Chris Cornell: The Small Reasons Music Affects Us In Enormous Ways
“Music, as many people have said, is the universal language. Of course points are made which make you think about things, but ultimately it makes you feel. And that’s why people remember more songs that have meant something during their life than films. They start to define periods in your life, and that’s kind of the beauty of it.”
Without ever leaving my bed, my knees buckled and I metaphorically hit the ground. I scrambled for the next 60 minutes to find some sort of confirmation that I had been lied to.
I couldn’t find it.
As the evidence continued to pour in, piece after piece my heart continued to break. Immense sorrow overtook my every thought and I was left in a state of absolute shock. 52 years young and now another suicide statistic.
The theme is all too familiar.
Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.
- Kurt Cobain – 27 years old
- Jimmy Hendrix – 27 years old
- Janis Joplin – 27 years old
- Jim Morrison – 27 years old
- Scott Weiland – 48 years old
- Chris Cornell – 52 years old
I sit here trying to make sense of it all. I ask myself time and again why death strikes when we least expect it. Each time, I am left without an answer. So I do what I like to do. I ask other questions.
How do musicians and their music create an unbreakable bond with those who listen? Why, more than any other form of expression, are we so moved by it? When we lose a member of music, why do we mourn as if we knew them intimately? The latter answer is an easy one. It’s because on some levels, we did. The rest…well…
Music is a feeling. It’s happiness when our favorite song plays and sadness when it doesn’t. Music doesn’t try to align our feelings with itself but instead aligns itself to our feelings. When we are sad we look to music to console us.
- “Fall To Pieces” – Velvet Revolver
- “Something in the Way” – Nirvana
- “Black” – Pearl Jam
- “Say Hello 2 Heaven” – Temple of the Dog
- “Nothing Compares 2 You” – Chris Cornell
And when we are happy, we do the exact same.
Music makes us laugh, cry, rejoice and smile. We use it to welcome our newborns and send off our deceased. It is the voice that speaks for us when we can’t speak. It connects us to others without ever having to wave, shake hands, or even smile. No other force in the world can fill our souls as quick as the sound of two notes in perfect succession. We react to the pounding of a drum, the cry of a guitar and the scream of a voice as if they are all an extension of ourselves.
At our core, we are primal animals and music reminds us of this.
Some say that compound interest is the most powerful force on Earth. I disagree. Music is the most powerful force on Earth. A quick look around at a concert and the choir of voices that fill the arenas will confirm it.
Some of the world’s greatest poets, creators, visionaries, and prophets lie within the musical confines. These people have the unrivaled ability to string together seemingly unrelated words that when heard by the right person at the right time create an emotionally deep connection that almost always turns into a lifelong bond.
More often than not, we find ourselves in deep thought trying to dissect the meaning of our favorite songs as we hum, whisper, sing, and scream their lyrics out loud. And when we think we’ve figured it out, something changes and we start over.
These and more are the reasons why when musicians fall, the reaction is always the same.
We are left behind to pick up the shattered pieces of our existence. Our livelihood and in some cases, the definition of our lives are taken away in a moment of extreme pain. Musicians and their craft often reached immortality among us. At their base, they entertain us. However, we all know that they do so much more.
They coach us through our most difficult times and show us that we are not alone when it is darkest. We turn to them for console when we need it and they do not pass judgment on us. They guide us when we are blind and show us when we refuse to look. Generations are defined by them and we are happy to allow them to define us. Without fear of glorification, they spend their lives teaching us to be what we all are…human.
It is no wonder that we associate specific songs to the extraordinary moments of our lives.
Just off the top of my head, “Georgia on my Mind” by Ray Charles will forever be attached to the thought of my Grandmother. Strangely enough, I can’t pinpoint exactly why but when I hear it, my mind immediately races to playing her organ.
Even Jewel has found her way into my heart.
Each time that “You Were Meant For Me” plays over the airwaves, I’m taken back to the very first time my wife and I drove in a car together. I can recall every single detail. Her hair, her clothes, the car we were in, and even the route we drove. Nothing escapes me from that drive.
From the day that we arrive on this planet, music serves as the answer to most of our questions.
Just think about any of these songs.
- “One” – U2
- “Imagine” – John Lennon
- “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution” – The Black Crowes
- “Freedom” – Rage Against The Machine
- “Redemption Song” – Bob Marley
Whether or not we choose to realize this is a different story.
Music doesn’t just change our lives, it unconsciously shapes them. And the most amazing part is that we allow it to.
I suppose each of these is the answers to my questions.
Music is not about the musician, the instruments or “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.” Music is about connecting with the right person at the right time. Music is simply a moment in time that, like a digital camera, captures itself for us to use for the rest of our lives. Each time we press play, we permit ourselves to escape to a world that we may never know to live a life we may never live.
This is why when Chris Cornell died, I searched so frantically to find evidence that he was still alive. The connection, my connection had been severed and no matter what I did, it would always remain irreparable. Without fail, as the members of their society continue to fall, we will continue to mourn.
The next time your favorite song plays, I urge you to consider exactly why you enjoy it so much. Think beyond the surface level. Allow yourself to take in the order of each note and word. Notice the small intricacies of every song and pay special attention to the way it makes you feel. You’ll be surprised what you will find.
Cheers to your success,
Title image © Josh Jensen
Chris Cornell, may you finally be at peace with yourself and your world.