It’s been nearly a month since Chris Cornell passed away, a victim of his personal demons. He left behind a legacy none can match. As has been seen these past few weeks, Chris was and will continue to be held in high regard.
His first commercially successful band, Soundgarden, is considered one of the cornerstones of Grunge music. While other bands generally received more attention, more headlines, and more sales, it was Chris and Soundgarden that were always considered, especially by his contemporaries, to embody the grunge sound and what it meant.
Is Grunge Gone?
That’s a particularly difficult question to answer. As mentioned, many legends of rock and roll from Alice Cooper to Jimmy Page to Slash considered Chris to be the embodiment of the sound. Grunge has not been a kind genre to many of its leading bands. Starting with Kurt Cobain in 1994, one band after another has suffered a major loss. This has always lead to light being shone on the remaining forefathers. The opinion of many is that Eddie Vedder, Chris’s close friend, is now the only one left.
But that doesn’t really answer the question. Soundgarden broke up in 1997. In the interim, Chris formed Audioslave with former members of Rage Against the Machine. The music was amazing. But it wasn’t really grunge, more of a fusion of 70’s and 90’s rock. When Soundgarden reunited and performed their classic material, that was definitely grunge. Their new material… not so much. Eddie is still with us, and Pearl Jam was a trailblazer. But they haven’t played grunge in years.
What happened? Bands broke up. People died. Many rockstars suffer from addictions. The bands that forged a new path for music starting in ’91/’92 were mostly gone by ’97. They were a flash in the pan. But they paved the way for the widespread popularity and acceptance of a new kind of rock, a new kind of sound, a new kind of purpose. This wasn’t your parent’s glam metal ballad bands. This was rock with substance, with meaning. Beyond the apathy, cynicism (and the anti-establishment left over from punk), was actual idealism. Hope. Something for the new generation to cling to.
That legacy has managed to live on. Rock has continued to fracture like it always does. Twenty years later and there hasn’t been another revolution like grunge. But the idea that the medium can do more than stir lust and anger is what grunge taught us. Whether it died in the 90’s or died with Chris or is still alive with Eddie, that legacy will stay with us for as long as rock itself remains.