. We know about how life is, and how it sucks, and we know how to adapt and survive through it."
Soundgarden also "saved" Dave Cox, 50. He's a survivor of depression, too. "The first time I heard his voice it gave me goosebumps," he said.
Anthony Krueger, 35, laid a handful of white guitar picks on stage beneath Chris Cornell's photo. Krueger, also a musician, sat in his condo in tears after he learned of Cornell's death. "He played a show three hours prior," Krueger said. "Those are usually the best times."
But Krueger has also identified with the elements of struggle and redemption he heard in Cornell's lyrics. "I think we need to raise more awareness about mental health," Krueger said. "We all deal with it in one way or another."
Need help? Call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.