News this morning of Chris Cornell’s death at the age of 52 sent ripples through the music industry and appeared to be unexpected even to those closest to him, with his wife and family revealing they were “shocked to learn of his sudden and unexpected passing,” according to a statement from his publicist.
Cornell was performing in Detroit on Wednesday night with his band Soundgarden, the last of the few remaining relics of the grunge boom that started in the late ‘80s and included Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and Alice in Chains, when he was found unresponsive. The city’s medical authorities have ruled his death a suicide by hanging.
Soundgarden and groups of its ilk spawned countless imitators who aped the fuzzy guitars and distinctive howl of the often long-haired frontmen, especially after the Seattle band’s breakout 1994 album Superunknown brought them to a much wider audience.
If you were a teen in the ‘90s, or even somewhat cognizant of the super-hyped Washington music scene that was being breathlessly covered on every screen, magazine, paper, radio station and message board—hello pre-social media times!—talk of grunge and its influence was inescapable. If you missed the decade that produced Cornell’s particular perfect mix of angst, distortion pedals and vulnerability, consider the below 5 videos a crash course in the Soundgarden singer’s important contribution.
Chris Cornell’s Legacy in 5 Music Videos
Temple of the Dog, “Hunger Strike”
This supergroup pre-dates Soundgarden’s mainstream popularity and was Cornell’s tribute to his late friend Andrew Wood, lead singer of Mother Love Bone who died of a heroin overdose, and included members of Pearl Jam. The group’s only album was released in 1991 and the single “Hunger Strike” was the breakout track, featuring a throaty duet with Cornell and Eddie Vedder.
“Black Hole Sun”
This is Soundgarden’s biggest hit and the subsequent surreal video that accompanied the track was all over MuchMusic, when the station legit played music videos 24/7. It’s weird, it’s icky and it’s unforgettable but when Cornell starts howling “Black Hole Sun” near the track’s end, it’s so, so satisfying.
“Fell on Black Days”
The fifth single from the band’s hugely popular Superunknown album, Cornell was frank about the track’s lyrical content tapping into a fear he had about feeling down and out and not being able to pinpoint the reason for a general unease and malaise. The moody tune stills hold up.
Originally written for the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe’s 1992 flick Singles—so many soul patches!—the song was inspired by local street performer Artis the Spoonman who played music with a set of spoons and appears in the video.
“Seasons,” Singles Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
An acoustic solo effort written for the Cameron Crowe flick that follows couples in ’90s Seattle navigating romance and rock, the soundtrack is top-to-bottom excellent but Cornell’s sensitive-crooner-meets-metal-dude contribution shows his range as a singer.
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If you need help or are experiencing mental health issues, consider contacting the Canadian Association For Suicide Prevention.