A public unveiling ceremony for the life-size sculpture in Cornell's hometown will be held at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
“Seattle’s son” is coming home.
As the anniversary of Chris Cornell’s death approached this May, many Seattle fans longed for a central place to pay their respects to the singer who helped shape the city’s cultural landscape, much as it shaped him. On Sunday, they’re getting their wish.
More than a thousand people are expected to attend a 5:30 p.m. public unveiling ceremony for a life-size statue of the Soundgarden frontman outside of MoPOP. The bronze likeness, commissioned and donated to the museum by Cornell’s wife, Vicky Cornell, will stand outside MoPOP’s south entrance facing Fifth Avenue North in the shadow of the Space Needle — one Seattle icon beneath another.
“I wanted to celebrate and honor him, memorialize his contribution to music history and the arts, philanthropy, in his hometown where his initial impact stems from,” Vicky said earlier this week. “It’s a really unique city that — it’s defined him — but also I feel like it propelled him to create this movement that would influence popular music forever.”
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Initially slated for August, the ceremony was pushed to Oct. 7 to accommodate the throngs of fans expected. Fifth Avenue North will be blocked off between Thomas and Harrison streets from 4-7 p.m. A screening of a Soundgarden concert film from a 2013 show in Los Angeles starts at 6 p.m., though the free-with-RSVP tickets are long gone. Mayor Jenny Durkan and the other members of Soundgarden will be on hand for the unveiling. Flying home the day after performing with MC50 in Orange County, guitarist Kim Thayil may head straight to the ceremony before getting settled.
“I think he’ll be remembered as his body of work has been appraised — exceptionally, [critically] acclaimed … — and [as] a source of pride certainly in the community,” Thayil said of his longtime friend and bandmate. “I think he will be remembered as I will remember him, because that’s how I will remind everybody.”
While rock stardom took Cornell across the globe and found him and Vicky living in Paris, Los Angeles and Miami, Seattle was always with him, Vicky said, noting they kept an apartment here and had various local philanthropic ventures. Cornell regularly returned to spend time with his eldest daughter, Lily, from his previous marriage to former Soundgarden manager Susan Silver. (During the height of Soundgarden’s fame, Cornell dropped into a farewell party for his old boss at Ray’s Boathouse, staying “till the bitter end.”)
“That’s forever a part of who you are, your hometown,” Vicky said. “It doesn’t ever change.”
With the statue’s public display in a tourist hot spot, MoPOP’s artistic director Jasen Emmons hopes it will become a destination for sightseers and selfie takers, much like the Jimi Hendrix statue on Broadway. Instead of putting it on a pedestal, it will be affixed directly to the ground “to make it feel as if you could walk directly up to him while he’s in the middle of a performance,” Emmons said.
Working with artist Nick Marra, Vicky pored through “thousands and thousands” of photos to base the sculpture on, eventually settling on a more contemporary image where Cornell is “screaming apologetically” and using his signature Gibson guitar. Still, getting his eyes just right to show his softer side was crucial. “I want his eyes — that poetic side of him to come out there,” she said.
Since Cornell’s death, Vicky has heard from countless fans telling her how Cornell touched their lives. The tribute letters still come in by the hundreds. As much as the outpouring of “love and support” has “held me up,” Vicky says, the public attention has in some ways made the grieving process more difficult.
“To lose Chris so suddenly and tragically and to not be able to have a minute to catch your breath … and trying to, at the same time, protect my children, my sanity and help us heal — it’s hard,” she said. “Even with fans now, I love it, but at the same time I’ll be going through Instagram and oof! It can be brutal looking at photographs of him with us. There’s so much love in what they’re doing, but it kinda makes it harder because it’s there. I wouldn’t want it any other way, but it’s almost like a double-edged sword.”
Beyond public displays like the statue, Vicky and their children have found little ways of keeping Cornell’s memory alive: the way they celebrate his birthday, releasing balloons into the air and other things she’d prefer to keep private.
“He’s part of our lives,” Vicky said. “We talk about him everyday. It’s almost as if — as weird as this may sound — like he’s on tour. Sixteen months may seem like a long time for you guys, but for us it feels like six.”