Beyond The Music: A Story About Chris Cornell's Kindness

July 20, 2018

In honor of Chris Cornell’s birthday, I’m gonna talk about the first day I seriously considered radio as a career option: August 23rd, 2003. Lollapalooza at White River Amphitheater. Audioslave played. Watching Chris Cornell hit those notes and own that crowd was a thing of beauty. That day, I knew I wanted to surround myself with as much rock music as possible for as long as possible.

My friends and I were fortunate enough to have scored backstage access, and wanted to meet him.

When we got back there, he was smoking an American Spirit cigarette (they last FOREVER!). We told him how much we enjoyed the show and he thanked us and disappeared to a dressing room or something. Totally pleasant, brief interaction that maybe should have been left alone. But we weren’t satisfied... So we loitered at the ping pong table, like really awkward vultures.

He came back out to sit at a table and talk to people he actually knew. There was an open seat on each side of him. One of my friends was mature and aware enough to realize how uncomfortable it would be for some 16 year-old twerps to go sit at them and talk about our dumb lives. I don’t even know if that friend knew that Chris was from Seattle and these were likely old friends he was catching up with on the homecoming show of a busy tour. My other friend and I paid zero attention to any of that, and went in for those seats!

We did indeed talk exclusively about us- my friend and his long hair, me getting sent off to correctional school twice, whatever other dumb 16 year-old stuff popped into our heads. I don’t know how long we were there. Probably just a couple of minutes, but time stood still. In hindsight, I hope it wasn’t too long.

Everything I’ve told you thus far makes me absolutely CRINGE to think about, let alone type out (especially having been backstage countless times since, developing a sense of etiquette and awareness). I hope you're embarassed just reading it! I’m not telling this story to make myself look good. Obviously. I look like a jackass in it. I’m fully aware of this now.

I’m telling this story because his level of talent and credibility, coupled with our obnoxiousness, certainly could have warranted telling us to f*** right off. I wouldn’t even be mad about it today. We were clearly nuisances overstepping our bounds. But he sat and listened. Not only that, he really engaged us. Laughing, talking, making us feel important and worthy (rare feelings for an insecure 16 year-old). That’s the kind of person Chris was to me. It supersedes his once-in-a-generation talent.

As we got up to leave... Actually, now that I write this, I know we couldn’t have been back there TOO long because he was almost done with that same American Spirit from before. So that’s a relief. I remember he was still smoking it, because as we got up to leave, I asked if I could have it.

He looked at me, and in a demonstration that he was actually present and listening to us during the interaction (as opposed to understably thinking about literally anything else, like when we’d GTFO of there), he took one last drag, looked me in the eyes, and made a hilarious call back to my correctional school adventures: “Sure thing, just lay off the crack!”

With that, I took two drags myself so I can always tell people “I shared a cigarette with Chris Cornell”, before putting it out and then into my pocket. I knew back then it’d be weird to keep it forever. I also had a feeling I’d be weird forever... Still going strong, so I still have it.

Happy birthday Chris. That story is still embarrassing for me, haha, but I love telling it because it always shows people what an awesome dude you are. Your talent has been displayed to the world, with your songs touching millions of lives. With the impact that experience had on my life’s trajectory, I always considered myself a part of your enormous legacy. It was true when you were still with us. Now that you’re gone, I strive even more to make it matter.

You were kind to me when you didn’t have to be. It was authentic and I’ll never forget it. I try to make the most of every opportunity to be kind to others, ESPECIALLY when I don’t have to be, because of that day.

Thank you.