A Rock God Immortalized in Seattle

As It Happened: The Chris Cornell Statue Unveiling

Photo by Gillian G. Gaar

Though Seattle’s been the home of more than a few rock legends, there are surprisingly few commemorations of that fact.

Nothing honoring the likes of “grunge” heavy hitters such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, or Alice in Chains, forerunners like Heart (or even Tacoma’s Sonics); heck, there isn’t even a commemorative plaque on Reciprocal Recording, where the likes of Mudhoney, Sleater-Kinney, Harvey Danger and Fleet Foxes — among many others — have laid down tracks. And it wasn’t until 27 years after his death that a statue honoring Jimi Hendrix was finally erected, at the corner of Broadway and E. Pine Street. The statue was privately funded; there had long been resistance from Seattle’s government to honoring Hendrix, because of his drug use.

But now, there’s another marker honoring a rock music idol, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell. A ceremony unveiling a specially commissioned statue of Cornell was unveiled this past Sunday, October 7, in front of the Paul Allen-funded warehouse of music, movies, and more, Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP). Cornell, Soundgarden’s lead singer, had been found dead in his hotel room in Detroit just 17 months earlier on May 18, after what proved to be the band’s last show at the Fox Theatre.

Cornell’s children unveil the statue of their dad. Photo by Gillian G. Gaar

The unveiling ceremony was held on a typically grey and overcast Seattle day (though as MoPOP artistic director Jasen Emmons noted, “The clouds tonight somehow feel right for an artist who brought us so much dark, beautiful music”). Thankfully, the rain held off, but a protective awning was set up over the area where special guests were seated, just in case. A crowd of around a thousand was packed together behind the barricades, serenaded by the bittersweet sound of Cornell’s powerful voice booming out over the speakers, pleading, “Black hole sun, won’t you come, and wash away the rain?” The statue, under a shiny purple sheet, awaited its unveiling.

Remarks were brief, with the entire ceremony over in 15 minutes. The most moving speaker was Cornell’s wife, Vicky Cornell, who paid for and donated the statue to the city. Her heartfelt speech was marked with occasional pauses, as she was momentarily overcome with emotion:

“I want to start by thanking all of you for being here, for your love and support. This statue is a commemoration, a focal point to keep Chris’ memory alive, in us, in Seattle, and in the world. It’s a reflection of his light, a light that shone through his music, and touched millions. A light that he used to illuminate our lives. A light that will continue to inspire those in the future. This statue represents that light, a beautiful, powerful, incomparable presence, in his hometown, worthy of someone special as Chris. As Seattle’s son, he paved the way for other artists, and drew the eyes of the world to Seattle. He was the voice of a generation, and an artist who continued to draw us together, forever. Along with our children, I am committed to continuing his legacy. It’s for this reason I was so moved to commission this statue by a very special artist, Nick Marra, and to donate this gift to MoPOP and to the city of Seattle. I thank you for embracing and loving Chris so deeply. I also want to take a second and thank all those who helped me make this possible, including Mark Johnson, David Stewart, Bill Hilf. I want to thank [Paul Allen’s company] Vulcan, everyone at MoPOP, and Paul Allen, for doing so much to preserve the legacy of music in Seattle. Thank you Seattle, for the incredible support, and loud as love.”

Cornell’s family reacts to the statue. Photo by Gillian G. Gaar

Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan was also on hand; in a rock ‘n’ roll touch, the mayor wore a leather jacket. “We can feel Chris with us right now,” said Durkan, who was the final speaker, going on to praise Cornell’s ability capture life’s sorrows and joys in his songs. “Seattle has been a blessed city,” she said. “We have talent that grows here, that defines who we are in ways that other cities don’t have. And we’re known sometimes for our coffee and our software, and our new buildings, but that’s not the soul of the city. The soul of the city is what Chris Cornell knew … And so having this statue here, for all of us to remember, that as this city changes and grows, the thing that is most important are the people.”

After thanking Vicky Cornell for her “generous gift,” Durkan continued, “I’m going to close with these words, because it’s hard to sum up what we’ve lost. Even all this time that has passed, it’s hard to sum up. And so Vicky, I’m going to steal your words … you once said about Chris, his voice was his vision and his words were his peace. His voice was his vision and his words were his peace. Thank you so much for sharing him with us.”

The surviving members of Soundgarden and Cornell’s family flank the statue of Chris Cornell. Photo by Gillian G. Gaar

Durkan then brought up Cornell’s children, Lily (from his first marriage, to former Soundgarden manager Susan Silver), Toni, and Christopher to formally unveil the statue. The lifesize bronze work captures Cornell as a guitar slinger in performance, triumphantly holding up a guitar pick in his right hand. The Cornell children were joined by the other members of Soundgarden, Kim Thayil, Ben Shepherd, and Matt Cameron, who posed by the statue to the delight of the crowd. The band members made no public comments.

The crowd was then welcomed inside for a screening of Soundgarden’s performance at the Wiltern Theatre in February 17, 2013. The show was filmed at the end of their comeback tour for King Animal, the set filled with favorites like “Jesus Christ Pose” and “Fell on Black Days,” and new numbers like “By Crooked Steps” and the highly appropriate “Been Away Too Long.” It was a great way to end the evening, celebrating the band’s legacy in the best way possible; with their music. Meanwhile, the rest of Soundgarden, along with special guests like Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament, hung out in MoPOP’s VIP area, kicking back and sipping drinks.

Cornell’s statue is not far from where Soundgarden once enthralled Seattle audiences, with shows at Memorial Stadium and the Coliseum (now Key Arena, under refurbishment). Expect a lot of selfie action.

 

 

Gillian G. Gaar

Seattle-based writer Gillian G. Gaar covers the arts, entertainment, and travel.

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