Waking up to the news of a death is never easy. But it’s especially hard when that death ripples through so much of what you feel and remember about a place — especially if there’s a soundtrack to transport you there.
The passing of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, at age 52, after a concert in Detroit Wednesday night, is sending shockwaves through the music world. And in Seattle, where the singer was born and where his band achieved grunge icon status, it’s serving as another aching reminder of loss.
It’s especially hard, it seems, when presented against the backdrop of such rapid change in Seattle. These days, every old house or business or elevated highway or NBA team or rock star that succumbs provides further proof that time marches on.
New Seattleites, perhaps not even born nearly three decades ago during the city’s hyped musical heyday, live in a city driven by a tech boom. The neighborhoods are transforming overnight, the roads are congested and new skyscrapers and apartment buildings block out the “Black Hole Sun” that’s come to wash away the rain.
Playing a familiar tune of its own on Thursday, mourning another local rock star gone too soon, Seattle independent radio station KEXP gave listeners a bittersweet soundtrack to fill the day as it played songs by Cornell, bands he sang in and those he influenced. DJ John Richards even talked of scrapping a planned “Six Degrees” tribute show for Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, scheduled for Friday, and doing one for Cornell instead.
“In many ways Soundgarden sounded like no other, but their singularity was mostly due to Cornell’s astounding vocal range and immediately identifiable and defiant shriek,” the station wrote on its blog, in a post that featured several Soundgarden videos. “Chris Cornell will always remain not just in our hearts but pumping through our veins. Chris, we’re devastated to say this to you now, but ‘Say Hello 2 Heaven.'”
No one should expect any town to stay stuck in time. It’s one thing to get goosebumps when you hear Nirvana or Alice in Chains or Mother Love Bone — and remember the lost leaders of those bands — it’s another to expect the song to always remain the same.
If you moved here for a tech job — or any job — and the promise of a city that is flourishing while others around the country struggle to keep up, there is no shame in that, despite that shiver you get from the Seattle Freeze. While Seattle never seemed to welcome the glaring spotlight that came with musical fame in the early 1990s, it shouldn’t pull the mat from under a new generation, coming to the city to make the next thing.
Perhaps it’s best if new Seattleites, and old-timers, take some time to just listen, above the noise about Amazon or that startup or somebody’s Tesla in the driveway. If I can recommend a fitting place to do that in the days ahead, it would be “A Sound Garden,” the musical art installation from which Cornell’s band drew its name. Located on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration campus, next to Seattle’s Magnuson Park, the howling pipe sculpture has been standing on the shore of Lake Washington since 1983.
If it inspires another great Seattle voice, it’s not just whistling in the wind.