Rome. 2016, March. Hadn't seen him since the '90s. Drunk on being away from the States, drunk on red and white wine, and a stomach gorged with in-house pasta, bread, and anything else I could get my hands on. Alley, restaurant. Trevi fountain checked off. Young Italian girls waving Americans in to their restaurants. A brothel feel. I want to go into the story about the two Italians fighting over the check. The owner and a drunk patron. I want to go into the gelato after, the air of Rome, the bricks of the alleys. But I can't. Rare to see this profile written in first person, but this is different. Like Rome is different. Lost there. Must gaze upon the Pantheon during the first rays of moonlight.
Lost there. Around a blind corner I nearly walked into Cornell. The man was tall. I'm 6'1 and he loomed over me. We glanced at each other, I registered the situation, and kept moving. GPS called me a moron in code, so I followed Cornell and his wife, and their little girl. I wasn't listening but I was. He was telling his girl about how life is in Italy. I heard, "In Italy..." then the crowd around us absorbed the rest. A few people took fast second looks, and then went back to their tables, their drinks, their own trips and lives.
In Rome no one cares who you are.
Quite a beautiful feeling.
Rome is different.
Crossing back toward where I had to go. Losing light. The Sun becoming the Moon, and I'm standing there then, staring at the street that I would cross to my hotel, to give up, but I'm feeling too fine, and I'm in Rome. I'm in fucking ROME. Not to sound incredulous. I put my phone to my ear to hear the directions, looked down the street. Cornell. Giving me a skeptical but not-so-sure stare, a sideways check. It would appear I was following them, but I wasn't. It didn't bother me. I laughed ahead. Rome is different. He disappeared down the street with his family, and I realized I'd been going the right way the whole time. Turned back, walked and thought about it. I could have had a conversation with him, I could have dropped one name. His parents lived next door to my friend's parents here in West Seattle. He'd skated with Cornell, and once told me he and his parents would watch Cornell mowing his parents' lawn from upstairs, even after Soundgarden took off. We could have had a conversation away from the music, the words, just two dudes from here laughing about the suddenness of meeting in Rome with such far-reaching connections to the past. What stopped me from shaking his hand? I would like to fall back on ego, but it was only ego in the sense that I didn't want to be a fan, a number, even with a rare connection.
But the truth is I am a fan. And though I don't believe in regretting something you've already done, I should have shaken his hand. I didn't have to tell him that his lyrics were brilliant, his voice one of the most distinctive in all remembered time, or any of that bullshit people like him, the few of them, hear and have to deflect or appropriate when they're out in the world. I also simply didn't want to interrupt him or his family while they walked in peace as the Moon rose over Rome.
I found the Pantheon, young moonlight. Breath stolen.
This morning I awoke to a text from my buddy, Dave. Four words and an abbreviation: Dude, Chris Cornell died. WTF?
Tap google. 52. Suspected suicide. No matter, he's gone. They all go, they don't live long enough to see themselves shine like the rest see them. And they don't care. Sitting here now, blasting Louder Than Love, and sending my best thoughts to his family.
Bukowski once said in a letter, "Death isn't a problem for the deceased, it's a problem for the living." Or something like that. Looking back on the dead artists of the last few years, Cornell hits pretty hard. 52 years old.
Much love to his people. Hands All Over just started. I need more coffee, and to kiss my dogs.
Outside it's grey and bright and warm.