The moment Chris Cornell called “the death of the innocence” in grunge

Chris Cornell is one of the few grunge icons who could have claimed to have seen it all. From the very beginning of the genre in the mid-1980s, Cornell was already becoming known as one of the dominant frontmen to come out of Seattle, building up an impressive wail reminiscent of Robert Plant. Even though Cornell could take his voice in many different directions, he got the creative spirit knocked out of him before his band even blew up.

When looking at the other bands on the Seattle scene at the time, Soundgarden already stuck out like a sore thumb. Considering bands like Melvins and Mudhoney were taking their cues from the punk movement and the sludgier side of metal, Cornell’s taste in music offered a more art-rock take on hard rock, featuring different time signatures and unusual tunings that gave their songs more complexity than any of their peers.

As the band started to congregate, Cornell didn’t even start at the front of the stage. Before he became the vocal god that he was known as, he initially began life from behind the kit, trying to channel his inner Phil Collins by singing and drumming before Matt Cameron was brought into the fold. Now, with more time to focus on writing songs, Cornell found a confidante in fellow Seattle musician Andy Wood.

Indebted to the sounds of 1970s arena rock, Wood was the founder of the group Mother Love Bone, who were quickly becoming one of the biggest names in Seattle. For all of the noncommercial music going on at the time, Mother Love Bone seemed like the one band that could break out of the scene, featuring Wood sauntering across the stage trying on his best Freddie Mercury impression.

While Cornell would become roommates with Wood for a while and would often swap song ideas back and forth, he was dealt a heavy blow when his friend succumbed to his heroin addiction in 1990. Getting the news while on the road, Cornell returned to Seattle to see his best friend on life support, with doctors only giving his friends and family a few days so they could say their goodbyes.

Long before grunge went mainstream, Cornell would consider this one of the biggest blows to the local scene, recalling in the Pearl Jam documentary Twenty, “It’s hard to articulate it because up to that point, the scene was so full of life, and then to see [Andy] hooked up to machines. I think that was the death of the innocence of that era. A lot of people think that Kurt [Cobain] blowing his head off was the death of the innocence, but it was that…it was walking into that room”.

Overcome with grief, Cornell eventually found solace through music, penning various tracks in tribute to his old friend. Recording the songs with the surviving members of Mother Love Bone, the supergroup Temple of the Dog would also give way to a new band, with Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament forming Pearl Jam out of the ashes of their old band once Eddie Vedder joined from San Francisco.

While both groups persevered and went on to even greater success, the memory of Wood would still haunt them, as Cornell would join the group onstage until his death to perform the song ‘Hunger Strike’. Even though many aspiring bands of the Seattle scene achieved success beyond their wildest dreams, Cornell always had to live with the painful memory of the city’s biggest star who burned too bright for the mainstream.

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