Cornell and Cortez.
Those names carry a certain weight in Seattle lore.
And the untimely passing of the Soundgarden frontman and Seahawks lineman within less than a week of each other hits especially hard.
But the loss of the two larger-than-life figures feels like more than icons taken too soon. It feels like the further erosion of our connection to the not-so distant past, in a city changing all too quickly.
Both were masters of their craft, and yet overshadowed in their heyday. Cornell’s distinctive voice reached national prominence at the same time as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains. Kennedy racked up Pro Bowl selections on bad Seahawks teams — making the playoffs just once — in a decade when Ken Griffey Jr. and Gary Payton captured much of the city’s athletic attention.
It says something about just how unique a time it was in the city’s history. This little corner of the country was a cultural epicenter of sorts (lest we forget the late August Wilson and Jacob Lawrence also called Seattle home in that period).
But what a difference a couple of decades makes.
The venues, RKCNDY and The OK Hotel for the rocker, the Kingdome for the mover of blockers, are long gone. Grunge’s popularity has waned. The Seahawks got … well, good, and the days of TV blackouts and thousands of empty seats are over.
The old adage from Spanish philosopher George Santayana says, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But if we can’t repeat it, we can at least emulate what they taught us.
Cornell showed us that the oftentimes dreary backdrop of the Pacific Northwest could lend itself to hauntingly beautiful lyrical expressions. You could grow up the child of a pharmacist and an accountant in a nearby suburb, work at a seafood wholesaler and as a sous-chef at Ray’s Boathouse, while forming one of the most successful bands to come out of the Emerald City and defining a genre.
Kennedy was one of a select few to spend his entire career in Seattle, even turning down offers at the end of his playing days to suit up elsewhere, including one from ex-Seahawks front office executive Mickey Loomis in New Orleans.
“I can’t do that to Seattle. I want to say I played my whole career with Seattle,” Kennedy said, according to Loomis in a story in Sports Illustrated.
No one would have begrudged him for extending his career, and making the most of a limited window of athletic performance, but that’s what makes the gesture so impactful. We could learn from his sense of loyalty, and his sense of community as he returned time and again for fan events and autograph signings. He was due back in town the week he passed away for a Special Olympics fundraiser.
There won’t be another Chris Cornell or Cortez Kennedy. The best we can do is to honor their legacies, and their artistic and athletic talents.
May they both rest in peace.