24 May 2017

Paying tribute to Chris Cornell

From Music 101, 2:56 pm on 24 May 2017

Music fans around the world are grieving the loss of Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell after his sudden death this week.

Cornell died as a result of hanging himself, US officials have confirmed. The 52-year-old was found dead just hours after performing with his band as part of their current North American tour.

Footage of Chris Cornell's last performance hours before he was found dead (AP):

Soundgarden were widely considered the bridge between the glam rock of the 80s and the burgeoning grunge movement. Cornell’s 4-octave vocal range marked him as one of rock music’s all-time greatest singers.

While Cornell was best-known as Soundgarden's principal songwriter and lead singer, he also had success as a solo artist and as part of the band Audioslave, made up of Rage Against The Machine members except vocalist Zack de la Rocha.

Cornell had dealt with addiction and depression since his teenage years and spoke openly about his challenges on many occasions. He sang about his battles and personal demons often, a cathartic act that gave a validating voice to millions of fans. He attended rehabilitation several times and claimed that although it didn’t really suit him, it worked. He said it took a long time to come to the realisation that the sober way is a better way. He is survived by his wife and children. 


Tom Larkin is the drummer for Shihad and in recent years has become a mentor and producer for many up and coming rock bands. He is an ambassador for mental health within the music industry and Shihad toured with Soundgarden on several occasions. He speaks to Alex Behan about mental health among the musician community.

Tributes have been flowing in from Chris Cornell's contemporaries and those who've been inspired by his music and incredible vocal talent. Here's some thoughts and memories from the team here at RNZ Music.

Alex Behan

I was a pretty normal sixteen-year-old, but it didn’t feel like it at the time. I didn’t understand the world around me and my feelings were so raw, so violent and tenuous that I didn’t know how to reconcile them properly. I felt like no one understood me. Typical teenager emotions, but they were all-consuming at the time. 

Music was my only solace, and Superunknown was the album I would play loud in my headphones, cloaking myself in its wall of noise, my soul soaring with Chris Cornell’s angst-ridden wails.

It was the heaviest music I’d listened to at that point of my life, which wasn’t a comfortable place for me, I was more at home with melodies and poetry but the power of this music was intoxicating. The guitars made me feel tougher than I was, and Chris made me feel understood. I had fallen on black days, and he understood me.

I followed their career closely and when they split and Chris Cornell released Euphoria Morning I lapped that up. Looking back now that album isn’t his strongest work, but I loved that his voice was the lead instrument. Still dripping with sadness and vulnerability songs like ‘Preaching the End of the World’, 'Wave Goodbye', and Can’t Change Me’ suited my 19-year-old malaise.

‘Sunshower’ was a favourite also. That song gave hope to my grey days and it’s still a song I play from time to time when I need reminding that life gets better.

Chris Cornell was restless, never static. Musically he constantly pushed himself into uncomfortable territory the way great artists always do. He was sometimes critically adored, sometimes critically shunned, but he kept on pushing himself, until he didn’t.

And that’s what has devastated me most today, the knowledge that he didn’t want to keep pushing. He didn’t want to play another show or make another album or see his wife and kids again. It’s hard to imagine what it must take to get to a place that desperate, it’s tragic to believe that after providing me and so many others with such solace through his music, he couldn’t find any himself.

Kirsten Johnstone

I turned 13 the year Badmotorfinger came out, and I guess I discovered Soundgarden along with Nirvana and Pearl Jam the next year, in 1992. With my hormones running rampant, a bare-chested, army-boot wearing, goateed Chris Cornell became my pin-up. While Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain were contenders, Cornell had my heart.

Soundgarden were by far the heaviest, and most innovative of that Seattle set. I’d spent the previous year schooling up on 70s metal giants like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, and these guys fell nicely into that lineage. But their riffs and melodies couldn’t have been more original, or more fierce and intense. 

Those detuned, intertwined guitar lines, the constant rhythmic changes, and Cornell’s urgent howl that transcended above it all make Badmotorfinger the kind of cathartic release that every teenager needs. 

While I was grappling with what religion was to me – growing up in an atheist family, but surrounded by Christian friends and reading The Crucible in 4th form English – here was something I could believe in.

Yadana Saw

We are sadly getting used to losing our rock idols. But I never thought we would farewell Chris Cornell, my prince of grunge, in such a tragic way. At this age. At this time.

His voice, lyrics and music articulated all the mixed-up, complex emotions in my provincial adolescent life, swathed in flannel and ripped denim, stomping about in my Doc Martens. It was an impractical teenage uniform in the sub-tropical far north, but I was committed because Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Temple of the Dog and all that Seattle scene gave me hope that there was a wider world. Chris Cornell's voice embodied my confusion and rage, but also delivered a softness and comfort. He was singing my mind to me.

It dared me to dream that I might one day find my own scene of earnest, artistic and socially-aware young people who felt. Just like that awkward film of the era Singles.

As much as grunge became the mainstream, commercialised musical genre where we would later bemoan the “yowling” vocal delivery of messrs Cornell, Vedder and Staley (Layne Staley of Alice in Chains and Mad Season), their music and the causes they supported ignited social and political values in me at an age and in a place I would have not otherwise been exposed to.

The best thing that came from Singles - that cringey Cameron Crowe-directed film - was the soundtrack. In his solo acoustic track, 'Seasons', which was so stripped back and far away from the assaulting swirl and fire of Soundgarden then, Chris Cornell sings "I wanna fly above the storm/But you can’t grow feathers in the rain"

It’s hard to fathom how the person whose art got me to adulthood could stumble and still be so vulnerable and alone at an age where I can feel the sunshine’s warmth and the moonlight’s glow. I hope that Chris Cornell is flying above the storm with feathers full and bright.


Cornell's death has had a profound effect on musicians locally and across the globe, many of them citing his work as an inspiration and making special note of his extraordinary voice. Memories and messages of gratitude have been flooding social media:

Anika Moa

Jeff Boyle of Jakob

Superunkown is still one of my all-time favourite albums and, along with Badmotorfinger & Louder Than Love, had a massive influence on me & most of my generation. Soundgarden was, to me, always a step above the rest and Chris Cornell seemed like the reason why they were. His songs had much more than the standard formula and inspired us to keep looking beyond the standard rock song. Truely one of the greats and one our biggest losses.

A Hori Buzz

Courtney Love


Goodbye darling boy . Please say hi to all my loved ones . I cried for you today . Rip .

A post shared by Courtney Love Cobain (@courtneylove) on

Sean Lennon