Chris Cornell Was the Soundtrack of My Misunderstood Youth

By Ragan LaTour

The news of Chris Cornell’s death floated across the bottom of the TV screen early Wednesday morning, “Soundgarden’s frontman, Chris Cornell, found dead at 52.” For a second my heart plummeted into my stomach as if I had lost someone close to me, a family member. In a way I did. I lost part of my childhood. Images of riding in the backseat of my dad’s beat up Chevy Malibu singing to Audioslave at the top of our lungs played through my mind like a movie reel. After my parent’s divorce the only thing they still shared besides me was the same taste in music, Soundgarden and Audioslave included. Chris Cornell tied us all together somehow.

As I grew up my taste in music changed and like any teenager I pushed my parents away, but the moment Chris Cornell’s voice drifted through the speakers, we shared common ground again. On many occasions Audioslave’s songs like “Be Yourself” got me through the pain and heartbreak life threw at me. “To be yourself is all you can be,” lyrics that reminded me that no matter the circumstances, being me was enough, words of encouragement I cling to still to this day. The profound impact Cornell had on my life was not limited to just me, but a whole generation of listeners.

When Soundgarden exploded into the music scene in the early 90’s they brought a sound that had not yet been heard. The rock scene of the previous decade had been filled with hair metal bands. Chris Cornell helped mold the Seattle grunge scene with a sound that combined elements of punk rock, heavy metal and dark, emotional lyrics that fed the souls of the broken and disturbed. “The day I tried to live I wallowed in the mud and blood with all the other pigs,” lyrics from their 1994 hit “The Day I Tried to Live” emphasizing the misery and angst that defined the grunge scene of the 90’s. Grunge is identified through things like flannel and Doc Martens, but that is selling it short. Grunge was the first time musicians accurately depicted the feeling of being misunderstood.

In 2001 Cornell formed Audioslave with members of Rage Against the Machine, exploring a new sound and message, as if he had found clarity or the remedy for the pain he sang of in the 90’s. It was the lyrics of songs like “Doesn’t Remind Me,” that speak of the simple things in life like “colorful clothing in the sun, cause it doesn’t remind me of anything” that expressed a newfound ability to cope and helped trigger my love for words. He introduced me to beauty of imagery with lyrics like, “I am not your rolling wheels, I am the highway.” His solemn, soulful voice was there in my time of need to sooth me, like a metaphoric hand stroking my hair. And his powerful, gravely screams were there on days that life was too much, and I too wanted to scream. He was a constant in my life.  

Though the great Chris Cornell is no longer here with us, his legacy remains. His impact can be seen through fashion, ripped up jeans, high tops, and combat boots. His impact can be heard through a new age of post-grunge musicians like The Foo Fighters and Godsmack. For me, he will continue to be my lyrical guide through life. He may be gone, but his music still evokes memories of my childhood. Memories of flipping through my dad’s big, black CD case looking for Audioslave, and driving down the long Texas highways watching him belt out the words. “Black Hole Sun” paints the picture of my mom, a typical 90’s babe, with long messy blonde hair, a tied up flannel, and Doc Martens (that have been passed down) telling the story of how Soundgarden opened up for her first husband’s band in the late 80s. Today, a generation of misfits and rebels mourn the loss of one of their own, a true legend.

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About Ragan 

Ragan is a twenty-something mom of two monsters and Communications major currently residing in Houston, Texas. She spends her free time conducting off-key family operas and running off to the beach with her fiancé any chance she gets. She is a coffee addict and hopes to become an honorary Gilmore Girl one day.


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