Chris Cornell, Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman dies aged 52

Chris Cornell passed away Wednesday night (May 17th) at the age of 52.  Cornell was currently on tour with Soundgarden and had been on stage with the rest of his bandmates at the Fox Theater (Detroit) only a few hours earlier.  As of this writing, there are no further details known save for the fact that his death was “sudden and unexpected” according to his representative Brian Bumbery.

Cornell is perhaps most well known as the frontman of the alternative-rock band Soundgarden, a key fixture in the 90’s Seattle music scene.  Along with the likes of Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Layne Staley (Alice In Chains), and Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Cornell belonged to an incredibly talented fraternity of singers and was often regarded as the most gifted voice of his generation.  

While Cornell initially joined Soundgarden as a drummer back in 1986, he quickly moved to guitar and vocals where along with guitarist Kim Thayil, drummer Matt Cameron and (later on) bassist Ben Shepherd the band’s lineup soon solidified.  A quirky, nuanced whole so much greater than the sum of its parts, Cornell’s otherworldly singing was the band’s secret weapon.  Cornell sang with incredible power and effortless range and functioned as the unifying thread between the numerous and disparate styles of music that Soundgarden would often employ.

From their noisy Sub-Pop roots to their metal-tinged major-label debut, Soundgarden’s records always seemed to be a purposeful reaction to where they had already been.  And once the band appeared to strike upon a winning formula with the release of the hugely successful Badmotorfinger in late 1991, they shed their heavy-​metal aesthetic once and for all, deciding to embrace a less-muscular and more nuanced sound on what would be their defining record, 1994’s Superunkown.  And by the time the band’s touring for their final album Down on the Upside had wrapped up in 1997, the band collectively felt they had begun to see diminished returns and thus quietly disbanded; a move that even the most heartbroken ​of ​fan​s​ had to respect.

And so, with a nearly flawless run with one of music’s biggest bands now in the rearview mirror, Chris Cornell began the process of reinventing himself as he embarked on the second half of his career.  He soon teamed up with Tom Morello to form the supergroup Audioslave and found the chart-success and packed arenas right where he had left them.  And when that group’s three-album run was over in 2007, the door to an eventual Soundgarden reunion opened back up, culminating with 2012’s King Animal.  Along the way, Cornell also managed to release a handful of well-received solo records.

There were, of course, the typical headlines, trappings, and vices along the way.  A high-profile divorce here, another stint in rehab there, but all the while Cornell managed to gracefully remain on his feet, even while one peer after another seemed to fall by the wayside.  "I've lost a lot of young, brilliant friends, people that I thought were very inspired," he was quoted as saying in a 2015 Rolling Stone article.  "They're all young and these guys all had limitless potential in their lives in front of them."

It’s hard to not recognize the ever-tightening grasp of time as one grows older, and nobody seemed more self-aware of his mortality-defying luck than Chris Cornell.  It was a topic he confronted over and over again in his lyrics and songs. The man created music with a sense of urgency and purpose, a fact reflected throughout his tremendous and prolific body of work.

Regardless of the age, it’s hard not to feel an artist has died ‘too young’ when they are still creating at such a high level.  It’s difficult not to wonder ‘what if?’ when thoughts wander to the next song, the next record, the next tour and so on.  But for the friends and family of Chris Cornell, 52 years old is simply too young.  Too young for an artist, too young for a friend, too young for a husband and far too young for a father.

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