Auto-Save Draft feature temporarily disabled. Please be sure you manually save your post by selecting "Save Draft" if you have that need.

Blender - Cornell

edited September 2006 in Other Music

Chris Cornell: Free Man in Paris
Grunge icon turned Audioslave frontman/teetotalling gourmand Chris Cornell spends his downtime holding court at the best Paris brasserie he knows: his.

By Jonathan Gold

Blender, October 2006

On the narrow but elegant Avenue Montaigne, the boutique-choked spine of Paris’s moneyed 8th Arrondissement, a crowd gathers outside the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, pushing toward the entrance, blocking taxicabs, attracting a satellite throng of onlookers who have no idea what may or may not be happening on the scarlet carpet but stick around just in case. A long black car pulls up, and the flashbulbs of paparazzi illuminate the street with the light of a thousand suns. A bald industrialist and his mistress climb out of the limousine. The teenagers sigh with disappointment. The telephoto lenses lower as one.

Down the block, on the terrace of a worn brasserie, Chris Cornell takes in the spectacle, versions of which he undoubtedly experienced during two decades as the golden throat for Soundgarden and now Audioslave, years that saw any number of sold-out arena shows, record sales far into the millions and videos built around panoramas of rusted metal, showering sparks and stuff that just happened to explode. Audioslave’s third album, Revelations, is recently out, the title track is saturating rock radio, and Cornell has quietly begun work on his second solo album, with U2 producer Steve Lillywhite.

This crowd is not for him — apparently Johnny Depp is staying at the hotel — and at this point, the 42-year-old Cornell doesn’t want it to be. He loves his wife, Vicky, he loves his job, and he has a toddler son and a 5-year-old daughter who leaps into his arms like a Flying Wallenda. His newfound sobriety is advanced enough that he pretends not to notice that you are drinking Bordeaux while he nurses a diet soda. He is a Parisian now, with a magnificent apartment, a fast motorcycle and ownership, with Vicky and her brother, in a restaurant, Black Calavados, so unspeakably fashionable that Balenciaga couturier Nicolas Ghesquiere loves being photographed there. Cornell is the muse for John Varvatos, a titan of smart casual wear whose designs are as coveted by hip-hop kids as they are by the customers at Barneys. And the neighborhood where Cornell lives and the paparazzi swarm is the one that inspired the word ritzy. If the Chris Cornell you remember is the brooding grunge singer who holed up in a Puget Sound cabin for weeks and months at a time, this one is unrecognizable: different wife, different band, different continent, different state of mind.

“There was a time in the middle of my depression when I basically stopped eating,” Cornell says, referring to a very dark period in the late 1990s, following Soundgarden’s demise. “I wasn’t doing it to lose weight or anything — I just forgot to eat. I got down to 145 pounds, which is pretty skinny. I’m 6'3". And then I read an article in a magazine by a doctor talking about his experiences with anorexia, and everything started to make sense — the aches in the joints, the headaches, the way my bones felt as if I could bend them with my hands. I started eating again. That was much better.”

In a former life as a rock & roll journalist, I spent a certain amount of time with Cornell. I saw some of the shows at Seattle’s Moore Theatre that helped kick-start the Seattle scene. I was on a plane carrying Soundgarden that came within a hairsbreadth of smashing into an Australian mountaintop.

Now I spend most of my time writing about food, and I’m here to write about Cornell’s new life as a bon vivant. Even in the old days, it seemed as if Cornell and I spent as much time talking about cooking as we did about music — he worked for years as a line cook at Ray’s Boathouse in Ballard, which had a reputation as one of the best seafood restaurants in the Seattle area — and I couldn’t think of a musician whose restaurant I would rather visit. I mention that his newfound élan seems very far removed from his post-grunge bottom scraping, which included a 2002 rehab stint for alcohol abuse, among other toxins.

“I was in my second week of rehab,” Cornell says, stabbing at a tomato with his fork, “when another singer from a well-known band walked in with a dazed look on his face. I wondered for a second whether I had died, whether this was the lobby where the new guests walked in, and when I was going to meet Elvis.”

A guy who can make rehab sound like an episode of The Love Boat scripted by Jean-Paul Sartre may be a guy you want to spend some time hanging out with.

“I had the quintessential rock & roll rehab experience a few weeks in,” Cornell continues. “I was picked up from the clinic, ushered into a limo and driven to the set of Audioslave’s ‘Cochise’ video, where I was lifted onto a nine-story framework, and I started lip-synching the song, still dazed from the incongruity of it all. I looked around: Rage Against the Machine was playing somewhere below and fireworks exploded everywhere around me. I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Am I really supposed to be here?’”

On the way back to his apartment, he walks past the photographers waiting for Johnny Depp to make his appearance. Most of them aren’t quite sure who Cornell is, but they take his picture anyway. He looks famous, that much is for sure.

* * *

At the crack of noon the next day, we meet a few blocks away at Cornell’s favorite bistro, which is more or less the Parisian equivalent of a Sizzler: You can get steak with mustard sauce, pitchers of raw red wine if you want them and as many fries as you can hold — very pleasant but not exactly challenging. It is the wrong day for the organic market on the Boulevard Raspail, so we hail a cab to the Rue Cler, a well-known shopping street near the Eiffel Tower, where he compares the glossy, gas-ripened fruit unfavorably with backyard cherries he grew up eating in Seattle. He stumbles over a bit of French that turns out to be the word for lettuce. He’s delighted to run across a boulangerie selling American doughnuts. I begin to doubt his credentials as a gourmet.

We inspect the oysters at a small fish market across the Seine, on L’Écume St.-Honoré, and he becomes fascinated with percebe, a truly gruesome-looking Atlantic shellfish — you twist off what look like toenails and eat the nubs of sweet flesh underneath. He is suddenly nostalgic about seafood.

“I started out doing absolutely the lowest job in the food business,” Cornell says. “When I was 17, I cleaned up slime for the legendary fish wholesaler Jon Rowley. And I mean that literally — there was one guy doing the filleting, and the place was crusted with fish guts and scales and slime. Sometimes when we got skate in, it was coated with two inches of solid slime, sticky and oozing and almost impossible to clean. One day, Jon brought in this special powder to clean out the walk-in refrigerator. He scattered it along the walls and sprinkled it with water, and it produced this caustic gas that was supposed to loosen the goo from the walls. It was my job to go in and clean the place out, but I took one whiff and almost passed out. To this day, I’m still not sure who ended up cleaning out the refrigerator.”

We pause in front of a vegetable stand. He grabs a dustpan and broom from where they lay near the cash register and sweeps refuse from the sidewalk before waltzing with the implements into the street, twirling and mugging, flicking at a bit of onionskin that has settled near the middle of the lane. It is such a Gene Kelly American in Paris moment that the vegetable seller and her assistant whistle and clap their hands with glee.

Later that evening, I wander over to Cornell’s Black Calavados restaurant, which is one of the many Euro, nightclubby places that clot his neighborhood. It’ slightly off the main drag, marked only by a discreet bc and a phalanx of valets dressed in tailored black. Step downstairs and you’re in the bar, a narrow, mirrored space fitted with vaguely phallic leather benches that jut into the room — the effect is a little like what it might be to sip Bellinis inside a Xerox machine. (Excellent Bellinis, by the way, made with freshly puréed organic white peaches.) Up a grand staircase and past hostesses who pose like the three Graces, is the nearly pitch-black dining room. Chris and Vicky Cornell magisterially occupy a corner booth beneath a power fixture that resembles an octopus.

“I really had to woo Vicky the old fashioned way,” Cornell says, squeezing his wife’s shoulder. (Cornell’s previous marriage, to Soundgarden manager Susan Silver, ended in a lawsuit over her handling of band business.) “It was a new experience for me: dinner dates, flowers, sweet nothings … She is so beautiful, so together. And her brother is the jealous, protective type, and he has a temper. He’s had his nose broken at least a dozen times.”

In a previous lifetime, this dining room once housed a funky nightclub popular with legendary Parisian performers like Josephine Baker and after that, a chic restaurant that was supposedly a favorite of Jackie Onassis. Cornell imagines Black Calavados as a haven for bohemians, a place where a kid in a ripped T-shirt might show up for a supper of Kobe-beef miniburgers and truffled mac and cheese without being hassled by the clipboard holders at the door. At the moment, the bohos have been crowded out by 40-year-old guys with really hot girlfriends, kids with money and the occasional gourmand with a secret yen for the chef’s signature dish: popcorn balls with nuggets of goose liver at their core. The popcorn balls are served with the haute-cuisine equivalent of a Jell-O shot — gelée of vodka, they call it.

The conversation veers toward music.

“This is going to sound really bad,” says Cornell, taking a pull on his Coca-Cola Light, “but I really love my iPod. It’s a great way to listen to music. And I know it’s driving the record companies crazy because suddenly it seems as if there’s no need for them anymore. Maybe there is no real need. This is Audioslave’s last contracted album, and we’re not sure what we’re going to do next: sign another contract, release the records ourselves or just put songs out on the Internet. It’s an interesting question. These are interesting times.”

Cornell finishes the second of his popcorn balls and slips his Jell-O shot across the table to me. Sometimes there are benefits to dining with sober rock stars.
I am Jack, The Pumpkin King!
The eyes are the groin of the head.
Post edited by Unknown User on


  • Thanks!!! nice read
    Pearl Jam Mexico 2005, The greatest year ever!
    December 9, 10 - ESTA BIEN, ESTA BIEEEEEN!
Sign In or Register to comment.