Chris Cornell, 1964-2017

Chris Cornell died early Thursday morning. His band Soundgarden played a show on Wednesday night at the Fox Theater in Detroit. Two hours after the show ended, he was gone.

For two days, I’ve been working on a piece to pay tribute to him, and it’s been a struggle. Usually when I have a problem like this it’s because I’m staring at a blank screen trying to figure out what I want to say. That’s not the problem this time. The problem is I have way too much to say.

I’m not going to sit here and claim to have been a huge fan of Soundgarden. I didn’t dislike them, I just had to take them in small doses. I was a fan of Cornell. I love “Seasons,” the solo song he had on Cameron Crowe’s movie, Singles. It’s a droning acoustic song about isolation and the meaningless passing of time. Your basic nihilistic statement written at what was probably the peak of rock’s most nihilistic period.

I was a fan of Cornell as a person. Of all the great musicians that were packed into Seattle in the late 80’s and early 90’s, from Mark Arm of Mudhoney to Jeff Ament of Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam to the Great Tortured Genius himself, Kurt Cobain, Cornell seemed like he rose a little bit above the others. He was the unofficial communicator of the Seattle scene. Like a Pacific Northwest Sinatra, he had a charisma and a calm grace about him. He was thoughtful, even charming, in interviews, unlike his compatriots who disdained fame and accolades (or at least pretended to). Cornell was the guy who seemed most like he could handle all the attention without turning it into an existential crisis.

Now he’s dead because, as it turns out, he had been dealing with an existential crisis most of his life. I was a fan, and I had a ton of respect for him. But it’s taken me a little while to understand why his death has affected me as strongly as it has.

At first I thought it might have something to do with the fact that I was mostly a bystander while the music of my generation was taking over. Just as Nirvana and Pearl Jam were making that gigantic breakthrough in 1992, my fiancé and I discovered we were pregnant. So instead of investigating mosh pits at the 7th Street Entry, or watching Soundgarden and Pearl Jam rule the stage at Lollapalooza (it was a traveling festival in those days), I was hastily throwing together a wedding and then changing diapers. My wife and I got an early jump on things, so we’ve always told ourselves that we’d make up for lost time in our forties and fifties.

Well here we are, and something like this just makes it feel like we’ve arrived too late. But while that’s a legitimate thing, I don’t really think that’s exactly what is bothering me.

Then I thought maybe it’s a generational thing. Grunge is the gift that Generation X gave to the world of music. We took all that slacker cynicism, mixed it up with our older siblings’ sneering punk attitude, Zeppelin’s low end and, if we’re being honest, a little heroin. The result was the musical version of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It was gorgeous art that was absolutely sure that nothing really matters, making it feel immediate and important. It was the sound of a generation telling everybody, including ourselves, to fuck off.

And while we were wallowing in our splendid alienation, our spokespeople, predictably, started dying. First it was Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone. A lot of us didn’t know about him until Cornell, along with Wood’s erstwhile bandmates (who were about to form Pearl Jam) memorialized him with a one off tribute called Temple of the Dog. Somehow, Wood’s story made death part our music’s romantic foundation.

A couple years later, Cobain killed himself with a shotgun. He was 27. Our Bob Dylan, the voice of our generation, threw it all away because he was afraid he was becoming a cliché. At least, that’s what we told ourselves at the time.

Shortly thereafter, Kristen Pfaff of Hole overdosed and died in a bathtub. And then Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon overdosed and died on a tour bus. It felt like people like D’arcy Wretzky of Smashing Pumpkins, Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots, and, perhaps especially, Courtney Love – Pfaff’s bandmate and Cobain’s widow – were all headed in the same direction.

Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley died of a gruesome overdose. The fact that his body was not discovered for more than a week felt somehow fitting. He was a emblematic of a generation that just wanted to be left alone.

And just when it felt like our music, and maybe our entire generation, would never live to see 30, things turned around. Love and Weiland cleaned their acts up (at least for a while). Bands like Pearl Jam thrived long after the term “Heroin Chic” disappeared. Before we knew it, we were a decade into a new century and a lot of the Poets of Grunge were still standing. Some of them were even in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It felt like our heroes were out of the woods.

When Weiland died of an overdose of cocaine, alcohol and MDA at the end of 2015, it felt like an echo, and not something rooted in the present. He had become the most notorious addict of them all over the years; in and out of rehab so many times we had all lost hope for him. His death was something that had been predicted so often for so long that it might as well have happened in 1997.

But Chris Cornell died of suicide on May 17, 2017, at the age of 52. He was a dad. He was a philanthropist. He was becoming an elder statesman of rock. He was a grown up. Cornell was aging gracefully, even doing that thing where some guys get better looking as they get older. He got Soundgarden back together, and they made a great new album a couple years ago. His voice still had all the power and strength it had displayed in his youth. Much like the rest of us, the world had kicked his ass a couple times, and he survived.

But now he’s gone, and goddammit, his is the death that bothers me the most. As I’ve been thinking about this, I’m realizing that it’s both a personal and a generational thing. Cornell had a long struggle with depression. As have I. As have many of you.

It’s possible that, along with grunge, Generation X’s other great gift to society is depression. I mean, of course it was here long before the Baby Boomers started re-producing, but we talk about it more than those who came before us. We talk about it as a demon or a monster. It’s a dark shadow that shows itself at any point in time without warning. It surrounds us, isolates us, and quiets us. Depression likes to blame things. We feel like shit because of mistakes we have made in life or because of the state of the world or because we aren’t perfect. Without a lot of help and a lot of work, it’s impossible to know that it really is a chemical imbalance in our brains. After twenty-plus years of trying to de-stigmatize depression, some of us still have a hard time recognizing it for what it is. And even then, it doesn’t always matter.

You might think grunge is about anger, but that’s not completely true. Yes, it can sound that way, but it’s really about depression and cynicism. Those two go hand-in-hand, along with their nasty little sister, anxiety. When the three of them get going, they just eat hope as quickly as it can be summoned. That leaves despair and despair is exhausting, not just for those who experience it, but for the people around it as well. So we keep it to ourselves because we don’t want to be a burden. And then it gets to be too much. Doesn’t matter if you’re a student, a mom, an accountant or a rock star. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written about it your entire life as a means of keeping it at bay. It doesn’t matter if the music you made about it brought in fame, respect and millions of dollars. It doesn’t matter if your entire generation has suffered from it. Depression makes you feel totally alone. You hit the breaking point, and then, like Chris Cornell, you die alone in the bathroom.

This was a well-respected member of his community; a beloved musical hero who seemed to have it all together. This could have been any of us. And brothers and sisters, if it’s you, don’t mess around with it. Please find some help.

Cornell is speaking to us all one last time. This isn’t something we left behind with our twenties. This isn’t something cured by age or financial security. This isn’t something you “outgrow.” If it’s allowed to fester, depression is stronger than wisdom. Depression is insidious and tenacious. Depression can get to anybody. It can make you feel like an old man at 27. It can make you feel lost as a child at 52.

Call it a senseless tragedy. Call it a second-act cautionary tale. Call it whatever you want. Just don’t blow it off as meaningless.

Rest in peace, Chris.

Rich Larson is a freelance writer and budding publishing entrepreneur. If you like what you’ve read here, please consider this. He can be reached at


1,382 thoughts on “It’s not what you think

  1. I’m 66 and always thought, if I just do the work on myself I’ll outgrow this – doesn’t happen. Ended up in ER two weeks ago thinking I was having a heart attack – WRONG – anxiety AGAIN. And my day, that day, was great. Had gotten so much accomplished. It just keeps rearing its ugly head. Thank you for your article!!! Excellently written!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe it’s time for trying out what Jesus can do for you! His word (the Bible) states how much he loves us and he forgives us for anything we ask him to forgive. After all, he died on the cross for our sins and if you ask him to come into your life and be your Lord & Savior, you will be born again starting with John 3:16 and continuing. Get into a Bible based church and just see what happens. I did and that anxiety & depression left me like it was on a jet propelled rocket! God Bless! It’ll heal whatever ails you. What do you have to lose???

      Liked by 2 people

  2. So it makes no sense to me that if one suffers from depression, one would take such mind altering drugs. That cannot help with the depression, it just can’t. I’m totally blown away by the actions of these talented people who are losing themselves I a fantasy world of pretend and useless drugs.


    1. You may be “totally blown away” by the actions of these talented people who are losing themselves in fantasy world of pretend and useless drugs….and it also might make no sense to you why one with depression, would decide freely to take mind-altering drugs. Those drugs wouldn’t help someone like that….
      OKay…yep…you’re right. But ummm I think you missed the point here….or at least a huge piece of it anyway….
      Go back and reread it. You can start by simply reading the following excerpt I copied from the article. Might help to clear up a few things for you….
      Oh & just one more thing… Have you or anyone you’ve ever known been diagnosed with lung cancer or maybe had difficulty breathing? But, they STILL smoked.
      Or diabetes? But still ate too much sugar….?
      Or have heart problems?? But yet, continue to eat unhealthily & do not exercise as they should??
      We are human. And a complicated bunch of human at that. What makes perfect sense to one is a complete endtangled mess to another.
      “It’s a dark shadow that shows itself at any point in time without warning. It surrounds us, isolates us, and quiets us. Depression likes to blame things. We feel like shit because of mistakes we have made in life or because of the state of the world or because we aren’t perfect. Without a lot of help and a lot of work, it’s impossible to know that it really is a chemical imbalance in our brains. After twenty-plus years of trying to de-stigmatize depression, some of us still have a hard time recognizing it for what it is. And even then, it doesn’t always matter.”


      1. The “chemical imbalance ” theory of depression has been shown to be without merit. Depression is far more complex than chemicals in the brain that ‘make’ a person do, feel, or believe X, Y or Z. Go to the website Mad in America, and type in chemical imbalance theory for a series of authoritative articles debunking this theory as well as the merit of the explosion of prescriptions for antidepressants in this country…following which, depression is more prevalent than ever.


      2. Funny because as a trained mental health counselor with lifelong depression and anxiety, I still have a hard time understanding (and am blown away) that some people have no idea what it feels like.


    2. Because its a coping mechanism. Unless you learn/know actual, productive means to handle not only life & all its BS but on top of that mental illness, drugs are a way of self medicating..of numbing oneself to all the anger, sadness, heartache etc. I was raised by 2 tail end Baby Boomer parents, both of whom very much were raised in a “suck it up & move on” sort of way & thus raised me in the same fashion. They fared just fine, albeit a combined emotional IQ of a 4 year old & tend to blow up over silly things, overall they’re still “successful” by typical standards. But expecting me to also bottle everything up & “just deal with it” backfired majorly. Turns out I’m bi-polar with depression & anxiety, all diagnosed at 16. Even though I was on medications, I still don’t know how to properly handle the daily stresses of life, on top of that being so damn angry all the time, so I turned to drugs & sex. Many days it felt better to be numb, to turn off my thoughts rather than continually think them over & over. I knew it wasn’t good, my shrink made it perfectly clear drugs only cloud the brain further, but at the time it was all I had. Eventually I ended up hooked on pain pills. Shortly before my 26th birthday I went to rehab & there, learned actual coping mechanisms & useful ways to properly process feelings. For me it was extremely simple, realizing & accepting that the ONLY things I can control in life are myself & what I do, & how I react. What may seem like such a common sense, “duuuhhh” sort of thing to someone else actually isn’t. I’d be willing to bet most of us with a mental illness know drugs aren’t going to help in the long run, but in the moment of high emotional intensity the haze is better than whatever is eating away at you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Cornell’s depression didn’t kill him, the drugs they told him would fix it did. They lied and told him he was “clean” all these years as they fed him drugs more powerful and more likely to destroy him than the ones he’d kicked.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The only cure for depression is a personal relationship with the one and only God who created this universe and created me and you. His son, Jesus came to Earth to die for your sins and mine. He loves you desperately and can help you overcome depression by changing your thoughts.


  5. Well said. Constant, heightened anxiety mixed with depression can be lethal. So sad when I heard the news. Chris Cornell was an incredible song writer and poet, and will be greatly missed.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. No one can understand the gears of depression like someone who has hit the bottom and somehow, survived. Every single word you said touched me deep, for I almost died alone in a bathroom. And the burden I feel to be is way too much. And I’m priviliged. I have medical and family support. And still, nothing shakes this off. And I look around and I see people falling from this like a silent Plague is taking over them. And I wanna help. I wanna say to them: run, don’t let it take over, fight, don’t hit rock, bottom, you’ll never come back. It’s like part of you dies everyday. And every soldier, for we are all fighting the same unfair war, every soldier who falls takes us with them a little. Chris meant that to me. And his last song was “The Promise”. We can promise to fight, but in heartbeat, we can lose it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for mentioning the idea of us being warriors of a silent (and often ignored battle). While a lot of people may view this as a failure on the part of CC, I do not agree. I don’t condone what he did but I understand that he fought a good fight until he couldn’t fight anymore.


  7. Someone finally gets it, excellent. This is the closest anyone has come to “understanding” my own thoughts and feelings towards all of this.


  8. Fabulously written piece and touch on many things I’ve had on my mind for some time. Depression is a cruel beast that I let into my personal space and wish I could clean out.


  9. Just wondering why you didn’t allow my post addressing the ‘chemical imbalance’ theory to appear?

    If you disagree with the science (and people’s experiences) – that depression, rather than being caused by any ‘imbalance’, is usually the result of compounded stress-factors, including formative experiences that leave us poorly equipped to manage our emotions – please engage rather than censor.


    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s actually not an either/or situation; it is both a chemical imbalance and a manifestation of that which you mention. It’s why clinicians, and addiction specialists, cite a bio/psycho/social model as the root cause(s).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your comment Mary Jo.

        My original reply is still ‘awaiting moderation’. I think it may be because of the links – so I’ll remove them here.

        A bio/psycho/social is the standard approach to health and wellbeing, but there’s no inclusion of any ‘chemical imbalance’ in the bio part in any scientific literature.

        Here in the UK for example, there’s no mention of any imbalance or chemistry at all in the NHS explanation of clinical depression:

        [on the NHS website – Conditions/Depression/Pages/Causes]

        Studies increasingly show that any changes in the brain are more likely to be correlation than causation. In other words, if there is a ‘chemical imbalance’ – or any neurological change – it’s more likely to be a symptom, or even the result of depression, rather than its cause.

        This Harvard paper goes into a lot of detail on what causes depression, and any neurological associations – again, no mention of any balance / imbalance chemistry:

        [on Harvard Health’s education website – mind-and-mood/what-causes-depression]

        Prevalence of the ‘imbalance’ theory is due to three factors:

        – The original studies which showed that some people felt happier after being given some drugs.
        But you don’t need to be depressed (or have a chemical imbalance) for those drugs to work, and if you are depressed, there’s no evidence that the drugs are working by correcting any imbalance (in fact studies show that SSRIs are only marginally more effective than placebo – and even then as symptom relief rather than cure – though of course when someone is severely depressed, marginal temporary effectiveness is better than nothing!)

        – Pharmaceutical companies fiercely marketing their drugs as a quick fix to physicians. Drugs are especially attractive because they are far cheaper and less labour-intensive than addressing the often complex root causes contributing to each individual’s case of depression. (In addition, when dealing with mental health, the only thing that distinguishes medical doctors and psychiatrists, who have been schooled in more of a bio-approach, from psychologists, is their ability to prescribe drugs.)

        – Stories in the media repeating the ‘chemical imbalance’ theory as fact, despite no supporting evidence.

        This is a great academic paper exploring, and discrediting, the prevalence of the imbalance theory, especially in the media:

        [on Florida State University website – media and the chemical imbalance theory]

        By focussing on the ‘chemical imbalance’ theory, we risk ignoring the clinically-proven stress factors – such as childhood neglect, abuse, or bereavement; physical or emotional trauma; responses to other diseases; loneliness – which in turn means depression may continue to grow.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Great piece, Very well put. Depression is a nasty piece of work. Chris will B missed. RIP Chris, no more pain.Free at last.


  11. Robin Williams death affected me this way as well. Depression is a hard pill to swallow and not the fault of the person that has to deal with it day in and day out. Beautifully written, the truth of the part about depression and cynicism with anxiety will eat away at hope. Without hope, there is no hope. Well done in voicing what people don’t understand.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I did not know of Chris Cornwell, but I know of his depression and loss. A very well written article that I have read over and over. I believe depression is a chemical imbalance that keeps the brain from feeling pleasure. This is where drugs come in. You find something that finally makes you feel good and bam your hooked. Who wouldn’t be after feeling so down for so long. We know that doesn’t last so what’s left. You got it. R.I.P. Chris.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I have also read this article twice and have shared it with some friends. It is really beautifully written and the strong message is very special indeed. Thank you.

    Chris, you will be missed. I also can not stop listening to your music.


  14. I’ve read your article a few times over the last couple of weeks. I think I’m looking for some sort of closure which I know will not come. Thank you for your beautifully written words and insight into depression and Chris Cornell. His solo work Songbook & Higher Truth was my soundtrack for the last 5 years helping me thru difficult times and continues to be just that. One of the most difficult deaths to accept. A man I never knew personally but affected my life so very deeply. 💔 I will always be heartbroken. RIP Chris Cornell


  15. Great piece. Never was a huge Soundgarden fan, but I love grunge and respect what Cornell and the band did for the genre. I feel like his death was really overlooked (I didn’t find out until 3 days after), which is a shame because it’s truly a significant loss.


  16. It just goes to show you that money DOES NOT buy happiness. Robyn Williams had plenty and so did Chris Cornell. I believe both were recovering drug addicts. The thing about that is when you stop using, it becomes very difficult to live with life as it is without your crutch. I know this first hand. Recovery in a 12 step program becomes vital because this is where you learn to live life on life’s terms. So sad this is!


  17. I read and reread this. I think one of the most accurate and poignant pieces I have ever seen on the topic. Thank you for verbalizing what so many of us cannot.


  18. i grew up with depression my mom tryed to take her life a few times back then
    ( i wont go into detail )
    dad blamed me
    as i read that you spoke about that demon or monster i see it like that
    i have it and i fight it sometimes it beats me up but most of the time i kick his rotten ass
    again whatever
    about cornell and how he took his life being 52 and a family man
    is also easy too understand ( i have seen it when i was young )
    the brain has a fluid in it
    as you think and think and worry and worry about everyday things
    that fluid dissapears
    when this happens you dont think about anything anymore
    children wife they al dont matter once you are there
    you will cut youre wrist with a hairpin and not care ( true story )
    to all of you who see the monster and are still able
    fight it take it by the neck look it in the eye and slay it by living by doing what you want not what somebody else wants
    live dont be lived

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Godly Wisdom is stronger than depression. Our Lord protects us from depression/anxiety. His power is there for us to conquer evil. May Chris Cornell rest in everlasting peace, loved his music.


  20. I wish it was easily curable for me. Is chronic, though not surprisingly diet and excercise work wonders. They just barely fit into the squeeze of work/family/ social obligations.
    What happens when you’re so frightened & 👽-nated that you fear going outside , bcse you ( in this case, I ) get bullied endlessly ?
    I can’t speak of the reasons Chris Cornell had, yet it seemed from media reports that he had an unusual and debilitating combination of prescription and perhaps not prescribed ( not sure here ) medicines.
    Perhaps his mental state became so agititated that he couldn’t tolerate being alive any more. We’ll never know for certain. It would be disrespectful for me to imagine I knew how he thought. The reason why. The exact reason.
    I’ve heard of many suicides by overdose in the sober community. Often involving depression or other mental illnesses ( hate that phrase mental illnesses, it feel so stigmatizing and judgemental )
    I’ve wondered if shame had any thing to do with it i.E ” I’ve relapsed and I’m NOTHING now, have nothing…”
    He gave the world so much, I’m sorry he’s gone


  21. ” I just think there is something wrong with anti-depressants that just isn’t being talked about. ” Amen, brother. Nail on the head. Let’s start a thread ( on a different board ) abt. that. Bcse Mama’s got something 2 say abt that. Jagged little pill. I wrote a song called ” Psychiatric junkie, ” once, then misplaced the effin’ lyrics. Bcse I was blue. Lol. I’m trying for levity here.


  22. “Yes, it can sound that way, but it’s really about depression and cynicism. Those two go hand-in-hand, along with their nasty little sister, anxiety. When the three of them get going, they just eat hope as quickly as it can be summoned.”-that’s the golden nugget of truth right there. The first time I tried to die I was 13. I’ve been fighting depression and crippling anxiety ever since; I think cynicism and being 13 go hand in hand. Though at the time it was despair and a sense of hopelessness that made me want to check out. So what feeds hope? Compassion, taking breaks, cultivating perceptive shifts …I’ll probably write about that next. Good words. ✌🏾


  23. I was never really on the grunge train, mostly because it seemed too focused on depression and cynicism. Cynicism was embraced by our parents, but when you add in the depression part, it’s a deadly cocktail. You can’t wear those as a badge of honor for too long before imploding. Well written piece


    1. After Chris Cornell’s death I sat back and listened to his lyrics for the first time – I mean really listened to them. I was a massive Soundgarden fan, but it wasn’t because of what he was singing: it’s because of his voice, along with his bandmate’s freakish ability (Matt Cameron’s a god in my eyes). Anyway. I hate to use words like “inevitable” where something like suicide’s concerned…but it’s hard not to read Chris’ lyrics and feel a sense of inevitability. His solo shows were incredible – I saw his solo tour three times – but the focal point at every single one of them was a song from Euphoria Mourning called “When I’m Down.” The chorus literally ends with him singing, “I’m down all the time.” His entire career was sprinkled with clues. I don’t know if this is hindsight being 20/20 or what, but I don’t think it is.


  24. I get it and there is something we can all do about it.

    I struggled with depression for most of my life and it came to a peak at 29 in where I almost gave up and killed myself as well.

    Then, at a concert of one of my musical heroes, something triggered deep inside of me. As I saw him adorned by 10,000 fans as he fell around the stage in a drunken stupor, I decided to turn in the opposite direction.

    I gave up all substances.

    I learned various breathing and meditation techniques that helped me to come in contact with that deep empty part of myself and be OK with it.

    A year later my music and lifestyle changed.

    I became the most energetic guy people around me knew.

    I did my practices daily.

    Ate well.

    Spent time in nature and in the sun.

    I consumed knowledge.

    I filled my life with people and places that lifted me and accepted me.

    To say that I do not experience episodes to this day would be a lie, but I have a toolbox inside of me to deal with it, to watch it and observe it for what it is, my mind. Sometimes a simple action for others can help it release. Sometimes I must get still. Sometimes I jump up and down, sometimes just merely sitting in the sun can shift the mindset.

    After 10 years of traveling the globe and living outside the USA I noticed that my depression was a conditioned state based one the mindset of my society and peers.

    I feel depression is systemic. It is also a loss of perspective. Is has been created over time to keep us feeling small. If one is willing to do the work, to change their lifestyle and the way that they think, for ever, to surround themselves with supportive people and to engage with health and nature, we can disempower the depression and live a life of full expression.

    I now dedicate my music and life back to humanity, to help people overcome the sense of disempowerment that so many feel.

    I am confident that EVERYONE can move beyond this state naturally, without support of anti-depressants. The support is actually the cause and perpetuates the very feeling of lack of self control.

    Learning Self Control will set us all free.

    We can over come this naturally.

    and I will live every day with the belief and training people to see the incredible gift that lives inside of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I’m a Gen-Xer who spent the early and mid-90’s in high school and college. Grunge was the music of my youth and as far as I’m concerned the 90’s were the last decade of great music. I’ve also suffered from bouts of depression throughout my life. I have been wondering why Chris Cornell’s death has bothered me so much, and this piece says it all. Thank you for putting my feelings into words. I am glad to hear that I am not alone in this grief. I cannot stop listening to CC’s music, even though doing so pulls me down somewhat. It feels silly to mourn somebody I did not personally know, but maybe really he was more relatable to me than most people I have daily contact with.


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