Chris Cornell ghosted me last year. SHARP had booked the singer for a fashion photoshoot and I was supposed to interview him. The night before it was all set to go down, I didn’t sleep a wink. I couldn’t. I was too busy losing my shit. This wasn’t just any interview after all. This was Chris-Fucking-Cornell — the dude who belted the soundtrack of my high school days, grunge’s first rock star, one of the greatest vocalists of the past 30 years, and probably of all time. This was the biggest of deals.
Only, it never happened. On the day of the shoot, Cornell’s publicist couldn’t track him down. A few days later, it turned out he’d fired his publicist. (I didn’t think he wanted to be in a glossy fashion shoot, anyway.)
A year later, Chris Cornell is a ghost. We don’t know much — only that the 52-year-old was found dead in his Detroit hotel room last night, that it was ruled a suicide, and that hours earlier he’d played his last ever show with Soundgarden, closing ominously with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying.” The thinkpieces will come. As goes the Dead Rock Star Industrial Complex — which we’ve unfortunately become all too well acquainted with lately — there will be essays, tributes, tweets, and Top 10 lists about Cornell, what he meant to music, what his legacy will be, and how he now ranks among the growing pantheon of dead ’90s frontmen.
But for now, let’s just listen to that voice. That feral, flying, four-octave wail — drenched in lechery and subversion — that recalled Robert Plant after a three-day bender. A powerful, singular, otherworldly shriek that shook the world — whether it was in the early ’90s with grunge titans Soundgarden, in the mid-aughts with rock supergroup Audioslave, or later in his career as a solo artist seeking Higher Truth — until the very end. A howl so turbocharged it sounded good even on his Timbaland-assisted missteps; so skyscraping that rumours once spread about Led Zeppelin recruiting him as their new singer — and people believed it. A cry so unfuckwitable it leaves all the high, screechy imitators outshined in its wake. A voice we should all feel grateful to have heard.
Here’s that voice in a way you can best appreciate it — naked and singing about the apocalypse. This isolated vocal track of “Black Hole Sun,” stripped of Kim Thayil’s distorted guitars, showcases the man’s inimitable range, vaulting from moody croons to gravelly lows to full-throated yowls, all while possessing incredible, masterful control. Goodbye Chris Cornell. No one sings like you anymore.