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Come Clean

Chris Cornell’s superunknown secret

I was only able to interview Chris Cornell for 20 minutes. This isn’t much time, but I just assumed he was busy.And he was–sort of. The 38-year-old Cornell–who’s been married for 12 years and is the father of a two-year-old daughter–had to get back to a place that nobody knew about.

Spin: There’s a rumor that you just got out of rehab for OxyContin addiction. Is that true?
Chris Cornell: OxyContin? Who told you that? That’s a weird rumor, because the truth is that I’m in rehab right now. I’ve been there for a month. I’m here [at this interview] on what amounts to work release.

What are you in rehab for?
Various things. I’m not picky. [Laughs] Mainly for drinking.

I can see how that could happen, since the whole Seattle music scene was always built around getting obliterated.
Yeah, that was sort of the nature of it. I remember people saying the reason raves never worked in Seattle was because all the kids would drink a bunch of beers and get tired.

Did you drink before playing live?
For most of the Soundgarden tours, I didn’t drink before shows. I couldn’t sing well if I’d been drinking. But at the end of the 1992 Lollapalooza tour, I decided to drink before we went on. We were ending that tour in Los Angeles, and we hated that because wethought the audience would be nothing but industry people. So I decided to drink to just get through those shows. Well, it turned out the audiences were great–they were real fans–and it was awesome. I realized that I now had enough experience performing, and it really didn’t matter if I was drunk or not. So over the next few years, I would sometimes drink before we played. It wasn’t a big deal. It became a bigger deal when I stopped doing the other things I liked to do. I used to ride mountain bikes around with my friends, and we’d keep 40-ouncers where the water bottle was supposed to be. But once I removed the mountain and the bike, there was just the drinking.

Are you trying to quit drinking completely or just trying to get back to social drinking?
I don’t think I want to drink the way I used to. In my early twenties, I was actually worse. I could drink a lot, and I tended to have violent outbursts. I mean, I’m Irish: If I could get the cap off something, I would drink it. And drinking was really an extension of becoming isolated from all my other relationships. That started the first time we were on MTV. I can remember the very firstday “Outshined” was played on MTV, because that night–at four in the morning, in the middle of Mississippi–I was recognized by a butcher. So that was the beginning of me becoming isolated. I used it as an excuse, I think. I never liked being recognized to begin with, and Iwas never much of a social person, so this gave me a chance to play the “I don’t want to go out” card. I would just stay in and drink.

What’s rehab like?
I actually like rehab a lot. It’s like school; it’s interesting. I’m learning that I can be teachable at age 38.