Late Wednesday night, we lost one of the most successful and well-loved musicians in Seattle rock history. Shortly after midnight, AP reported that Chris Cornell died in Detroit, MI while on tour with Soundgarden. The band played a full 20-song set on Wednesday night at the Fox Theatre. According to Cornell’s representative, the artist's death was
“sudden and unexpected” and said [Cornell’s] wife and family were shocked. The statement said the family would be working closely with the medical examiner to determine the cause and asked for privacy.
UPDATE: The New York Times is reporting that the death is being investigated as a suicide:
Dontae Freeman, a spokesman for the Detroit Police Department, said in an interview that at about midnight officers responded at the MGM Grand casino to an apparent suicide of a white man, born July 20, 1964, who was pronounced dead on the scene. He would not confirm the victim’s name; Mr. Cornell’s date of birth is July 20, 1964.
As for questions about his state of mind, he tweeted this Wednesday afternoon:
Chris Cornell had the most powerful and distinctive voice of any of the artists who achieved great fame in the early ‘90s Seattle boom. His work with Soundgarden, with the Rage Against the Machine collaboration Audioslave, and on his varied solo albums, has made him an indelible presence in the musical consciousness of people all over the world, who will join his family, friends, and bandmates in reeling from the blow of this staggering loss.
I will be one of them.
Watch this space for further details as they become available. In the meantime, there may be some solace to be found in his music. When I interviewed Cornell in the fall of 2015, he told me that he had a particular fondness for his first solo album, which he had recently succeeded in getting reissued with its original title, Euphoria Mourning.
But you can never go wrong with Soundgarden. Not ever.
In that same interview, I asked him what his relationship was with Seattle was like, given the degree to which he was and would always be associated with this city’s musical legacy. His answer was characteristically thoughtful:
It’s been more than 12 years, but given that I’m 51, you do the math… That means I was born and raised and lived here for a huge part of my life. It’s clearly my home, and it makes perfect sense to me that conversationally I’d be referred to as a guy from Seattle. There was a period in my early career, especially with Soundgarden, where it was actually super important to us that we’d stay home and do what we do there and make Seattle the place for our creativity no matter what happened. And all of our friends and their bands had the same attitude. Nobody had the inclination to go to LA or New York or San Francisco or London… very few, anyway.
And it was that dedication to our home and to being creative in our home and to being who we were, and in a sense celebrating our own identity was one of the chief ingredients that brought so much attention down on it. That was a time when the nature of commercial rock was that everybody did whatever they could to get a record deal and roll the dice and try to be lucky enough to be the latest poodle-haired people in the latest rock video. We were anti that, and our resistance is what got us initially a lot of attention.
And the geography was a big part of that. Once people started coming up to see us, our big unveiling to labels outside of indies was a show at the Vogue. I think we played with Feast. Three different labels came, and all three tried to sign us, and all the individuals who represented those big labels started coming back. And got the same resistance from most of the other bands, and that created the whole huge maelstrom of mining this town, because it had this untapped resource of amazing bands. I’m always proud to carry that with me.