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Sweatpants & Pop Culture | The Agony & Ecstasy of Dead Birds

My house is killing birds. The statement is nonsense, but that doesn’t make it less true. Since the beginning of Spring, my house has killed six birds. We have a large picture window on the back of the house. Five birds have dive bombed into it, killing themselves. Once I saw two nesting robins chase a black bird into the window, so I guess that one was murder. But the rest have been killed by my spotless, picture window. Maybe they futilely long for a comfortable life promised inside that window and commit suicide. Maybe there was something wrong with the navigation system in their little bird brains. We’ll never know.

One hopeful day, I saw a dazed bird stand and take air, after hitting the window, only to fall straight out of the sky, dead in my back yard. In a vain attempt to save lives and calm my nerves, and those of our daughters, my husband put decals up on the “Window of Death.” It ruined our perfectly clear view, but we had a reprieve. Life was beautiful again. No more bird funerals.

Life was beautiful until Thursday, May 18th, when I awoke to the news that Chris Cornell was dead. At first, I thought it was a hoax. Then I thought he’d had a heart attack. When I heard Cornell songs on a drive into the city that morning, I thought, through my tears and degrading mood, “Suicide is always a possibility.” Any fan of Cornell knows death and suicide were always on his mind. Even when he found happiness after leaving Seattle, almost all his lyrics brought up his past.

It wasn’t until later that day that suicide was ruled to be the cause of death. His wife wants it known that his actions were related to accidentally overdosing on anxiety medication. I can understand wanting one’s children to know their father would never leave them like that, and prescription medication seems to be the exacerbating factor, but it was still a suicide. He is still dead. God knows, if he hadn’t been on medication at all, he probably would have taken his life years ago. He was alone when he died. No one can be blamed. The truth is, he was always alone despite being surrounded by loved ones. The truth is, none of this will ever make sense.

I’m an atheist. But several works of art make me believe in a creator. A creator who plagued a few souls with the task of making the creator’s presence known through their greatness. Michelangelo’s Pieta, Rembrandt’s portraits, and Chris Cornell’s voice are as miraculous to me as a baby’s first cries. When I hear his voice, I know I’m not alone in my human condition. In Chris’s music, I heard an angel who, after being touched by the creator, was kicked out of heaven and left to the silence of a narcissistic parent. His music and voice have always reflected a longing to belong, a desire to connect and feel a part of the world he was observing. He felt the death of those closest to him deeply. He put the whole “Temple of the Dog” project together for his late friend, Andrew Wood.

He wrote his music to survive. Chris grew up and lived much of his adult life in Seattle. Seattle is NOT where you want to live if you suffer from depression. In addition to the weather, his past memories, good and bad were everywhere. He left Seattle to survive. No one can fault him for that, but many do. I truly believe that leaving, and trying a different method of managing his depression, is what preserved Chris’s life for the last 14 years.

So many entertainers today want nothing more than to be the next big thing or simply to be seen. Those with no discernable talent are given a fix just by having their selfies “liked” by a million people. “How many hits can you get?” It is their drug. That was not Chris Cornell. He was always reluctant publicly, but not with his fans. I read several interviews where he mentioned his stage fright. He was shy. But something in him wanted to share his music and connect with others. To me, he was incredibly brave. He wanted to survive. Night after night he forced himself to go out on stage. And that is where he shone. Anyone could tell he had a difficult time making eye contact with an audience, but he did it anyway. He told stories at his shows. He was funny. And when he opened his mouth to sing, he was transformed.

I have to write about this loss because Chris Cornell is my favorite musician. His voice is the alpha and the omega of music for me. I can turn on any of his songs, no matter how dark or grinding (yes, even the hip hop album) and the resonance of his voice eases every muscle in my body, and clarifies my thoughts. Despite the melancholy, there is always hope in the timbre of his voice. But the day he died, his voice could not console me. All I heard was his long, lonely howl into God’s silence.

Show Me How to Live

The day after Cornell’s death, I kid you not, this happened:

My house killed another fucking bird – a dove, no less! Seriously, I can’t take this killing joke anymore. The thing was alive for a time. I could see it breathe and flex its wings. If my kids were there, they’d want me to save it. They wanted to save all the birds from the back window. But I knew this one wouldn’t survive and all I wanted to do was wring its little fucking neck. You know, to put it out of its misery. I imagined myself picking it up, but I couldn’t kill a bird. So, it suffered for a time, and it died. Then, I became a basket case because the stupid, spotless, picture window on the front of my house caused another innocent creature to suffer and die, and I couldn’t bring myself to end its suffering.

I needed, in this dark place, to write about Cornell, about his life in Seattle and connecting to people. But it felt disingenuous and trite to me. Over the weekend, I pulled all of Cornell’s music up on the computer and hit random play. Do you know what song came up first? It was “Killing Birds.”

Killing Birds

It is one of my least favorite of his songs, but I immediately felt better. It wasn’t because my wonderful husband had gotten more decals. It wasn’t because the birds would stop dying. Birds are stupid, even though we take precautions and ruin our perfect view with decals to save them, the birds will find another window to hit. Hell, maybe they’ll drop right into our fire pit this summer. I felt better because I have long since contended there is a Chris Cornell song for every occasion in life, and even for this stupid situation of birds committing suicide on my house, there was a song. The lyrics themselves say, “never made much sense to me”, but they make sense to me now.

-You have to love the murderer I’ve become, standing in front of you killing birds.

I still love my house and I have to come to grips with the fact that I can’t save my kids from everything in the world.

Another in a long parade of idiots, as I’m standing here in front of you, killing birds.

Every parent is an idiot who doesn’t know how to deal with this. Yup. I’m totally projecting to find meaning where there is none, but I know it’s okay with Chris to project onto his music.

My kids are going to see me as a horrible, murderous person who can’t save the birds. It was the solution to my pain. I’m not going to tear my house down and learn how to kill birds, but it made me feel better because someone else understood.

I can’t make any sense of why Chris Cornell had to die this way. His death is devastating for his family and fans. There is no sense to it. God is silent about the reasons for all this bullshit in the world, but Chris wasn’t and still isn’t.

Photo Source: Chris Cornell’s Facebook page

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Leslie Gayle

Leslie is a one time CPA, wife and mom of twins. She’s an over thinker who loves karate, thunder, and travel. Her sweatpants are yoga pants and she takes her coffee with milk.

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