Reflections on the Passing of Chris Cornell
Andrew Wood. Kurt Cobain. Layne Staley. Scott Weiland. And now Chris Cornell.
Grunge music really took off late 1991, the start of my junior year at the University of Connecticut. I graduated in May of 1994 (taking five years due to time spent on co-op). For the second half of my time at UConn, the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, and Soundgarden provided the soundtrack. I loved classic rock like the Beatles and Queen and I'd yet to fully discover the greatness of David Bowie. But the grunge music of the early to mid-1990's inevitably brings me back to my early twenties. I don't think I could ever explain what a seismic change those opening chords of Smells Like Teen Spirit marked for many in my generation. And now so many of them are gone. It's not a unique phenomenon - earlier generations experienced the losses of the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, and Janis Joplin.
Like many of his musical generation, Cornell suffered from mental health issues of anxiety and depression and had a history of drug addiction. There is some question as to whether his anti-anxiety medication could have played a role in his suicide.
If explaining the impact of grunge music in the 1990's is hard to those who weren't there, explaining anxiety and depression are even harder. They are topics that get a lot of well-meaning commentary. I've seen people I love a great deal suffering greatly from these conditions, turning into people I could barely recognize. I've heard people talk of the evils of medication and I understand their concerns - and share many of them. But there's no magic solution. What works for one person might not work for another. Heck, what works for one person one day might at another point stop working. I do know I've seen people pulled from the brink of suicide from a combination of therapy and depression.
I think the cruelest thing about depression and anxiety is they can sabotage treatment. With depression, you can feel you deserve the way you fell. You feel you don't deserve to get better. This is how you should feel. With some forms of anxiety you can convince yourself of all the things that might go wrong with your treatment. And in the background the feeling, sometimes reinforced by other people, that if only you were a little bit tougher, you'd be able to tough your way through it.
I don't know the details of Chris Cornell's mental health issues. I don't for a second think he was a coward. I've heard people I love explain how they feel I'd be better off without them. That feeling of being a burden. I don't have any answers. I wish he and so may others of his generation were still with us and not in such pain. And I hope his loved ones find some peace.