Teenagers in the early 1990s were mostly introduced to rock music, or what it became affectionately known as, grunge rock, by Nirvana. Smells Like Teen Spirit kicked off a phenomenon of heavy guitar riffs and an inordinate amount of flannel shirts and long but not hair-band era long hair. For me, not quite 13 and not quite knowing fully what grunge music was all about, I fell in love with a different Seattle band called Soundgarden.
Before the days of overplayed reality shows and teen melodramas, MTV boasted a robust group of "veejays", or video disc jockeys. The most compelling video of the 90s was Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun. It portrayed a bizarre world of apocalyptic suburbia. It felt like if Escher were given the reins to produce a music video, and he decided to follow his mantra except adding lipstick tubes as paintbrushes. It was fanatical. It was strange. And it was awesome. Soundgarden was awesome.
Hearing the news today of Chris Cornell's death was shocking, but unfortunately, it falls in line with so many celebrity deaths. His death came via suicide, confirmed by the medical examiner as if that cause was much different from a drug overdose that caused so many other rock stars to leave this world. Something felt different about Cornell. He was bright. He was edgy and sensitive. He could sing better than any other lead singer from any other 90s band. Chris Cornell was an amazing talent. Was.
Whenever one of these artists die, I can feel fragments of my youth perishing with them. The music will live on, and memories tied to songs like Spoon Man, The Day I Tried To Live, and Rusty Cage live on. But when the mastermind behind it all ends his life in some Detroit hotel room bathroom, it makes the life behind all those memories feel hollow.
Chris Cornell wasn't limited to his Soundgarden songs. He had some great music with former Rage Against The Machine members with Audioslave and his first major group Temple of the Dog. But perhaps Cornell's best moments were when he stood alone. The solo acts. His Euphoria Morning album still stands out as a work of lyrical brilliance, the song Preaching The End Of The World never getting its due on radio.
His best song, however, wasn't featured on a solo album, rather a soundtrack.
If ever a rock band wrote a song that was as beautiful and poetic as it was tragic, it was the song Sunshower, written for the soundtrack to the movie Great Expectations. The chorus speaks for itself:
But it’s all right
When you're caught in pain
And you feel the rain come down
It’s all right
When you find your way
Then you see it disappear
It’s all right
Though your garden’s gray
I know all your graces
Someday will flower
In the sweet sunshower
I've always felt this song was written for a funeral. The sadness it builds and the hope it finds to tear away the clouds fit perfect for a memorial of someone gone too soon. I never imagined the writer of the song might be that person.
So long, Chris. Thank you for music that was loved by some many teens in the 90s. May your family, close friends, and fellow band members one day move from the sadness of today and experience that sweet sunshower.