What Chris Cornell Told Me About His Depression Years Before His Suicide
By Amber 0
That’s the sum of it right there.
As far as the whys and wherefores of his death, we can only go on supposition for now based on what’s been reported: Cornell apparently committed suicide by hanging himself in his hotel bathroom after Wednesday night’s Soundgarden show in Detroit. Was his riffing on Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying” during the encore a parting shot? No one really knows at this point – there’s been no talk of a suicide note or other marker that might offer a clue into why Cornell did what he did.
But as I sat in the car for most of the morning on a long drive, all the stuff he and I talked about came back hard and, in a way, clicked. He and I talked about suicide. We talked about depression. We talked about the body count from the grunge era, the incredible talents from the Seattle area who never made it to a ripe old age. “I’d always heard that Aberdeen, Washington, this small town that Kurt Cobain was from, had the highest suicide rate per capita in the country,” he told me. “And that was before it happened with him. The fact that he was from Aberdeen almost made sense. ‘Oh yeah, well, we saw that comin’!’”
Well, no one saw this coming. But now that it’s here, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
I met Cornell in a New York hotel room for a piece for Men’s Health and he was relaxed, candid, and engaged. I was partially distracted by the Casino Royale script sitting on the coffee table between us – he was writing the opening song to the film, “You Know My Name,” at the time – and I was dying to flip through it. But as we spoke, one thing was obvious: Here’s a guy who fought his demons on a daily basis.
“I was depressed for a long time,” he said. “If you’re depressed long enough, it’s almost a comfort, a state of mind that you’ve made peace with because you’ve been in it so long. It’s a very selfish world.”
Cornell’s suicide makes me wonder if guys can ever completely outrun their demons. You can fight, you can flee, you can drop countermeasures behind you, but can you win the race? He certainly tried: “For me, I always had one foot in this very dark, lonely, isolated world. Then about 8 years ago [he was 42 at the time of this interview] I got very dark and there was a ton of isolation. I had to do a lot of things I didn’t want to do. Like I had to admit that I made all the mistakes I assumed I would never make. I changed pretty much everything you can change. The city that I lived in, every person that I spent time with. I got a divorce, but then fell in love in a way that I didn’t know I was capable of, and then felt loved in a way I didn’t know I was capable of. I quit drinking, quit smoking. And suddenly I had all this energy.”
That release of creative energy fueled his Audioslave years. And it came from not from the depression, but the positivity of the changes he’d made. “I never felt like I had to be depressed or unhappy to write songs,” he said. “Now at this time in my life when I’m the most active in my relationship with my wife and my babies, I don’t slip into that type of depression anymore. And I’m having the best time I’ve ever had in terms of creativity and enjoying the process and feeling constantly inspired to do it.”
The positivity is what we need to hang onto. Cornell and I eventually got to the biggest thing he learned from battling those demons – and it’s a great lesson for all men. For him, coming out on the other side of a dark place meant having to open up, not shut down. It was a great monologue and from my perspective a much better parting shot than – with all due respect — a few Zeppelin lyrics:
“Most of the guys I grew up with ended up with the same struggles that I’ve had, which is you have every desire to communicate with your friends, family, with anyone, and absolutely no skill as to how to do it. And male-female relationships require that so much.”
“My experience is you have to allow the expression to come and not be so eager to check it or critique it or be embarrassed by it or shut it down. There’s risk in that. If I allow myself to get swept away into too much self-importance, self-involvement, just thinking about what’s going on with me, then that seems to bring on certain feelings. Suddenly I’m a little less than who I feel I really am. I’ve always been my own worst enemy in terms of having a negative attitude towards myself and what I could achieve.
“But if you keep your emotional life readily available and your relationships with people the same way, you don’t constantly bury your emotions and let things fester under the rug. I realized that if I can reveal my emotions in the songwriting world, then I can do it in the real world.”
Rest in peace, Chris Cornell.