Wednesday, June 17, 2015

1991

A decade begins with the year one. Mathematically (?) that means that 1990 is a part of the 80s. It's the kind of complicated riff that falls along the lines of why movies are letter-boxed; people just don't get it. Nonetheless, it means that 1991 was the first year of the 90s, and it was both spectacular and misleading. Nirvana's Nevermind, Pearl Jam's Ten, Loveless, Use Your Illusion I and II, Gish and Blood Sugar Sex Magic, Talk Talk's Laughing Stock and PM Dawn - the decade was launching like something out of Apple, and suddenly, by the way, it was all about Seattle, and btw, I don't know shit about Seattle; rains a lot, nice place to spend a weekend, Space Needle. With Seattle as a focus, it's easy to pinpoint Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but one too overlooked supergroup is left from the literature. Die hard Temple of the Dog fans will eschew the idea, but Temple of the Dog were/are, without preaching to the choir, unknowns. Temple of the Dog was a labor of love, a tribute to a dead friend and an outgrowth of the mourning process. It wasn't intended to be the commodity it became. The story begins with Andrew Wood (1966-1990), the lead singer for Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone. Those who knew him say that Andy played to the balcony, even if there were 10 people in the audience. He idolized Freddie Mercury and Marc Bolan, and seemed to be one of those destined for stardom.

Mother Love Bone spent the summer and fall of 1989 recording their first album, Apple. It was then that the band realized Andy's struggle with demons was a serious one. He was persuaded to enter a rehab program, completing it successfully. Mother Love Bone was, by anyone's reckoning, on the verge of stardom, and then, two weeks before Apple was released, Wood was found comatose in his apartment, the result of a heroin overdose. He remained in a coma for several days, but never recovered. He died March 19, 1990.

The Seattle music scene has a reputation for being incestuous. There's good reason for that: it is. Everybody ends up playing or working with everybody else. Andrew's first project, Malfunkshun, included his brother Kevin, as well as fellow Bainbridge Island neighbor Regan Hagar (later of Satchel and Brad). After Wood's death, Mother Love Bone disbanded and Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament (members of MLB) decided to form a new band: you may have heard the name: Pearl Jam.  


His death hit the Seattle music scene hard, very hard, not only for his bandmates, but for his friends, his coworkers, and his housemates, one of whom was Soundgarden's Chris Cornell. Hoping to find an outlet for his enormous grief, Chris penned in tribute to Andy, "Reach Down" and "Say Hello 2 Heaven." He suggested that Stone and Jeff if they'd like to record them. At the time, Soundgarden had yet to become superstars, and Pearl Jam was yet to be realized. Chris recruited his Soundgarden compatriot Matt Cameron. "It was initially my idea because of a couple of songs I recorded," Cornell explained in Reflex magazine, "but the idea was mainly to do a single as opposed to a whole record. And the thing was, the rest of the guys in Temple, they sort of thought, well, maybe we should make it a little bit longer project, like an EP or something. The more we talked about it, the more songs kept flying out, and it ended up being an album. It didn't feel like a morose project. It felt sort of celebratory."

During the sessions the "band" auditioned potential frontmen and found San Diego surfer boy Eddie Vedder, who arrived in Seattle in the fall of 1990. The Temple Of The Dog album was recorded during the late fall and winter of 1990; Ament, Gossard and McCready would work with Chris at night, then jam with Eddie in the newly-christened Mookie Blaylock in the afternoons.

The album was released in April 1991, and initial sales were modest at best. The band members were still largely unknowns beyond the Seattle music scene, and no one really expected more to happen with the project than that. They played one official show without Vedder at the Off Ramp CafĂ©, on November 13, 1990, who'd gone back to San Diege to pack his things and permanently head north. Temple of the Dog (AM7) was an accident and a long shot. The LP paled in comparison to the soon to be released Ten (AM9) and Nirvana's Nevermind (AM10), but remains one of the key elements for the early rise of grange and the new direction that rock would take in the 90s.

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