Chris Cornell’s awe inspiring crystal blue eyes are forever etched in my memory. They are unmistakable in almost every photo of the iconic Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman and songwriter. I consider myself blessed because I was fortunate to see those eyes up close; for a brief few moments they focused on my own. I was one of the lucky ones who stood in the front row. I had the opportunity to speak with him one-on-one.
Before I lived the life I live now with children, a husband and all that comes with it, I was a journalist and editor. One of the many perks was I attended concerts and festivals for free. I had the privilege of not only sitting in the press pit, often in front of the front row, I also got backstage access and interview opportunities with artists and musicians. For someone with such an affinity for music, it was really a dream come true.
As is often said about many things in life, I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish I knew we had something in common that had altered our lives and would eventually take his. The world now knows Cornell’s mind was ravaged by depression, some even speculate Bipolar Disorder. The name for the crippling disease that took the four-octave legend from us in 2017 – almost one year ago exactly – doesn’t really matter. What matters is it was mental illness and the beast was beyond his control.
His family and friends were left devastated with unanswered questions as to why the rocker was found in a Detroit hotel room dead of what was later ruled suicide by hanging. Just hours before he had finished performing at a sold out reunion concert with his much loved band Soundgarden.
Outwardly Cornell seemed to have it all. He was a living grunge band legend. He had three beautiful children and a gorgeous wife. His songwriting abilities were unparalleled and spanned from heavy metal to reflective soul wrenching melodies. The accolades washed over him throughout his 30 year career.
Still it wasn’t enough to render him immune to the sly voice of depression.
As one author wrote for The Mighty in an article about Cornell, ”Those of us lucky enough, we win the battle. We push and fight back, clawing and screaming until it goes away. For now, we’ve won another day. For the rest of us, we surrender. We cannot do it anymore. ”
The darkness she speaks of is the overwhelming voice of depression that sometimes screams at us to take our own lives.
The author went on to say, “Because I live with this constant darkness in my head, I understand how Chris Cornell and the many others before him and the many others after him perhaps succumb to it.”
None of it seems logical.
This man who by all accounts should have been on the highest of highs reportedly called his wife Vicky right after the show and told her he planned to take the anxiety drug Ativan. He allegedly told her he planned to take a few more than he had been prescribed. She described his speech as slurred and said his demeanor caused her concern.
It’s been reported that she phoned the hotel to have him checked on but it was too late. He had already snuffed out his bright light.
We will never know what the darkness whispered in his ear that night. I believe we will never know the why behind his death.
With depression there is no why.
There is just brain chemistry imbalance. Even the strongest sometimes surrender. Cornell was 52 when he his flame burned out. His death though is part of an alarming trend. Since 2008 suicide in middle age men has increased by 50 percent. That’s not a typo – I said 50%.
Imagine if the rate of death from heart disease followed that same trend. There would be a public outcry. PSA announcements would scream, studies would be done and new medications would be created but because mental illness and suicide are still stigmatized and taboo, the statistic remains hidden from public view unless the number is sought out. Among artists, the suicide rate is even higher. (I’ve attached a list here for examples though there are hundreds more.)
This is why I blog.
This is why I leave myself open to such criticism and speculation. This is also the reason people are dying in record numbers. It’s because no one wants to talk about the darkness.
For those of us who share our experience and are strong enough to expose the killer, life can be hard. I’m constantly called derogatory names even by those I hold dear but I’m also often consulted for help and guidance. The times I’m able to help override the name calling. The negatives seem trivial then.
If you know someone with a mental illness I encourage you to be a positive in their lives. Don’t assume they are “crazy”. Don’t belittle them and don’t assume their thoughts and emotions are a byproduct of mental illness. We have very valid emotions too. But please most of all, don’t dismiss them or shun them if they reach out to you for help. I promise asking for help is one of the hardest things they will ever do.
I have no way of knowing whether or not Cornell reached out for help that night in Detroit. I will not speculate on who should have or could have altered the outcome. Sometimes no one can.
All I know is the music has stopped.
For me his music reached me down deep in my soul. His lyrics gave voice and validation to so many things in my own life – both happy and sad. I still listen to his music. His voice still makes me feel and smile but there’s a sadness when the CD stops because I know the only option I’m left with is to play it again.
There are no more songs to come from Cornell. As powerful as his voice was to so many, the darkness proved to be louder in his beautiful and brilliant mind.