Heaven Send Hell Away

A couple of weeks after Chris Cornell died, I stumbled upon a YouTube video of him covering Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U“. His performance was angelic, prophetic, haunting. I had heard it sung before by Sinéad O’Connor and by The Artist himself, but the emotions transmitted by Cornell’s raspy raunchy baritone voice, were visceral and raw. They denuded him, stripped away his rock star pretension, leaving behind his voice and guitar. He may have been a pop icon, he may have been a sex symbol, he may have been dead for under a month, but it wasn’t until I heard him sing “It’s been so lonely without you here, like a bird without a song, nothing can stop these lonely tears from falling,” that the weight of his absence truly made my heart and tear ducts heavy with blood and tears.

I don’t react to these kinds of things immediately. It took me months to process my grandparents’ passing. The only two people I have lost. I’m slow at feeling the feelings I’m supposed to feel. It’s not emotional numbness; it’s more like emotional dumbness. Sometimes I don’t know how to feel. I just sit there, through experiences, taking in the life-altering stimulus, not knowing what to do with it.

I first heard of the news via a Twitter hashtag (#ChrisCornell). As soon as I saw it, I feared the worst. My life started to flash before my eyes. At least the parts in which the music of Cornell played in the background. I thought of childhood summers in Tijuana, Mexico, running around in my grandmother’s asymmetrical lopsided house. My uncles, then angsty teenagers, blasted grunge music through loud speakers, whose sound made every window in the house shake to a point just below shattering.

I remembered the countless times I spent hanging out at my cousin Melly’s house, watching music videos on MTV. Melly and I were very close; she was like an older sister. I don’t know if it was because she debriefed me before I began my first year of middle school or because we used to make out with each other when we were younger. In any case, the week before school started, her kissing mentorship reached its point of culmination.

“If a girl asks you if you want to scam, you always say ‘Yes’,” she advised.

“What if I don’t like her?” I asked.

“You still want to do it. If you don’t, then people will think you’re gay.” That made sense. In the same way that I saw her as an older sibling, she saw me as her little brother, and at times, her little sister.

“Why are you putting make up on me?” I asked her as she applied eyeliner à la Brandon Lee circa “The Crow.”

“‘Cause it makes guys look really hot,” she answered emphatically. Her enthusiasm and intrepid application were good enough reasons for me. “Besides, Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain both do it too.” I smiled with the unabashed smile of a blind man. I was obsessed with Cornell’s band, Soundgarden and their latest single at the time, “Black Hole Sun.” Both the song and the music video haunted me like nothing before. It felt emotionally heavy, yet it was as easy to listen to as a lullaby. It sounded familiar, like a Beatles or Led Zeppelin song and at the same time like nothing else I had ever heard.

I had a pretty refined ear when it came to rock music, having been raised by my mom’s brothers on a diet that consisted of classic rock. Soundgarden and Cornell’s voice fit in seamlessly into my frame of reference like my ass did into my cousin’s Levi’s 501 jeans.

Mourning Chris Cornell’s death was, in part, the mourning of a death that had taken place long before his. That of my relationship with Melly. Of a time when I used to look up to people, like Cornell, and not down at their most deplorable flaws. His death reminded me of Melly, how she was always there for me and how she didn’t care about my fucked up family situation. Partly because she was so cool and partly because hers was as fucked up as mine. Our mothers were sisters, after all.

I felt disappointed in myself because I let both of my friends slip away. I abandoned them. I never went to see Chris Cornell perform live when he toured LA. I didn’t even try. I took him for granted. It’s been a while since I’ve reached out to my cousin and her daughters, the oldest now the same age we were in the nineties, back when we were wearing eyeliner and trying to be cool. I don’t want to make the same mistake twice.

In my mind’s ear, nothing will ever compare to Chris Cornell’s powerful soulful singing, one that hooked me from the first listen. A voice that had been an invisible playmate in our sororal gatherings. The sun will wash away the rain, but never the raindrops falling from my eye. The tears for a man that took the sunshine with him and left behind a black hole.

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