From Seattle’s Volunteer Park to radio studios to red lights downtown, people mourned the death of Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell Thursday night.
On Thursday afternoon, around a dozen people gathered at the Volunteer Park sculpture “Black Sun” and blasted Soundgarden songs.
According to local music lore, the mammoth, 1969 sculpture with a hole in the middle was the inspiration for “Black Hole Sun,” a radio hit for Soundgarden, whose lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Chris Cornell, committed suicide the night before.
“This music was always around, always part of our culture,” said Lacey Alameda, sitting next to a turned-up speaker. “It’s tragic, she added, “that when no matter how much talent you have, there’s something that big missing inside of you.”
Radio Celebration of Chris Cornell
WHAT: A full day of on-the-fly music programming, centered on the life, career, and musical connections of the late Chris Cornell and the artists he has collaborated with and inspired.
WHERE: KEXP.org and 90.3 FM, Seattle
WHEN: Friday, May 19, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST
OTHER: For more information, go to http://blog.kexp.org/kexp-presents-six-degrees-of-chris-cornell-day/
A few hours later, around 400 people showed up to the KEXP studios at Seattle Center for a quickly organized memorial.
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The room was full of teary eyes and a broad spectrum of people who’d come to pay tribute.
“Part of our city died today,” KEXP DJ John Richards said from the stage. “But I’m selfish — I just wanted to have a place to hang out and mourn and wanted all of you to be here … It’s OK to grieve and be sad. It’s OK to cry.”
He also said people should feel a “green light to grieve those we don’t know personally, as well.”
“There’s been a lot of crying in Seattle today,” said Mike Reilly, who was a neighbor of Soundgarden bassist, Ben Shepherd, on Bainbridge Island. “It’s a heavy-duty day.” In the morning, he said, he was driving to work, listening to KEXP’s Cornell tribute set-list and was stopped at a red light, where “I saw a lady obviously rocking out to the same song and crying.” They made eye contact. “I almost got out of my car to hug her.”
But like any good wake, it had its laughs. DJ Riz Rollins told a story about wanting to smoke marijuana in the bathroom of the now-defunct Seattle club, the Off Ramp. Some good-looking guy offered to be a lookout.
“So we get in the bathroom and start smoking weed and I think: ‘Dude looks really good,’” Rollins said. The crowd laughed and cheered. Rollins offered him some of his weed, but Cornell demurred. “Aw,” Rollins said in a disappointed tone to the room. “But you sure do look pretty.”
The crowd laughed some more.
And, he added, Cornell seemed so friendly and confident in his own skin that “he handled a flirt really well from me as a gay, black man from Chicago.”
Then Rollins hit a more serious note: “I think one of the best ways to remember anyone or anything is to continue to pay it forward … even when they leave us in circumstances as confusing or even as dark as they seem today. Tomorrow isn’t a promise to us, but the next moment is a promise to us.”
As KEXP DJ Kevin Cole put on “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” written by Cornell for Temple of the Dog, another of his bands, people fell into each other’s arms and wept.
While people peeked into the DJ booth, Cole smiled, made a fist, and tapped it lightly over his heart.
KEXP has announced it will devote a day of programming Friday to “Six Degrees of Chris Cornell,” exploring his work and the work of artists he’s played with and influenced over the years.
Seattle mayoral candidate Mike McGinn was also in the crowd. Cornell, he said, came into his office during his earlier mayoral tenure to talk about creating a philanthropic foundation.
“I was impressed,” McGinn said. “He was very, very serious about doing good and helping kids in need. It’s what the role of arts is in this city — when you promote art, you’re not just promoting the thing. You’re promoting an entire community.”
Later, Richards surveyed the mourners in the room and said he was grateful for so many people showing up at the last minute in a display of community support.
“It’s a tough time in Seattle now with all these changes,” he said. “It’s a hard time for a lot of people … But I believe in this city so much.”