For a young, sensitive kid from Southwestern Maine, with next to no access to underground culture, glimpses of alternative possibilities, realities and ways of being came by way of the freaks who somehow happened to make their way into the mainstream. Grunge was such a huge part of that for me. And so in a lot of ways, he was one of the first signifiers to me of there being different ways to express and identify. In the 80s/90s white popular culture didn’t place a very high premium on vulnerable soulfulness. Chris Cornell defied that beautifully.
The same way the Beatles were the gateway to soul and blues for many, grunge was my entryway to all that and punk and, by way of punk, queerness, etc. It eventually became commodified to death, but for kids like me, when it was vibrant, it served into a window to the other side. I am so grateful for Cornell’s contribution to that.
And man, Temple of the Dog was so big for me as a kid. Theirs was of my first, if not my first, tapes. I remember going to a YMCA camp and I’d told me counselor that there was a band comprised of members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and she said I was making it up. The next day I showed up to camp with a Casio boombox hoisted above my head like a terrifically lame Lloyd Dobbler and blasted Say Hello 2 Heaven to prove I was right. Believe it or not, there was a time I was even more insufferable than I am now.
Anyway, the Cornell-penned “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” a tribute to his friend and roommate [and Mother Love Bone vocalist] Andrew Wood, was the first song about death that grabbed me in a profound way. It was written by folks I could relate to, about folks I could relate to. It was one of the first times, I think, that I understood my own mortality.
And so it feels only right to do what I am sure many others will do throughout the day, and to use Cornell’s own words [from that song] to memorialize him:
“Now it seems like too much love is never enough; you better seek out another road ’cause this one has ended abrupt.
“Say hello to heaven.”