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Rocker Cornell was always true to himself and his music


Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell

The usual rock star cliches didn't really apply to Chris Cornell.

The Soundgarden frontman, who died by suicide in Detroit aged 52, was one of the most lauded and respected contemporary lead singers in rock music.

When I spoke to him on several occasions in the late 2000s, he was courteous and thoughtful, and seemingly without any trace of ego. He could be intense - but never struck me as surly. He was drily witty, too - amiable in his own stoic way.

He was also frank about his demons, specifically the alcoholism that had dogged him during his initial spell fronting Soundgarden and with his subsequent Audioslave project.

There was no braggadocio when he discussed his struggles with booze - just an acknowledgement he'd emptied himself out seeking solace in the bottle.

"I was never able to make music when I was f****** up," he told me. "Creatively speaking, getting my s*** together was the smartest thing I ever did."

Chillingly, in light of his death this week, one of the subjects about which we chatted at length was the musician friends he had lost down the years. Cornell had been close to Kurt Cobain - a fellow leader of the Seattle grunge scene and an artist whose groundedness mirrored Cornell's own - and to Jeff Buckley, who drowned at age 30. Here again he displayed a refreshing lack of self-regard. Soundgarden were a huge band yet always overshadowed critically by Nirvana. Cornell didn't resent this.

"A lot of what attracted people to Nirvana was that they were like the people you went to high-school with," he had said. "In the late 80s, rock music was where hip-hop is today. You'd see footage of bands getting in and out of expensive cars and with stripper-model wives - basically separating themselves from their audience. With Nirvana, the fans had enough of that. These were people you knew from your everyday life. Suddenly, a switch was thrown."

Soundgarden took a lot of flak in the 1990s for signing to a major label.

"We were all bands that wanted to be part of this independent scene," says Cornell. "And the major labels were trying to figure out how to infiltrate that, because they feared that independently released records were eating into their market. So they were hiring people from pop chains, distributors and indie labels.

"The whole thing kind of converged on Seattle in a way. With everything concentrated in one geographical area, they could do it in one fell swoop."

In his conversations with me, Cornell was always honest - always true to himself and his music.

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