Chris Cornell did more than hit high notes, write music, and perform some of the best rock songs of all time. Today we mourn a man who helped save us from the Ronald Reagan era of excessiveness in the 1980s and taught us to be our authentic selves.
Few music genres reflected the superfluousness of the ’80s more than hair-bands. Big hair, big spending and superficiality ruled the airwaves. Not all glam rock is bad; it was a substantial genre in the ’70s. But hair bands in the ’80s were as bad as they were popular. Nevertheless, it was a mainstay on MTV. In the ’80s the way a band looked became more important than the music itself.
While MTV purveyed glam rock to the masses, rock fans and artists lived real lives, hanging out in garages with distortion, wah wah pedals, and college radio. Nobody cared about hair bands in the real world. Seattle, Sub-Pop Records, The Singles soundtrack, and Lollapalooza are the iconic cornerstones of the grunge movement in rock, while the undercurrent was heartfelt rebellion and total disdain for 1980s pop culture. The music scene in Seattle subverted the dominant paradigm of superficial bullsh*t, and Chris Cornell made it happen.
MTV called the new sound “alternative music” but the world knew it as grunge. It was good to be dirty again, because that’s life. Youth took off all that crappy excessive makeup because it was finally cool to be authentic. The ’80s were dead, and art took a turn toward a new movement. Grunge “alternative” music was a rebellion, and it stripped life down to its dirty core. The rebel base was in Seattle, and they didn’t care about popular music. Superficiality was dead, slaughtered by the most substantial rock rebellion since the 1960s.
Chris Cornell and grunge rock brought us back to reality, and saved us all from bad, bad music. No more bells and whistles of glam, the music mattered again and artists were able to express pain without concern for their outer shell. Through music, the grunge movement encouraged youth to make their outsides match their insides.
Chris Cornell knew that creative movements are built on rebellion.
While we mourn the loss of Chris Cornell today, we can celebrate his life by remembering that anything mainstream exists solely for the sake of rebellion, so that we may find inspiration in diverging from the beaten path to become our creative, authentic selves. Be yourself today. Be yourself tonight. Try it again tomorrow, and toss up your middle finger at the sound of superficiality. Do it for Chris, because he did it for all of us.