R.I.P. Chris Cornell
Last night, one of my favorite musical artists and rock-legend Chris Cornell died at age 52. I’m going to eulogize him a bit, and share a few thoughts. He was a part of my own journey into me being me.
When I was a kid, I was raised by my mom the majority of the time. In the car, we listened to Madonna and Paula Abdul on cassette tape. I remember her playing REO Speedwagon, Elton John, Billy Joel and Blondie. I still know all the words to “In the Middle of the Night” and my third grade voice would harmonize with the songs as we drove back and forth to see grandparents in Cincinnati, down that long I-70 stretch from St. Louis. It is safe to say that mom wasn’t really into the “Rock & Roll” scene.
So when I heard that grunge/rock music of the mid 90s, something awakened in me. These singers were men. They had gruff bass voices and scratchy falsettos and they weren’t trying to be pretty. Their music was laced with angst at a messed-up world. It resonated in a way that’s hard to describe with words. Some need that I didn’t know I had started to get filled. That music became a part of me into my teens, into my twenties, and even still today. (I just discovered MTV’s unplugged series from 1996 a year and a half ago and still listen to it regularly).
Chris Cornell was perhaps my favorite of that era of vocalists. One thing which set him apart from much of the other music is that he introduced many Christian themes into his music. He was not proselytizing by any stretch. But he wrote songs that pointed to a Creator, to whom we could pray, to whom we should look for guidance. I believe he was searching. Here are some sample lyrics for those unfamiliar:
“In my hour of need
On a sea of grey
On my knees I pray to you
Help me find the dawn
Of the dying day
Won't you light my way?"
“Nail in my hand
From my creator
You gave me life
Now show me how to live”
So here I am on the other side of his death, doing a bit of grieving, a bit of processing. One thing that should be clear enough is that the whole celebrity-culture-world is broken in a deep way. How many of our favorite musicians and actors have died early? These people are poisoning themselves with drugs and ruining themselves with indulgent lifestyles. Yet in the next breath they are creating poetry and art that speak to good and beautiful things. It shows the truth of the imago dei, the Image of God that is in all people, and that simultaneously we are indeed broken and ruled by sin. Paul asked, “What benefit did you receive from those things of which you are now ashamed?” We can arrive at a great deal of truth through art, and poetry (and for that matter science, while we are at it). But unless that truth is met with heart change and obedience, it doesn’t do us much good. How many artists sing of the beauty of true love and commitment yet have several lovers and repeat divorces? The artist arrives at truth, and this should be celebrated! But it is another thing to live it out.
There is one last song from Cornell, it's actually my favorite. It’s “The Day I Tried to Live.” Here’s the second verse:
"Words you say, never seem
To live up to the ones inside your head
The lives we make never seem
To ever get us anywhere but dead
The day I tried to live
I wallowed in the blood and mud
With all the other pigs…
And I learned that I was a liar"
The realism in his music was something that strikes me as deeply Christian. What a confession we see in these verses! For a day, he tried to be someone, but he failed. He was no better than anyone. And he made a liar of himself. What a tribute to reality.
So I’m going to pray Chris Cornell’s words for all of the remaining rock and roll icons out there, and for anyone that needs it. I pray that God would light their way. I pray that they would find the one who can truly help them live, and make it so their best efforts aren’t just lies. I pray that God would help them find the dawn of the dying day, and give light to their paths. Amen.