'He wasn’t ever resting on his laurels,' says the Against Me! frontwoman

By Nolan Feeney
May 18, 2017 at 05:09 PM EDT
Jim Spellman/WireImage; D Dipasupil/Getty Images

Chris Cornell, the legendary frontman of Soundgarden and a grunge-music icon, died Wednesday by what Wayne County Medical examiner’s Office has ruled as suicide. Below, Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace reflects on his influence and legacy. 

I was writing in my journal about Chris Cornell after finding out about the news, and my guitar was sitting on the rug across the room from me when it literally strummed a chord on its own. I don’t care if anyone believes me — it was the craziest thing.

When my generation and I really came of age, it was around grunge. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden — those were the three Seattle bands I was really into. They were inescapable when I was a teenager. I swear to God, “Black Hole Sun” played on MTV every four minutes. That would have been my freshman year of high school, a really impressionable time, and Soundgarden music is tied to memories of being a 14-year-old kid riding around in cars and smoking joints, but also starting to play in bands and learning how to play guitar. It’s one of those things you take for granted in life: Yeah, there will always be Chris Cornell, there will always be Soundgarden. It’s so shocking when they’re gone.

Chris Cornell’s voice was unreal, and my vocal style has definitely been influenced by that. They weren’t just screaming their heads off, they were singing. He had an incredible vocal range to be envious of. And I can’t help but respect any artist that continues to grow and evolve and doesn’t stay a caricature of themselves. He took risks and had successes and missteps. He wasn’t ever resting on his laurels or just playing hits from the past, both with his solo career and Audioslave. That band was essentially Rage Against the Machine with a new singer, and to know you’re going into a situation where a good majority of a popular band’s fan base will not be into you singing? That takes something. To grow and age through different periods gracefully is really tough to do, and I think it speaks volumes about a person if they are able to do that. It’s an incredible loss, but I hope that his catalog of music continues to be celebrated and listened to. 

—As told to EW’s Nolan Feeney