Chris Cornell used to sing me to sleep. Well, not sing, exactly. He'd wail, and holler, and scream, and bellow, over that thunderous grunge chug created by Matt Cameron and Kim Thayil and Ben Shepherd.
And I wouldn't sleep. I couldn't. I was too busy losing my tiny teenage mind.
Soundgarden were my sneaky secret. Growing up in the musical wasteland that is Whanganui, I'd stay up late, grab my clock radio, hide under my duvet and tune into the Top Nine at 9pm, a regular weeknight listicle from now defunct Palmerston North radio station 2XS FM.
There was no internet. No Pitchfork. No Apple Music. No Metacritic. In Whanganui, there was no nothing. That radio station was my lifeline to the outside world.
So every night, I'd hold the antenna wire out from the covers to get the best reception, turn it up as loud as I dared, and listen to the biggest songs of the time. MC Hammer. C&C Music Factory. Snap. Ugh. What a time to be alive. My parents never caught me.
Then, one night, I heard that riff. Those words. That power. That roar. F***ing hell. What a roar.
"Spoonman! Come together with your hands! Save me! I'm together with your plan! Save me!"
I had no idea what he meant. But I felt it. It felt big. Important. Vital. Even cranking out of that crappy clock radio, it felt intense. Spoonman hit No. 1 on 2XS FM's Top Nine at 9 and sat there for what seemed like months. It was the very last thing I'd listen to every single night. And I looked forward to it all day long.
Ever since, Chris Cornell has always just been there. My first Big Day Out in 1997. Audioslave at Auckland's Town Hall in 2003. Opening for Linkin Park in 2007. An acoustic show in 2011. The second-to-last Big Day Out in 2012. With the reformed Soundgarden at Westfest in 2015. Solo again later that year.
It was in 2015 that I finally got to speak to Cornell. He was buzzing. Excited about his new album, Higher Truth. Excited about his solo tour. And excited about another Soundgarden album. "There are so many possibilities in that band and everybody really still wants to keep making music," he told me.
I had him on the phone for 20 minutes. It was a terrible line. I could barely hear him. It didn't matter. It was a dream come true.
About twice a year, I return to my duvet. I blow up the outside world and, for several days, listen to nothing but Soundgarden. Superunknown is my go to. My Wave. Fell on Black Days. Head Down. The Day I Tried To Live. Fresh Tendrils. 4th of July.
That is a dark, painful, twisted album. But it fills me with life. I devour it. And then I get on with it.
But when I first heard the news last night, I turned to a different album, played a different song. It's from Down on the Upside. It didn't help. But it seemed appropriate.
If you can cope, listen to the end. It starts slow, then Cornell mumbles, then screams, "I want to make it right," over and over again, releasing all of that gorgeous pain of his.
Then comes that last line. "I'm over floating ... alone, alone, alone ... alone."
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