He doesn’t live here anymore.

I suddenly find myself being sucked into a deep silence. It isn’t just a silence from an absence of sound.  It feels like an absence of being.  A voice had disappeared, and with it all the feeling that it enabled.

My impulse is to drop everything and play all his music straight into my brain – the way I have done so many times in my life – in the hope that it will kickstart his heart like it often pushed me into caring.

It only deepens the silence.

Close your eyes and bow your head, I need a little sympathy
Cause fear is strong and love’s for everyone who isn’t me

I didn’t know him, I only know what he did for me.  And while I can only imagine where his voice was coming from, I do know what I learned from following where it led.

A lot of tribute has been paid to that voice.  To most ears, he was this generation’s Robert Plant.  The one, out of the four horsemen of Grunge, who could actually sing.  To another astute ear, just a few rungs under a ladder topped by Mariah Carey.

To me, his was a voice that came with naked honest emotion.  Maybe he wasn’t going to change the world, but he did change me.

And it would have been alright
If you’d gave half of the praise that you held inside

In times when I wanted to say something really important and emotionally profound, I found that he had recorded something that said it better.  Instead of having to speak, I just made people listen with me.

Now I wanna fly above the storm
But you can’t grow feathers in the rain

I need him now, again, to be the sous-chef for my declarations.

And I’m lost behind the words I’ll never find

I feel sad.  I feel restless.  I feel like I need to cry.  I feel like adding to the pile of ongoing tribute, to enable some kind of closure.  I feel silly for feeling.

Suddenly I can see everything that’s wrong
With me, yeah
What can I do, I’m the only thing I really have, at all

I feel that having less respect might make this easier.

I want late night talk show hosts go nuts with inappropriate jokes.  I want them to put on their best Seinfeld impression and say “So what’s the deal with celebrity suicides and hotel rooms?”

I want them to crack that the right timing to off himself would have been after releasing Scream.

I want them to say that he left all of us hanging.

Maybe the irreverence will save me from having to endure his deep and sudden absence.

But I also feel, as he said, like there’s nothing left to save.

My best artistic work has a habit of coming out of the worst times in my life.  An awareness of this leaves me believing that inspiration – both the catalyst and the result of a spirit’s rise from the depths – inevitably involves a journey to hell to slay a demon.

You make me sick I make music

So when a man constantly churns out wave after wave of inspiring energized passion over a period of two dozen years, I cannot help but imagine his journey, and the hordes he must constantly be battling back.

Nothing seems to kill me no matter how hard I try…
…Nothing will do me in before I do myself

When I try to see what I am hearing – a golden voice constantly bombarded with chaos – I see our hero backed into a corner. Springing for the fight of his life, snarling out a warning with the voice of an angel.

Arm yourself because no one else here will save you
The odds will betray you And I will replace you
You can’t deny the prize it may never fulfill you
It longs to kill you Are you willing to die?

Not the sweet delicate angel of lore – standing tall like an elven prince, with a pristine face and golden hair. This one is beaten down to one knee, clad in broken armor, wings covered in blood. He swings a dripping crimson sword and screams a fourth octave as he attempts to vanquish hate with agony.

The day I tried to live
I wallowed in the blood and mud with all the other pigs

I can feel him constantly battling pain, lies, and worldly folly. Between his warrior’s cries I can feel his fatigue.

Hang my head, drown my fear Till you all just disappear
Black hole sun won’t you come and wash away the rain

I listen as the armor falls off. Metal is stripped down to Rock. Rock snaps and cracks into Pop. Pop melts into a ballad. Personal identity blends into a Soundtrack. I feel his victory as his voice rises above the noise. Less forceful, more Powerful. Clear, beautiful, and ready to rest.

Now it feels like I don’t have to worry at all
It’s finally forever

And now the battle is over.

I play back a song that I recorded and intended to send to him so he could sing it someday.  The song lives, but that dream is now dead.  Silenced as well.

Motivators always say “You can do anything you want!” but as I grieve, it doesn’t feel true anymore.  I cannot write songs for Chris Cornell.

Now I feel fear.  And anxiety.  I feel tired too.

I feel like the best half is over, as I am reminded me that this is the age when dreams start to die.  Forty Two, Fifty Two… This is when windows close, and weather-beaten doors warp shut.

So now you start to recognize that every single path you see
leads to a tear in your eye
So wave goodbye…

I feel like this ride down from the peak will be littered by things to wave goodbye to.  A string of things that were great.  A list of dreams turning into a catalog of regrets and unfinished business.

I cannot write songs for him.  All I can do now is thank him as I wave goodbye.

So, Chris, thank you for letting us hear you.  Thank you for letting some of us touch you back.  Thank you for Seattle, for San Francisco, for The Sound and The Euphoria, for Crash Kings, for ambushing my three-year old during the end credits of The Avengers…

Cause all has been lost and all has been won,
and there’s nothing left for us to save
But now I know that I don’t wanna be alone today
so if you’re finding, that you’re feeling just the same…

Even when you wrote what could be interpreted as a rocking introduction for an online dating profile, I took it as a roadmap for what was important:

Knowing that there are those who feel the same. Those I haven’t met. Those I can no longer be with. Those at the end of the world.

But we could be together as they blow it all away
and we could share in every moment as it breaks

Wave hello, Andy. Kurt. Layne. Scott.

For those reading this, feeling the same, thank you.  You understand why I shouldn’t be embarrassed or feel silly for being this affected. You get it.

We got him.  So after we let him go, we need to help each other keep what he gave us. Leave a light on. Carry on.

Thank you for the glorious gift of vulnerability, Chris.

I’m your disappearing one –
Vanish when the curtain’s drawn
But I will come again, and you will let me in
and you’ll see I never disappear for long.

To listen to Chris Cornell’s featured song lyrics, go to the Spotify playlist “Feeling Chris“.

Main photo by Matthew Straubmuller.
All other photos by Gel Jamlang, San Francisco, May 1, 2009.