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Always cool: Remembering the great voice of Chris Cornell

Text Gary Chun
Thread music

A little more than two decades ago, when I was the contributing music writer/reporter for the then-Honolulu Advertiser, I reviewed what I didn't realize would be the final concert done by Chris Cornell and Soundgarden on the last stop of their world tour at the Blaisdell Arena.

Thanks to the internet, you can still read my review online of the meltdown from February 1997. I described the charismatic Cornell then as "the focus of the band, and while he is no longer the bare-chested, long-haired, sexy screamer of younger days, his self-admitted 'classic rock' vocal style is muscular, but not in a macho way."

While Soundgarden would subsequently reunite years later, solidifying their standing as one of rock's greatest bands to come from the Seattle grunge scene in the early '90s, it's no surprise that Cornell would distinguish himself by carving out a solo career. But it would be a career, and a life, that would end on a tragic note Wednesday night when he hung himself in his hotel room after a sold-out Soundgarden concert in Detroit.

According to a review in the Detroit Free Press, Cornell was going through a similar onstage burnout bassist Ben Shepherd manifested in Honolulu 20 years ago. "He often staggered back-and-forth across the stage, and seemed weak in his movements," writes Ashley Zlatopolsky. "Just one or two songs in, it was as if the energy had exited his body, and what was left was a shell of a man scrambling to do his job."

Considering how things were seemingly on the upswing -- the band had a studio album in the works, and Cornell himself wrote and performed the theme song for the new movie "The Promise" -- it's fair to say none of his fans, including yours truly, did not see this coming. He was just 52 years old and seemingly in good health. Well, until what we saw at the Detroit show.

For a better overview of what Cornell and Soundgarden meant to those who loved the art of their emotional tumult, I highly recommend Sean O'Neal's heartfelt article for The A.V. Club. He ends it by writing "He was a genuine, goddamned rock star, and that is not to be taken lightly." And albeit a reluctant one, but there is no denying the innate talent that places him among the top of the rock singer pantheon.

There's also a lengthy conversation with Marc Maron on Maron's WTF podcast done three years ago that is definitely worth your time for a chance to hear Cornell in a relaxed, friendly setting. Plus The Guardian has put together a thoughtful list of the man's greatest studio performances -- including, of course, Soundgarden's monster hit "Black Hole Sun" -- complete with Spotify playlist.

And just like how Cornell performed "Black Hole Sun" solo with acoustic guitar those many years ago on a Honolulu stage, he did the same several weeks ago for CBS This Morning in New York City in what is now one of his final performances.

Rest in peace, Chris.


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