Photo © Ross Halfin used by permission
for official chris cornell bio go here
'84 and ‘5 would give you something to believe
Christopher John Boyle was born in Seattle on July 20, 1964, the fourth of six children. After a formative experience aged 9 with a neighbour’s abandoned Beatles collection and a stint in local band The Shemps, Chris’s own musical career began in earnest back in ’84.
Starting out as a drummer, he soon learned he had a voice, teaming up with bassist Hiro Yamamoto and guitarist Kim Thayil to form the earliest incarnation of Soundgarden. From their initial appearance on Seattle’s legendary Deep Six compilation, they graduated from releases on indie labels Sub Pop and SST to become the first Seattle band to sign to a major. Rejecting rock’s traditional swagger and sexism in favour of an alternative punk ethos, Soundgarden confused and fascinated audiences in equal measure.
Part of the fascination came from Cornell’s extraordinary magnetism. “"Chris is especially sexual onstage," Thayil once told journalist Jonathan Gold, "but after the show he's unavailable. He doesn't belong to you."
Certainly, the band’s challenging sound didn’t at first succeed in seducing a mass audience. Early albums Ultramega OK and Louder Than Love sold modestly despite the former’s Grammy nomination, and it wasn’t until 1992’s Badmotorfinger unleashed a more accessible take on alternative metal that the band broke through into the popular consciousness.
Cornell had also found time to record a one-off tribute to deceased friend Andy Wood in Temple of the Dog, the 1990 album on which he collaborated with Wood’s ex-Mother Love Bone bandmates, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, as well as their friend Mike McCready and his own drummer Matt Cameron. It was perhaps the first time Cornell had explored the alchemy of turning grief into gold.
“The more we talked about it, the more songs kept flying out,” he told Reflex magazine in 1991. ”It didn't feel like a morose project. It felt sort of celebratory." An as-yet-unknown singer called Eddie Vedder even duetted with Cornell on a few numbers, most notably Hunger Strike.
at the right place but in the wrong life
Arguably the band’s masterpiece followed in ’94 with the multi-platinum, double-Grammy winning Superunknown, which included the classic MTV hit Black Hole Sun and live favourite Spoonman, written in tribute to Artis, one of Seattle’s most visible street musicians. An immediate #1 album in the States, it netted Soundgarden two Grammys, shifted millions of units worldwide, and introduced the band to the MTV mainstream via Black Hole Sun's international success. At the same time it explored a disturbing inner landscape crawling with pain, fear and repressed fury.
However, the band finally hit the buffers in 1997 after final album, the intriguing Down On The Upside. Underrated and undersold, it’s perhaps their darkest work of all – though not without its moments of black humour. The band’s last-ever show at the Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu on February 9 proved to be a sad anti-climax, with bassist Ben Shepherd walking off stage after a bad-tempered equipment malfunction, and Soundgarden formally disbanded in April.
A period of hiatus followed for Cornell. Soon after the end of Soundgarden, he lost a close friend when musician Jeff Buckley drowned in Tennessee's Wolf River. Later, the solo album he’d been recording with friends Alain Johannes and Natasha Shneider of LA art-rock band Eleven was held up by business hassles as his record company A&M morphed into Interscope. Finally released in 1999, Euphoria Morning was received with critical acclaim but disappointing sales.
“I could blame a lot of different factors, but at the same time I’m really proud of the record that I made,” Cornell remembered in March 2003. More recently, he told Spin’s Dorian Lynskey: “I think it was just not the time for me to have a big solo record. I was in such a bad way personally and professionally.”
i stood alone and watched myself fall apart
A follow-up solo album was expected but never materialised: Chris and his wife Susan Silver had a daughter, Lillian Jean, in June of 2000, but everything in the garden wasn’t rosy. Instead, rumours grew about Cornell’s deepening substance abuse problems.
"Drugs never interested me while I was busy and working, but when things got quiet, I began not to give a fuck," he later told Q magazine. "I felt less significant than ant piss. I didn't care what I did."
What happened next has never been made clear. Sometime in 2000, producer Rick Rubin had his famous brainwave, and Chris Cornell began to jam with the three remaining members of the newly frontman-less Rage Against The Machine. Still, the announcement that a real band might be in the offing came as a surprise to many. By all accounts the musical rapport with the remaining RATM members was instant. “Within ten minutes of us just making stuff up and playing, it sounded incredible, we sounded like a band that had been together for a long time,” Cornell told Detroit radio in July 2003. “It just sort of took on a life of its own immediately.”
some days just ain't so easy
There were still problems to overcome, however – teething troubles, business problems and legal quibbles almost strangled the project at birth. A mooted but premature live appearance at Ozzfest was abruptly cancelled. Cornell was reported to have left the band – and then to have joined it again. He had lost another friend in heroin addict Layne Staley (of Alice in Chains) earlier that year, and news soon surfaced that he had later spent two months in rehab to kick his own addictions. He'd also separated from his wife Susan Silver and was about to go through the strains and stresses of divorce.
Through all of this, the support of his bandmates was crucial. At Audioslave’s earliest shows, he told audiences that “these guys saved my life”, and their support seemed to be a factor in the singer's recovery. Although much was made in the press of Cornell’s reluctance to sing political lyrics, he himself never discounted the possibility. In fact, Set It Off on 2002's debut album apparently touched upon 1999’s WTO riots (The “Battle of Seattle”) and he was later to write a scathing attack on the Bush administration’s failure to act over the consequences of Hurricane Katrina in Wide Awake.
the blessings of my table multiply and divide
Whilst in Paris on the band’s first European tour, Chris met the woman who was later to become his second wife -- Vicky Karayiannis. They now have two children of their own – Toni, born September 2004, and Christopher, born December 2005. The tattoo on his right arm commemorates his marriage; the words mean “Forever” in Greek beneath the initials C and K, and the image depicts a diamond together with Greek wedding crowns.
Chris shows his tattoo to a fan in Copenhagen, 2007 - thanks Asger for the photo
Audioslave’s eponymous debut has now sold approaching 5m copies worldwide, with the 2005 follow-up Out Of Exile heading towards its second million in American sales. Third album Revelations was released in 2006 amidst rumours of the band's demise, although Chris promoted Revelations via a series of acoustic sessions for broadcasters in the US, Canada and across Europe. As he would do later with 'Songbook', he unveiled alternative arrangements of new Audioslave songs such as Original Fire, Wide Awake and Until We Fall as well as previewing a complete reinvention of Michael Jackson's hit Billie Jean: dance anthem as dark murder ballad.
try to hide your hand
Before Revelations was released, Cornell announced that he finally had plans for that follow-up solo album. Although this, and a similar announcement from Tom Morello, rang alarm bells in some people’s minds, the whole band downplayed the possibility of solo projects prefiguring a permanent split. "We hear rumors that Audioslave is breaking up all the time," Cornell explained to MTV. Nevertheless, the rumours did eventually harden into fact. Soon after, Tom Morello told reporters that his agitprop alter-ego The Nightwatchman was now his "principal focus", and RATM announced they'd be reforming for a single show at California's Coachella Festival in 2007. It seemed an announcement about Audioslave would surely follow, and it was only a matter of time before Chris Cornell announced that he was leaving the band, citing "musical differences" and "personality conflicts". Just as shrouded in rumour and conflict as the band's beginnings, it was a sad end for a musical force that had moved and inspired far more people in its five years than most of its critics were willing to recognise.
Chris Cornell's second solo album Carry On was released on June 5 2007 – and he’s been touring the world, on and off, ever since April that year. All this – as well as contributing songs like You Know My Name for the rebranded James Bond flick Casino Royale and Disappearing Act for the art-horror Bug – made Chris Cornell busier than he'd been in a long, long time. He also helped to bring one of Paris's famous old bohemian haunts back to life in Black Calavados, and he’s even done some photographic modelling – both for New York fashion designer John Varvatos and in the pages of glossy magazines such as Esquire.
But music has always remainedhis vocation. “A few years back I was thinking about slowing down because I’d been labouring under the misapprehension that there was a finish line,” Chris told Spin in September 2006. “I’m just not built that way. Music to me is still not work. With the exception of being with my family, it’s first on my list of what I want to do.”
no need to apologise for the riot in your eyes
Chris was as good as his word, lending his voice and his songwriting prowess to a wide range of different musical projects. His 2009 solo album Scream was an electronics-heavy collaboration with famed pop producer Timbaland. "I just want to have fun with music and do what I'm inspired by and ... if I'm inspired by it, then someone else will be," he told MTV. "If you get into a kind of comfortable corner, where you're doing what you're used to — you're doing what you know how to do — you can get locked in that corner and stuck there and you're done. That's never going to happen to me." Although diehard rock fans were hostile and reviews for the experimental album were mixed at best, it found its own audience (especially in Europe) and reached the top 10 in the US Billboard charts.
Photo © Ryan Cronin-Neilan used by permission
promise me you won't let them put out your fire
Chris continues to prove the point about musical evolution by combining the best of his past with the continuing adventure of his future - continuing with his solo career via inventive collaborations with artists as diverse as Slash, Carlos Santana and Gabin at the same time as working again with Soundgarden, now reformed for a new millennium with a brand new album, King Animal.
He's also one of the best songwriters of the age - a point borne out by the critically acclaimed Songbook shows and album, and the recent inclusion of his Golden Globe-nominated song "The Keeper" in Gerard Butler movie, Machine Gun Preacher.
Watch this space - there's a lot more music to come.
© Clare O'Brien 2012