My wheels crawled along the asphalt and I breathed in the afternoon sky. Brushstrokes of cotton candy melting with fireside abstracts served my daily commute home from work well. How could I possibly mind rush hour when my drive literally reminds me to appreciate the view? Time pushed as traffic crept along the California coastline and so did I. My thoughts swirled around nothing and everything as my eyes took deliberate turns between sky and road. The volume on my radio was low enough to faint the car commercials but still present enough to tap my ear when I landed on a tune I liked.
Enter Chris Cornell. And just like that. My sunset had a soundtrack.
As soon as I heard those pipes the fact that I couldn’t peg which song he was singing (a rarity) didn’t matter. His voice is undeniable; uncompromised passion with a bellowing tone that weaved through the speakers straight into your blood. I was only a few seconds in when it hit me – I had no idea what song this was.
As a retired party girl who made her living on the stripper stage in the 90s, I take great pride in being ‘in the know’ with musicians from back in my day. I worked the clubs in Waikiki from Milli Vanilli and Terence Trendy D’arby to Mötley Crüe and Fatboy Slim. Now decades later I can still tell you, with each song I hear – where I was working, what beaded leather or fluorescent lace costume I wore and which drug dealer had the best coke. Knowing his voice but not recognizing which song was more than annoying – it was a treat. I turned up the volume and without warning his lyrics pulled me inside a part of myself I was not expecting to revisit on a random afternoon drive home from the office.
“And I sat in regret
Of all the things I’ve done
For all that I’ve blessed
And all that I’ve wronged
In dreams until my death
I will wander on”
I could blame the sudden tickle in my nose and watery eyes on PMS or low blood sugar, but the fact is – Chris Cornell was more than his voice – he was a rock and roll poet.
My introduction to Audioslave and their new tune Like a Stone reignited something in me that’s difficult to describe. My pole dancing days far behind me, I wrestled with feelings of anxiety remembering who I was then compared to the woman I’ve become. There I was, driving home from my corporate job in an upper class, conservative town and a song I fell in love with became a magic carpet ride to my past. With each note and lyric, I danced through a wormhole to a time when I was old enough to be on my own and make reckless choices, yet young enough to find my way out.
It seemed Chris Cornell and me both found our way out. He too, was a survivor of the party scene in the 90s. I didn’t follow his personal life, and to be honest wasn’t aware that he was back on the charts fronting his new band at the time, Audioslave. But like a long lost sister who powered through Aquanet hairspray and faded jeans torn at the knee, I was proud we were both doing well in our new lives.
It took hours for the news of Chris’s passing to sink in. Like millions of us who knew him only through the lens of celebrity, the feelings of loss was (and still is) real. Since I posted my thoughts on this horrifying news on Facebook, my wall has been decorated with stories from fellow stripper sisters about when he serenaded us on stage through the speakers. And as one of my friends shared – he and his band mates cooked for her and her pals at her house – before she even realized they were Soundgarden.
Then there is the why. Headlines continued to dominate the internet just hours after the news: Dead at 52. Fifty fucking two. Just four years older than me, I couldn’t help but think the unthinkable. But it was true. Cornell couldn’t find his way out of whatever darkness he was living – and he decided to end his life.
As someone who has struggled with depression for years I can’t say I didn’t get it in some fucked up and completely inappropriate way. I don’t condone what he did. I hate what he did. But I hate the fact that I can relate to it even more.
To describe feelings of wanting to end it all to anyone outside the circle of mentally ill is like having a conversation with your dog. The words are real, and your faces connect but neither of you will ever truly understand what the other is saying. Our loved ones try to understand. They read up on the signs, speak to professionals who describe how depression is a disease that can be treated in ways, but is always white noise in our brains.
So many of us are hurting with the news of Chris Cornell. And there are countless humans away from the spotlight who suffer the same blows. Families buckle under the weight of such news that no doubt, the thought of following suit by taking their own life must enter into the realm of solution. But there is always another way.
If learning this type of news of someone we love (celebrity or otherwise) teaches us anything, it’s that the human heart can endure. All we need to do is hang on to the belief that the darkness won’t always be so. Remedies are all around us. Through the skin in holding your child’s hand, a shared smile with your lover, spontaneous laughter with a friend. All lovely anecdotes for sorrow. But if you’re like millions of us who need a little extra help in the depression section – it helps to play some of your favorite music. Thank you Chris, for giving us so much of yours.