As with many things that require subconscious processing, the passing of Chris Cornell has swiftly submerged into my subconsciousness as did the initial hearing of his passing on Thursday.
Having grown up in Kenya, I naturally can’t lay claim to growing up with a lot of Western music of my generation. Mo-Town, classical, jazz and various hints of contemporary RnB were from my parents. It wasn’t until I was allowed to buy music on CD’s in my early to mid-teens from HMV, that I started understanding other genre’s of music. Rock and Grunge were new and angry sounds, much different from the classical music I would hear my dad play on the huge Kenwood HiFi stack or the scores I’d play in the school orchestra or sing in the choir or within my own private singing lessons.
Quaint, I think you’d call it.
Looking back at the moment all change happened, it now makes sense.
Something was sour in the air. The family unit wasn’t quite as happy as it used to be. There was drama at my dad’s work and false accusations of cheating flying all over the place. Of course I knew nothing of this. How my parents ever thought I couldn’t figure all of this out is beyond me, but I digress.
I kept quiet and did as I was told, went where I should have and stayed out of everyone’s way so as not to be a burden. A good child is one who is seen and never heard. Only you’d rarely see me as well.
Feelings weren’t really the forte of the family. And being the only truly creative left-handed musically gifted person in the unit, I had (have) a lot of feelings. All of which I didn’t know how to express so chose to suppress instead.
And then I got my first proper CD Walkman. As well as a mini hifi system.
Somehow, when my parents weren’t upset with each other or drowning their sorrows with a cheeky glass of alcohol at some god forsaken hour in the morning, they figured out I really liked music. REALLY liked music. In the car, if you wanted me to be happily content whilst you were talking about boring business stuff, put on some music and I’d be away with the fairies lying down on the back seats being mesmerised by the overground sagging power and phone lines.
Music through headphones or earphones creates a personal bubble. No one can enter, only you can leave.
With that in mind – discovering different musical genres through peers at school and curiosity through visually curious album and single covers – I learned that other people channeled their emotions into music. Not just old and dead composers from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. More over, these artists had emotions and topics that were relevant to me at the time.
Listening to Eminem’s first album was an explicit revelation for me. The fact that someone could be SO angry at their parents and so destructive to themselves and others was an alien concept I always thought would have someone bent over their parent’s knee and hided to within an inch of their life. Apparently not. A small rebellious part in me loved the freedom of listening to “My Name Is” loudly within my headphones and sometimes sing/rap along without a care.
This theme of freedom through music carried me through a lot of shit:
My parents separating. My dad letting his secret lover-come-not so secret girlfriend and home wrecker move in with me and my brother into the family home. My mother leaving me to live in the US. My parents sending me off to boarding school, over 4000 miles away from either of them to an island and at least 2 hours away from the only city I knew of relatively well (London). Being in a single-sex Christian boarding school as the only fully black kid out of some 600-people. Never knowing which parent would have me for school holidays. Having to stay with friends or “foster” holiday parents in the UK. Dealing with an ever diminishing relationship with my mum. Perpetually worrying about the welfare of my baby brother. My mother’s FUCKING CRAZY BOYFRIENDS. Changing schools. Figuring out my sexuality. Discovering my mother’s a homophobe. Going to university….and on, and on.
But bringing it back to a key artist – Chris Cornell. When he formed the band AudioSlave, and their album came out, I was studying for my A-Levels and found solace within Music Technology. It was the perfect balance of asking for help and having a community of like minded weirdos who were totally talented and being left utterly and completely to your own devices. The main flavours of genres were jazz, trip hop, and rock/grunge. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers were a firm favourite with a few other bands here and there, including SoundGarden/Temple of Dog.
Cochise pretty much summed up the previous 3 years of my life in equal parts of sorrow, regret, anger, deception, fear, and wrath. Amidst the musicians creating soundscapes that can capture all of that, was Chris Cornell’s voice. Melodic and raspy, cutting and velvety, hoarse yet fine. And a vocal range that was utilised to an inch of its existence. Not with “over souling” you’d hear the likes of Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera or a pentecostal church singer. No, his pure tones were as impressive as his moderate tremolo.
I thought about suicide a few times. Between AudioSlave and Korn, I’m glad I didn’t. The marks on my arm are virtually invisible to everyone except for me, but you can see the remains if I choose to show you.
It’s strange, writing this now, out of my head, the dots all add up far better than I thought. When I caught wind of Chris Cornell passing, and finding it to be true from a verified source, I literally felt a numb pulse drive through me. Only for a moment, but long enough for me to notice it and stop what I was doing and clear my mind to actually register what I was feeling – or wasn’t.
Initially I had said that another part of my creative heart has gone numb. And it’s true. But the difference between the verbally emotive soul of Chris Cornell and the multi-instrumental genius of Prince Nelson Rogers is one of generation and protection.
Prince was my mother’s artist. Chris Cornell was one of mine.
Undoubtedly in the years to come there will be more numb darts to be thrown at my creative heart, when the likes of Jay Kay, Fred Durst, Wes Borland, Missy Elliot, Grace Jones and a few others pass.
They all have legacies, and as each one passes, people who can and should create their own in music and art need to have their own legacies. Of course, referring to myself and my fear of failure and equal fear of success to being an actual creative/muse/artist and paid for it. Is robbing me of a life well lived.
But I can’t let the guy who saved me from killing myself, kill himself without an effective thunderclap from all the quiet souls he saved unknowingly.