Chris wasn’t just one of the greatest singers to walk this earth, but he was a husband, a father, a friend.
He was an artist that represented the pinnacle of creative expression; of that soul-bearing process that we all often take for granted — and yet, like many artists before him, he was left with such a profound sense of despair that the only release was to take his own life.
I’m so, so distraught that amazing, ripped-open and on display humans are drowning in despair while we mindlessly consume their souls as expressed in their art. That Chris Cornell today would join Robin Williams, Jeff Buckley, Ian Curtis and so many more truly does break my heart.
and makes me so angry.
What is it about our society that makes us okay with the way we treat our artists? That we expect them to move us, to understand us, to GIVE GIVE GIVE to us while we discard them as soon as someone new comes along. Why does someone like Kendrick Lamar have to explicitly tell us that “nobody is praying for [him],” as he shoulders this huge burden to bring healing to communities on his own? That we can listen to an album like DAMN., be affected by Kendrick’s assessment of society’s shallowness, and then take our shallow Instagram pictures and our snapchats is a slap in the face of the art that we claim affects us. What if right now Kendrick is inundated in the same sense of despair that caused Chris to take his life and we, as a society, are making fucking memes out of his art?
I truly believe that the way we shallowly engage with art is what drives a lot of our great artists into a space of despair. We’re okay with the casualties we cause as long as we’re entertained. Sure, we’re going to be sad about the death of this artists that supposedly mean “so much” to us, but then hardly even a day later we are going to move on and pump someone else’s music, or movie, or book into our bloodstream like the drug it is to us, unaware of how this symbiotic relationship to art is affecting the artist.
Chris sings on the heartbreakingly timely song Times of Trouble off of the Temple of the Dog self-titled record:
“When you try to talk
And the words get hard
And they put you down
Don’t you stay
Don’t you ditch away…
But if somebody left you out on a ledge
If somebody pushed you over the edge
If somebody loved you and left you for dead
You got to hold on to your time till you break
Through these times of trouble”
In those lyrics are a poignant and heart-breaking account of a man reaching out to those around him only to be not only silenced by those same people, but used by them too.
I understand that my words on this subject may be harsh, but death is harsh. Despair is harsh. Hopelessness is harsh, and frankly, I don’t want to drive the amazing, beautiful, unbelievably talented upcoming artists to suffer the same fate as these artists that we claim to adore.
It seems like an overwhelming task. Society is set up perfectly for shallow human interaction, not just in the arts, but as a whole. Our voices on social media makes it easy to affirm or reject something in a millisecond; it breeds in us a desire to imitate and create Walmart versions of the art we consume, while we allow the real artists to suffer alone.
I wish so desperately that Chris Cornell grew up in a society where they treasured the gift of his voice and his words in a way that let Chris know that they treasured the deepest parts of him. That people engaged in Chris’ pain through presence and conversation. That fans wouldn’t simply buy his merch or take pictures with him just so THEY could get the likes on Instagram, but that they would believe so much in him and his art that their own lives would be changed by Chris’ transparency.
The people around you, are so, so, valuable. And the artists of our world are often the valuable people that we let down in the most profound of ways. So next time you see a friend honestly trying to create art, encourage them. Listen to their demos, read their rough drafts, study their paintings, and after you sit with their art, talk to them about it. Learn why they did what they did. Ask them about their dreams. Call them on the phone just to say that you are thinking about them. Be a friend to them, because I firmly believe that the way we treat our artists is the way we will treat each other as a whole.
To Chris Cornell, thank you. Thank you for bearing your soul and gifting us with a genuine unearthly voice. We didn’t deserve it, but you gave us all of yourself even though we couldn’t give you much in return.
As Chris sung these words with a pained passion about his friend Andy after Andy tragically died, I write them with a heavy heart mourning the loss of Chris: “Say hello to heaven.”