“You Know My Name” happens to be one of my favorite Bond themes of all time, and it is easy to understand why. The music has a cinematic quality well captured in the music video, which shows singer Chris Cornell pursuing a fictional amorous relationship as though one would engage in espionage. The lyrics and singing are suitably dark and intense, and the song has a gloomy and melancholy air about it, which is exactly how I like my music best. The chorus menaces with betrayal and the threat of death, which is suitable both for the James Bond franchise as a whole as well as, specifically, the music of Chris Cornell. The song was a minor hit on the Hot 100, making it Chris Cornell’s biggest hit as a solo musician, and ended up being nominated for a Grammy Award and winning a few other awards as a soundtrack piece.
When I woke up this morning and looked at the news, I read that Chris Cornell had been found dead at the age of 52. Later reports throughout the day indicated tat the death was being investigated as a possible suicide and eventually that it was judged to be a suicide by hanging. As is common in this particular case, when a talented and creative and troubled celebrity dies, there is an outpouring of grief and a sharing of how much the artist meant as an inspiration. Although I was certainly fond of the music of Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Temple of the Dog, all of which have songs I have sung along with while watching music videos or listening to the radio, I had never seen any of the acts live and the only music from Chris Cornell that was in my own personal music collection was his sophomore solo album “Carry On,” which is best known for Cornell’s excellent Bond theme and a particularly unimpressive cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” along with a collection of more or less uninspired album filler.
As someone who reflects quite frequently and perhaps morbidly on death , there are many aspects of death that puzzle me. Just a few days ago, for example, a pastor died who was remembered fondly by many of my own friends and acquaintances, but who I did not know personally myself. For others, he had officiated their weddings or been an inspiration in the congregation or in church summer camps, while for me, he had chosen his associates poorly in a particularly nasty period of institutional history. When one looks at the life of Chris Cornell, one can see a great deal of creativity in creating music, a fondness for wide musical ranges befitting someone with a more than three octave range, a love of unusual time signatures, and an ability to work with others and to bury the hatchet with members of various bands. One can also see in looking at his personal history a struggle with alcohol abuse and a long history of wrestling with depression and isolation going back to his youth. He is a man who stared into the face of despair one too many times. As someone well acquainted with the feeling myself, I find it difficult to judge someone who is not unlike myself in having a life full of personal drama, a therapeutic interest in writing and music, and someone who struggles with interminable dark nights of the soul.
What meaning are we to draw from such a life and death as this? Chris Cornell is one more case study, if any more were needed, as to the fact that immense creativity as an artist is often combined with a significant level of struggle with regards to mental health. Artistic genius and peace of mind do not always work together harmoniously. Neither do people who may value peace and enjoy collaborating with others always find peace in their own relationships. Stars live, and frequently far too early die, leaving behind them bodies of work that can be returned to over and over again. Perhaps there will be a posthumous release of work from Cornell in order to strike while the iron is hot and while people remember his name and regret his passing, or perhaps there will be a brief resurgence in popularity of some of his more notable songs, like “Black Hole Sun,” from Soundgarden, or “Be Yourself” or “Like A Stone” from Audioslave, or even “Hunger Strike” from Temple Of The Dog, or even “You Know My Name” and “Can’t Change Me” from the singer’s own solo career. Who knows? At any rate, our celebrity culture has claimed another victim, one of far too many. At some point, people may stop wanting to become famous when the price is seen as too high to pay for those who want long and happy lives.
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