chris cornell

The Soundgarden frontman died in Detroit late Wednesday night.

If you were a kid of the ’90s, you knew “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden. The Beatles-esque ballad, penned by frontman Chris Cornell was a beautiful elegy; a representative moment that grunge was slowly on the way out with the death of Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam’s reluctance to own the spotlight. Cornell took the mast briefly, Soundgarden became the rock band for 1994 when a genre sorely needed a new face from Seattle.

Cornell died on Wednesday night in Detroit at 52. His death is being investigated as a possible suicide by Detroit police. In a statement, Cornell’s representative Brian Bumbery called the death “sudden and unexpected”. Police converged on the MGM Grand Casino, responding to the apparent suicide of a white man born on July 20, 1964. Cornell was found unresponsive on the bathroom floor.

Throughout his three decade career, Cornell played with his pen and perhaps his greatest instrument, his voice. Distinct and rangy, he joined a list of Seattle rockers who would come to define the sound of rock in the 1990s. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Alice In Chains’ Layne Staley, Stone Temple Pilots’ Scott Weiland and the king of them all, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain joined Cornell in leading an audio revolution that married pithy, angst-filled songwriting with hard guitar edge and even a bit of melody as well.

“It’s hard not to be a little bitter about it.” – Chris Cornell on the end of Seattle rock, 1994

Soundgarden’s Superunknown arrived March 8, 1994 – a month before Cobain’s suicide rocked the industry and perhaps the world. Buoyed by “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman”, the record sold over five million copies and became Cornell’s signature moment with the band. The video for “Black Hole Sun” remained all over MTV that year as it became the unofficial anthem and signifier that grunge was dead. In a 1994 interview with Rolling Stone, Cornell spoke on the end of innocence within Seattle’s rock scene. “It’s hard not to be a little bitter about it. We lost good friends in the process. And all of a sudden, you realize that it’s turned into something that’s considered a fashion statement,” he said. “It’s like mining. It’s like somebody came into your city with bulldozers and water compressors and mined your own perfect mountain and excavated it and threw out what they didn’t want and left the rest to rot. It’s that bad.”

Cornell, however, never wanted to be put into a box simply as a rocker. He made five solo albums, including 2007’s Carry On, which included a coffeehouse riff on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”

Perhaps Cornell’s biggest rock contribution post-Soundgarden’s initial hiatus was Audioslave, a band he fronted with former members of Rage Against The Machine. The group released three albums as Cornell essentially kicked off what felt like an era of public supergroups forming, even though it was near the norm in the 1980s and early ’90s. He repeated the feat again in 2010, bringing together Soundgarden members with some of the members of Pearl Jam to form Temple Of The Dog, in part a tribute to Andrew Wood (who passed of a heroin overdose in 1990).

Soundgarden was set to play Houston’s Revention Music Center next Thursday night. It is unclear whether or not the show will go on.

PHOTO: Dave Rossman