Goodbye to a Rock God

On one hand, Chris Cornell’s death shouldn’t have been at all surprising. Humans die. Especially famous musicians, who live recklessly and overdose and commit suicide. Those of us who came of age in the nineties have watched our idols fall: Cobain, Layne Staley, Scott Weiland.

On the other hand.

Chris Cornell.

He always seemed a rock god incarnate. The shirtless man I took pictures of in concert many summers ago was something beyond human. He was a swan; I was Leda. He was a beam of light; I was Danae. He could do anything to me.

He sang me through my late teens and much of my twenties, through feelings I didn’t have words for. I still don’t, and I don’t have to. I play his songs; his voice is stirring and impossibly sad and at the same time deeply erotic, and I’m back there in my youth while I’m also still here—that disorienting phenomenon of aging in which you’re still all the people you’ve once been.

I’ve wrestled with mental illness since my teens, and I’ve been (hyper)aware of my own mortality since my twenties, but the few weeks before Chris Cornell’s death is the first time I thought about not existing and felt okay about it. I never made actual plans to harm myself, but I thought about how as a teacher and writer and human I’m utterly replaceable, and how my husband could raise our son just fine on his own. I felt somehow that I’d already done everything I was going to do, that continuing to live was just repeating the same shit on loop. You get tired of feeding yourself, tired of laundry, tired of trying to get ahead and—especially, as a writer—tired of shouting into a void.

Words you say never seem

To live up to the ones inside your head

The lives we make

Never seem to ever get us anywhere but dead

I get it, is what I’m saying. And to come to terms with the death of Chris Cornell is to see him as a heartbreakingly vulnerable human. It’s to acknowledge that his depression is real and that my depression is real and that fuck, we all just need a reason to live.

No longer having Chris Cornell in the world isn’t going to impact my daily life in the slightest. Yet I’m irrationally brooding and crying and loving whomever I imagine he was, as “Blow Up the Outside World” guts me again and again. I’m struggling to believe that as human beings we aren’t doomed by complete interiority and separateness, and that trying to connect isn’t futile.

That someone whose talent was so far-reaching felt that sensation of shouting into a void, of pervasive futility, is a wrenching irony. I write to say the things I didn’t say or couldn’t have said—and oh, I know I am no one—but Chris, you weren’t shouting into a void. I was listening. Now you are in me like a thread of color in spun glass, or a beam of light. (Or a swan penis, I guess. It’s a good thing I never got to meet him in person, because I’m pretty sure “You’re in me like a swan penis” is something I would have actually said, and then he would have been like “WUT SWANS DON’T EVEN HAVE PENISES” and I would have been like “Whatever, Rock God, let’s just do this so I can tell all my friends about it, but I will def. google it later,” which interestingly would have saved me from googling “bird penis” two weeks ago.)

Anyway, it’s all we can hope for, I think—the knowledge that in some small way we live on in others.

For us who are godless, in that connectedness is the divine.

It’s from Wikimedia Commons, so I didn’t steal it. Go sit on a swan penis.

I was lost in the pages

Of a book full of death

Reading how we’ll die alone

And if we’re good, we’ll lay to rest

Anywhere we want to go