“I woke the same as any other day
except a voice was in my head
it said, “Seize the day, pull the trigger
Drop the blade and watch the rolling heads.”
By Martin Dunn
Thursday, May 18th, 2017 – It was around 7:45 in the morning. I silenced the alarm on my phone, hushing the soothing sounds of Fat Mike from NoFx’s voice as he wakes me most mornings lately with the lyrics “One morning I woke up, scratched my balls and eyes..” This being the opening lines to the song “I don’t like me anymore.”, It’s sort of appropriate for a guy who struggles with bipolar disorder and depression. I decided to go about my morning routine of scrolling through and deleting the massive amounts of spam mail I seem to get while I sleep. The first thing I saw, however, was a newsletter from my local rock station. “BREAKING: Chris Cornell Dead”. I just sort of sat there for a moment, wondering what kind of dead celebrity hoax this was. Chris Cornell, the guy who was a monstrous part of my musical adventure as a teen was dead. It was so strange, he seemed so healthy. He didn’t seem to have any real drug or alcohol problems that I ever recall reading or hearing about. It was a bit jarring.
I proceeded to flip through the various news sites, sort of exposing myself to as much input as possible into how one of my favorite songwriters had met his demise at the age of 52. It’s important to note something to those reading this who may not realize what it was like for those of us on April 8th, 1994. I was in 6th grade. My childhood friend Lonzo Jones, a guy who sadly is no longer with us, rushed up to me as I left a class and said “Dude, did you hear? Kurt Cobain is dead!” I was really confused then, and I had to wait all day to hear more when MTV delivered updates via the broadcasting of Kurt Loder. I think it’s important to explain why that moment is so memorable because I feel like May 18th will always be the day that Chris Cornell died for me. (I’m aware Joy Division’s Ian Curtis lost his battle with depression on this day 37-years ago as well).
Chris Cornell, the powerful, dynamic singer whose band Soundgarden was one of the architects of grunge music, died on Wednesday night in Detroit hours after the band had performed there. He was 52.
The death was a suicide by hanging, the Wayne County medical examiner’s office said in a statement released on Thursday afternoon. It said a full autopsy had not yet been completed.
Mr. Cornell’s representative, Brian Bumbery, said in a statement that the death was “sudden and unexpected.”
I read this and many other write-ups like it. “Suicide” and “Sudden and Unexpected” are the two things that stand out to a guy like me the most. I haven’t been one to shy away from the fact I suffer from mental illness. (more on this in a moment.) The stories kept coming in that Chris had hung himself and almost immediately the internet was awash with more commentary and the gushing of fans. I wasn’t aware I knew so many fans of his work. It’s strange how that happens. It’s even stranger than that as I sat and went over some comic work I am trying to catch up on, the one person I kept thinking about was a friend I had in middle school named Gary Gilbert. Gary was without a doubt the biggest Soundgarden fan. We used to have weird “grunge rock wars” about who was better as I was a devout Nirvana fan and he was all Soundgarden. I almost immediately thought about “I wonder how Gary is taking it?”. This led me to do something I haven’t ever done in my life. I searched for him and sent him a friend request on facebook. So, here I am, wondering about how a guy I haven’t spoken to in 20-years at least is feeling about the death of Chris Cornell.
I guess this history lesson wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t explain one of the things about why I loved and adored the grunge scene so much. I missed the punk scene. However, I totally would never have known about punk music if not for bands like Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden. I didn’t learn about the Sex Pistols until I heard Kurt Cobain talk about them in an interview in 1992. Grunge was my gateway drug backward into my obsession with Punk and Hardcore.
So, I now come to the first real part of this blog. Grief is weird. I believe a big part of the process is trying to reconcile to yourself that this is a permanent fixture in your life. You go your whole life taking advantage of these artists and actors and musicians… Then, poof!
I loved Chris Cornell’s work. I personally believe out of every grunge era musician, he was probably the most well rounded of all of them. His voice is capable of giving me goosebumps and some songs will forever resonate with me. Soundgarden was the middle man of Grunge. It bridged the gap between Punk/Sludge/Noise rock from bands like The Melvins and Sonic Youth to the more commercially recognized bands of Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam. Soundgarden plays loud, hard, yet poetic rock. Their music was built on Led Zeppelin, Hardcore Punk, and Black Sabbath. They defied the expectation of what a “Grunge” band was and stood out among their Seattle scene as the toughest machine in town. Chris Cornell’s thunderous, multi-octave vocals pierced the souls of all of the angst-ridden and angry youth who also weren’t finding solace in the nonsensical poetries of other bands at that time. Cornell’s lyricism is some of the most well-versed poetry I’ve ever heard. Cornell spoke to kids with depression through experience, and told stories of sardonic nihilism, inner torment and defined the battles of depression as beautifully catatonic waves of torment.
Cornell spoke to me…
“Whatsoever I’ve feared has come to life. Whatsoever I’ve fought off became my life. Just when everyday seemed to greet me with a smile sunspots have faded. And now I’m doing time ‘cause I fell on black days.”
When I was in high school, I thought there was something wrong with me. It was always a roller coaster ride of emotion. I’d always suppress it and I got really good at it. In 10th grade, a good friend of mine named Robert Patton killed himself. It really shook our school, and today, when I read the report about Chris Cornell’s suicide. I immediately remembered what our Principal had said to us about Robert’s death.
“sudden and unexpected.”
Robert was a fun kid. We laughed and talked about all kinds of crap. I never saw it coming. He seemed so happy… He didn’t seem damaged or broken, not like how I felt. However, I bet you not many of my friends knew I was depressed back then either. I am bipolar and suffer from bouts of depression and mania. I also suffer from clinical anxiety and have ADHD. I’m a cocktail of neuroticism and to this day can’t believe my current and/or ex Wife/Girlfriends haven’t murdered me in my sleep.
One of the things I decided this morning was that if the facts came out and they said he had indeed committed suicide, I’d write this version of the blog. I wanted to make sure it held a clear message about mental illness and hopefully could help someone.
I always get asked, “What’s it like?”
So, here is the best way to explain how it all works. Mania is sort of this awesome high. You have energy and motivation, and you just don’t want to stop. Couple that up with ADHD and sometimes it creates severe problems. You’ve now lost your impulse control, so for example. I wanted to find a particular record. (Led Zeppelin 4) I decided to hit a pawn shop and a couple thrift shops. Waste a couple hours and get home for dinner. I was severely manic that day though and my ADHD coupled with it made me hit every thrift shop, pawnshop, and anywhere else I thought I might find it. I searched for 6-hours before Aly (wife) made me buy it offline.
The best part of mania is the optimism, you could literally burn down your home and just go “We can rebuild it and make it better too!”. I’m also much more on point creatively. I get so many ideas, so many great moments of artistic expression. Sometimes being manic is like a comic creator’s super power. When Mania strikes, I do as much as possible to capitalize on it.
I feel more outgoing, charismatic, secure in who I am and what I am doing. I feel like I can do anything. I wake up with a drive and determination to get things done, and I just go and go and GO. I am way more sociable, I talk too much, I dominate conversations, I interject when I don’t need to. I can’t keep on topic cause my brain is working faster than the conversation that is happening. I sometimes depress myself thinking back on these times as well. Sometimes, you just can’t recognize when you’re being “TOO MUCH” for some people.
During manic spells, I feel like Superman. I can do anything, my self-esteem is up, I can conquer the world. However, the major dread of anyone who recognizes their mania is that we know it’s only a matter of time before we crash. The thing about mania that is so appealing is that without the highs of manic episodes, I don’t think I could tolerate the lows of depression.
I’ve givin’ everything I need. I’d give you everything I own. I’d give in if it could at least be ours alone. I’ve given everything I could to blow it to hell and gone. Burrow down and blow up the outside world.“
The point of this is to discuss why Chris Cornell could have been suicidal, depressed, and mentally ill… and no one would have known. In the song “Fell on Black Days” he basically defines what it feels like to fall into depression from a manic episode.
When my depression kicks in, I am just intolerable. I want to be left alone, but not too alone. I want to not exist, but I fear not being remembered. I don’t want to go anywhere, but I don’t want to be here. When people talk to me, I feel they are judging me, chastising me, making me feel like I am incapable of doing anything right. It becomes really easy to hide.
Seeing people be happy is the worst, It annoys me and makes me angry. It reminds me that I am broken and that my bipolar disorder is always there. I’ll always have instability and the most annoying part is the people who tell me “Cheer up!” as if it was that easy. The nuances of daily life also begin to start dragging my mood deeper into the void. This is where suicide becomes… endearing.
I’ve contemplated suicide pretty much during every depressive state. I have tricks, mechanisms to break my thought process. My kids. Music. Art. Comics. Writing. Sex. All of these are ways I trick my brain into walking away from the ledge. If I feel I am not able to do it alone, I’ll sometimes text, message or call a friend. This is that exposing my own personal life part. If any of my friends read this and you ever complain to yourself. “Why does Martin call me and just not have anything to say?” It’s because if I’m on the phone with you, I’m not self-harming. I am very cognitive of my mental state and I am very good at keeping it in check. Sadly, some are not. Some fight for a very long time and some give up. Robin Williams comes to mind.
“Boiling heat, summer stench ‘neath the black. The sky looks dead. Call my name through the cream. And I’ll hear you. Scream again. Black hole sun won’t you come and wash away the rain? Black hole sun won’t you come? Won’t you come?”
I sometimes imagine what it’s like for normal people. I imagine they deal with stress and anger and anxiety in a much different way. If I told you that I sometimes have gotten so angry I’ve punched myself in the face, causing damage to my teeth… Would that make sense? I have bad teeth, and some people have asked me why. Why are they chipped? Why are you missing one? They don’t look unbrushed. It’s because I used to punch myself in the face. It was reactionary and really destructive and thankfully, I’ve not done that in a very long time. Don’t get me wrong, I totally do have my “normal” days. I get to have them every so often. I think it’s why I take so much pleasure in the little things.
I think Chris Cornell gave into his depression. I think he let go of his fight because like anyone who suffers from clinical depression will tell you. Sometimes, when you look into the future, you can’t see anything but a cold, dead, blackness.
The night before his death, Cornell performed in front of a sold-out show in front of a legion of fans. He lasted longer than his grunge brethren like Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Shannon Hoon, and most recently Scott Weiland. Cornell experienced almost 2x the life as some of these tragic artists. He was very much alive to all that looked upon him that night as he played them out to a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying”. His haunting words catching me in the heart were “I feel bad for the next city.”. I would have bought every album as I always did of Cornell’s work until he hung it up. His future was to be that of an aged and grizzled rock vet, strumming an acoustic guitar and telling us more stories about his inner battle with his own demons. I always envisioned Chris Cornell being my generations Jonny Cash. That, sadly, will never be the case.
A lot of you, my fellow fans have been asking “why?”.
You will never truly understand the answers to that question if you do not grasp the silent killer that is mental illness. Chris Conell will go down in legend as one of the best singers and songwriters of Rock & Roll.
“I got up feeling so down. I got off being sold out. I’ve kept the movie rolling. But the story’s getting old now. I just looked in the mirror. Things aren’t looking so good. I’m looking California and feeling Minnesota. So now you know, who gets mystified. Show me the power child. I’d like to say that I’m down on my knees today. It gives me the butterflies, gives me away till I’m up on my feet again. I’m feeling outshined.”
If you’re ever struggling emotionally or going through a tough time, you can always call Call 1-800-273-8255 Available 24 hours every day! National Suicide Prevention Lifeline