Ann Wilson of Heart and Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell teamed up for a bracing tribute to former Soundgarden and Audioslave singer Chris Cornell at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Saturday. Cornell died from suicide last year at age 52.
Wilson and Cantrell honored Cornell with a sparse rendition of “Black Hole Sun,” Soundgarden’s breakout hit from 1994’s Superunknown. The two rock veterans played without a band and eschewed fancy visuals – the backdrop suggested a night sky speckled with stars. Cantrell recreated the swells and crashes of “Black Hole Sun” with sharp lines on electric guitar, while Wilson handled Cornell’s dour lyrics, surging through the track’s yearning hook.
This isn’t the first time that Wilson – who was on hand to induct the Moody Blues into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – has paid tribute to Cornell: Last year, she also performed “Black Hole Sun” on Jimmy Kimmel Live! following the singer’s death.
In an interview with Rolling Stone before that Kimmel appearance, the Heart singer remembered meeting Cornell at a Halloween party she hosted in the 1990s at her house in Seattle. “The theme was to come dressed as your favorite song,” Wilson recalled. “Chris came as ‘Black Hole Sun.’ He arrived wearing these huge platform boots that made him like, 6’3″, and wore this huge yellow costume with papier-mâché around his head as the sun … He had a great sense of humor.”
Wilson felt a natural kinship with many of the bands that sprang out of Seattle during that period. “All of those Seattle bands – as varied and different in their anger and interests as they were – were idealists,” she said. “They wanted to fuck the bullshit. And at that time, [fellow Heart member] Nancy [Wilson] and I really had that in common with them.”
Cantrell also knew Cornell from the Seattle rock scene, with Alice in Chains and Soundgarden sharing the same management for a time. “Our town’s not that big,” Cantrell explained to Rolling Stone. “Everybody kept an eye on what [Soundgarden] were doing. And it was inspiring.”
“He was always so honest, from the moment I met him,” the guitarist continued. “And there’s a power in sharing your weakness with the people who need to hear that, so they can consider, ‘Fuck, that guy’s dealing with it.’ You don’t feel so alone.”