Can I Tell You A Story About Chris Cornell?

“I think I know the answer
I stumbled on and all the world fell down”

June 23, 2016:

6AM – the dark blanket of a hotel morning awakens me suddenly, and I reach to get a drink of water. I see my phone light flashing like an alarm. Normally, this would not have gotten my attention, but I was in in Baltimore, MD with my growing family back home in New England. So, I grabbed it, spilled water down my chest accidentally, slammed a few buttons and there it was… an email from Chris Cornell’s management.

“And all the sky went silent
Cracked like glass and slowly
Tumbled to the ground”

I had just flown in from Chicago and didn’t get to my hotel until 3AM. The fact that my week-long work trip coincided with Chris Cornell’s Higher Truth tour rolling into the majestic Hippodrome Theatre, eased the sting of being away. Some of Cornell’s team at the time was in the UK so they simply sent a midday email that would undoubtedly light an Audioslave-like fire underneath me for the remainder of this humid Thursday – where the charm of Charm City would reign king. 

 “Chris would like to meet you tonight before the show,” the email read. I had crossed paths with Cornell twice casually in the past, and he had so graciously taken to and shared some of my writing work a few times. But this was different.

As I was brought backstage I nearly had two feet in Cornell’s dressing room door when I was greeted with the most sincere and cheerful “Hey Buddy” I have ever heard in my life. Lightly tinted glasses covered his eyes physically, but visibly he was all right there – rocking untied Converse and the same street clothes he’d wear on stage for two hours. For the next 10 minutes, we sat on folding chairs and just talked. Just him and I, without a spot on the wall or rider item in sight to distract us. At times, Cornell out of his own good-nature would throw out compliments, and his words of encouragement still serve as a driving force behind much of my now purpose-filled mission. You see, about 3/4’s of the way through our conversation, Chris’s poetic and artistic way of speaking sparked the initial idea for Artist Waves, as I had been contributing (and conforming) to other various outlets at that time, while also working an additional job to pay the bills.  Four months later, that all changed and AW was officially launched. 

There are parts of our conversation that I keep to myself- mostly because they were moments of an out-of-body experience. Here’s the godfather of my musical lifeline, talking to me as dare-I-say, somewhat of a casual peer, and hand-serving plates of respect for the dishes I like to cook up. He looked at it as – I cook over here, and you cook over there, but we both use the same kitchen. And it’s a small one, where sometimes we use the same ingredients and utensils. He just had a lot more experience in there and was encouraging me to dedicate myself to those items I had been toying with. 

As showtime neared, we stood up and walked the pearl-coated corridor that matched the interior of the hallowed room Chris and I sat in. Fantastic Negrito provided some beautiful background melodies through the walls. Chris then gently puts his arm around me. With his right hand on my shoulder we stood in the doorway and spoke of planning an upcoming interview.

photo by: Paul Lorkowski

And now we get to one of my my favorite Cornell lyrics of all-time from the song I am interweaving through this story:

“Why doesn’t anyone believe in loneliness?”

Chris Cornell, yes the musician of a generation and a voice for the ages, but also a true artist with his thoughts. He painted with words and this phrase that catapults the second verse of Soundgarden’s “Zero Chance” into oblivion, always gets me. Have you ever noticed that although Cornell poured his heart and soul into every lyric he wrote, very seldom did he ask questions in his songs? But here, he does, and he drops a bomb in the form of a very fair curiosity. Isn’t loneliness always associated with negativity? Understandable, I suppose, but it can also be a source of deep-well creativity.

I’m not sure why I choose to pair this story with “Zero Chance”. In fact, I’ve opted not to jump deeply into the lyrics and what it was written about. There are lines through my own interpretation that I do not relate to. But, who really knows? It’s the gem in a catalog full of gems that has made it’s way to me right now – through the confessional heart-strings feeling it provokes right from the opening- sliding-down-the-scale, three-note intro.

What I do know is, today, on the third anniversary of Chris’s passing (yes, I’m using both “Chris” and “Cornell” singularly on purpose)… it seemed like, given the circumstances of profound uncertainty, it was the right time to share a personal story in an effort to illuminate the ways his music continues to be beyond relevant and comfort the here and now. 

photo by: Paul Lorkowski

May 18, 2020:

Dear Chris, the world actually did fall down. The worst part is, for many of us, the people we need to see the most are the ones we can’t. Man, it’s hard to articulate how much your music continues to help people. This story is a small example of how your graciousness and generosity knows no bounds because in a time of massive separation, it’s the music that reminds us, that brings the hope, and that ultimately bringing us closer together. “They say if you look hard, you’ll find your way back home…”

So, as you now well know, Chris Cornell deeply inspired the both the creation and intent of Artist Waves, and that will forever continue. 

Loud Love