Chris Cornell Made Sad Kurt Cobain Revelation Before Death

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Charles R. Cross recently published a touching Kurt Cobain tribute article on Crosscut, which mentions that Chris Cornell would often talk to him about Cobain. Cobain and Cornell died by suicide in 1994 and 2017 respectively.

Nirvana’s show at the Off Ramp attracted five different major labels and essentially it was that performance, and watching the response of the Seattle crowd, that persuaded major label DGC to sign them. Many things made Nirvana and Kurt Cobain an icon, but one small piece of that history was made in that dingy club on Eastlake, which at the moment still exists.

Death anniversaries are particularly hard to understand or to participate in. I spent years researching Cobain’s life, but there is much that still feels like a mystery, perhaps because suicide and addiction themselves are unknowable demons. There were 30,000 suicides in the U.S. the year Kurt died; in 2017 there were roughly 45,000, including two people I knew, one of whom happened to be Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, who often brought up Cobain when we talked. Suicide takes the lives of more Americans now than traffic fatalities.

And don’t get me started on opioids because I think about that and Cobain every time I drive down Aurora Avenue, a part of the city still filled with sleazy hotels where Cobain often stayed on drug binges. The word epidemic is finally used to talk about the opioid crisis, but to those in Seattle music, this is old news. Starting with Andrew Wood in 1990, there has been a long list of famous and soon-to-be-famous deaths.

While admittedly not being close friends with Cobain, in 1994 Cornell was hit hard by his death, especially as a fellow voice of the Seattle Grunge music scene. Soundgarden were told about Cobain’s death following an April 1994 concert. The band digested the news for 30 minutes in their dressing room with Tad. Ben Shepherd was the first to leave the room. He was emotional, with red eyes, as he had been the closest to Nirvana and Cobain.

“I don’t think anyone can safely resolve that’s why Kurt Cobain killed himself,” Chris Cornell told Kerrang Magazine in August 1994. “I mean, I don’t really bother theorising on suicides, but I’m sure it was more than that.”

“It was common knowledge that Kurt had a serious fucking health problem and he had it for years, well before he was ever famous. Whenever people talk about drugs and death, they put Kurt in a category of drug death, which is not the case. The fact that he was taking drugs was also based on the fact that he had serious health problems that nobody could seem to help him out with. Drugs were one way of relieving pain.”

“I’m sure there were also problems with the fact that he couldn’t go anywhere. He felt self-conscious about being a teen idol, which was something he didn’t want to be.”

“And there was always that issue that he was sick – and that didn’t necessarily have to do with drugs or the fact that he was famous.”

Kim Thayil, who was also present for the Kerrang interview, chimed in, “He was emotionally sick. He was married, he had a kid, he was a millionaire overnight and you’ve gotta cope with these things.”

“It might not have been something that he wanted,” argued Cornell, “but at the same time, he made videos, y’know? Same as me. If he didn’t wanna be in that situation, he didn’t have to make another video after ‘Teen Spirit.’ It all points to something else. It wasn’t just: this guy’s a heroin addict and it made him crazy and he killed himself. Or: this guy gets bothered by teenagers and he hates it so he killed himself.”

“That’s probably the most romantic view, but it’s not the most real view. You don’t know what drives somebody to do that, but if I ever committed suicide, I would do it in a way that meant no one ever knew that it was suicide – because to me, the biggest fear of killing myself would be what it would do to my friends and family.”

“If things are fucked enough that I want to kill myself, the last thing I want to do is go out and really fucking hurt a bunch of other people.”