1990 // Mother Love Bone // Three Kings and a Crown of Thorns

Grunge has always been a genre used to express the hardships and turmoil of life. And for the kings of the Puget Sound, these unfortunate hardships will serve as the fuel that propels them into stardom.

Transcript:

“It literally was, like, the most fluid, musical, and just instantaneously good-sounding thing that any of us had ever been involved with. And still to this day, it’s probably one of those moments. That was when everything magical was happening.” – Stone Gossard

As the 1980s fade away, the world transitions from the old to the new. Germany begins demolition of the Berlin Wall, signifying the end of an era of global warfare while Operation Desert Storm launches, setting the stage for the first serious conflict of the 21st century. Tim Berners-Lee invents the World Wide Web and Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the Soviet Union, wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

Music in the early part of the decade fractures and fills the growing void left by the demise of highly-polished L.A. hard rock and heavy metal that had dominated the charts for most of the 1980s. Seminal activist rap group Public Enemy releases Fear of a Black Planet, while no other mainstream rapper could touch the success of MC Hammer. Alternative music darlings Sonic Youth release Goo while Jane’s Addiction and Depeche Mode release new albums in 1990. And rock is not entirely forgotten as Shake Your Money Maker and Cowboys from Hell by The Black Crowes and Pantera, respectively, enjoy mainstream commercial success.

But this is the story of a sonic fury racing out of the Pacific Northwest, a combination of guitar-laden riffs, amplified disdain, punk rock ethos, flannel, and a rejection of the self-indulgent rock of the previous decade. This is a tale of tragic destiny, the phoenix of one band rising out of the ashes of another. Andrew Wood, Eddie Vedder, and Chris Cornell—Three Kings ruling the Puget Sound and changing the trajectory of rock music forever.

I’m your host, J. Thorn, and this is, “Consequences of Rock.”

He’s gone. Their lead singer, the man fronting their band is dead at age 24, a month shy of the release date of their debut album.

Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament had watched the addiction take their friend. Neither a stint in rehab nor the mentorship of Chris Cornell could save the man who had started Malfunkshun with his brother.

Beyond the grief and the loss of their bandmate, the bottom falls out of their creative world as well. After a major bidding war and to growing hype, Apple is due to launch in April of 1990. The devastating situation puts Gossard and Ament in a precarious position—do they continue with Mother Love Bone or call it quits?

While some members of the band fade away or join other projects, Stone and Jeff can’t decide what to do. Nobody will replace their charismatic lead singer. They know this. But neither man seems to be able to walk away from everything they’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Without knowing why or how it will pan out, they keep jamming while looking for others to round out the lineup. Whether the band will still be Mother Love Bone is yet to be determined, but something pushes them forward.

It’s the late seventies and Air Force officer David Wood and his wife, Toni, start a family on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Washington.

By the time he was a teenager, their youngest son, Andrew, had already lived in several places. Andy is extroverted, an outgoing and friendly boy born in Columbus, Mississippi. David moves the family to Washington, D.C., Maine, and even Germany before settling in Bainbridge.

When Andy is ten years old, he insists that he’s going to be a radio DJ. David watches his son walking around the house with a microphone plugged into a boombox. Andy is constantly trying to interview siblings as guests for his imaginary radio show.

A year later, in 1977, eleven-year old Andy is at a KISS concert with his older brother, Kevin. After Cheap Trick finishes their set and before KISS takes the stage, Andy turns to Kevin and says, “I want to be a rock star.”

Kiss - Ace Frehley (1977).jpg

By 1981, Malfunkshun is born. Andrew skips out on Easter dinner to jam with the band for the first time—Kevin on guitar, Dave Reese on bass, and David Hunt on drums. After a gig or two, Reese and Hunt quit. Andy picks up the bass and they recruit Regan Hagar from the band Maggot Brains to be the new drummer.

In August of 1981, Malfunkshun plays their first official show at Bainbridge Island’s Blackberry Jam Festival. In the years that follow, David watches as Andy becomes driven with a passion for performance, eventually dropping out of high school to play Seattle clubs, the music more hardcore and punk than rock.

Andy discovers glam rock. He’s influenced heavily by Bowie and T. Rex, which gives Malfunkshun a more melodic and polished sound. Andy breaks into Bainbridge High School’s theater and steals armfuls of makeup. He dons the stage wardrobe of his idols, including capes, boas, and platform shoes, later complemented by top hats, sunglasses, and fake fur coats.

“Landrew the Love Child” is determined to spread the love, a throwback to the hippie movement of the late 1960s and poised to counteract the trend toward what the 1980s mainstream identified as “satanic heavy metal.”

Wood labels Malfunkshun as a “333 band,” as opposed to bands eschewing the number of the beast and aligning with the forces of darkness—666, the number of the beast. He gladly accepts the “love rock” genre, even if it didn’t technically exist.

Landrew is not afraid to be himself on stage. He plays dingy rooms with only a doorman and a bartender in the same way he would a sold-out stadium rock show. Wood’s performances get the attention of Chris Hanzsek, a recording engineer, who invites Andrew to Ironwood Studios. It’s now 1985, and along with the Melvins, Soundgarden, Green River, Skin Yard, and a few other emerging bands, Malfunkshun is promised a few hours of studio time.

Various Artists — Deep Six (Green River, Malfunkshun, The Melvins, Skin Yard, Soundgarden, U-Men)

Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament get to know Andrew. They’d seen him around town, at gigs, and in shared rehearsal spaces. They, like others in the scene, recognize Wood’s potential.

By the fall of 1987, Green River was coming apart. Mark Arm officially breaks up the band, freeing Jeff and Stone to get serious with Andy. With a scribbled band name pulled from a notebook that Wood kept while working his messenger job, they become Mother Love Bone.

“We thought we were gonna be signed by Geffen, and that became a big movie. We waited around and we all quit our jobs, because we thought we were gonna have money. But things kind of fell apart, and we decided that maybe we should listen to what other labels had to say. That’s when the whole bidding war started.” – Andrew Wood

Word was out. A&R folks scramble to see Mother Love Bone, resulting in a bidding war for the band’s record contract. Although hoping to sign with Geffen and awaiting their offer, the band also has interest from Atlantic, Island, A&M, and PolyGram.

Michael Goldstone from PolyGram wins the war when he signs Mother Love Bone in November of 1988, promising them a $250,000 advance—an indulgent sum of money at the time and for a band yet to prove themselves on the national stage.

“In Malfunkshun, Andy was very clearly being a character. And with Mother Love Bone it was like, Oh, wait a minute, this is a commercial rock band with aspirations. They’re doing the Landrew rock-star schtick, but it didn’t have the cool, underground feeling of Malfunkshun. It was like instead of playing a rock star, he was being a rock star.” – Nils Bernstein

Wood brings his schtick to every show, playing each one as though a hundred thousand people are in the audience.

“When Andy got to a city, he would pick up a newspaper before he got onstage and try to find the most outlandish thing that he could come up with just to catch the crowd off guard. In Boston, he came onstage one night, and at the time, Michael Dukakis was running for president. Andy did the classic, ‘How ya doin’, Boston?’ Followed with, ‘I was just out drinking shots with Kitty!’ And people didn’t even know how to respond, since Kitty Dukakis obviously had an alcohol problem.” – Michael Goldstone (PolyGram/Epic A&R)

With the rock-star role comes the trappings of rock stardom. Drugs and alcohol had long been a part of rock and roll culture and its history is rife with those who couldn’t survive their addictions. The guys in Mother Love Bone see what is coming and yet, there isn’t much they can do about it. Andrew’s drug use becomes legendary on the scene and no amount of nagging from the band seems to change his behavior.

Surprisingly, Wood holds it together through tour rehearsals, and after four months of sobriety, discusses his recovery in an interview with RIP magazine writer, Michael Browning.

“I’m lucky to be sitting here. It’s a total struggle. When you first get out, you’re on this pink cloud, and it’s pretty easy. After a while, things start getting more real. You have to just stay straight a second at a time.” – Andrew Wood

But time is running out for Andrew Wood. His girlfriend, Xana La Fuente, sees it, too.

Mother Love Bone Mural

“Andrew and Kevin took acid one night, and Andrew cried in the bathroom on the floor in a fetal position for about eight hours. His eyes were swollen like he had been beaten. And that’s the night that Kevin quit drinking. It was one of their birthdays. Kevin didn’t freak out, but Andrew was like, ‘I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die. I saw my future. I know I’m gonna die.’ Every time he used he would come and tell me. He would cry. I never saw tracks on his arm, I never saw him dope sick. He never took money from me to use.” – Xana La Fuente

“We all got in a taxi and went up to Harborview Medical Center, but Andy was already on life support… I was in denial for a while. I was really pissed off at him and sort of detached from what had happened. I didn’t really have the coping skills at that point to deal with it.” – Jeff Ament

Wood had struggled with addiction for years and yet, he’d managed it. Until he couldn’t.

Mother Love Bone 2016

“When I got home, Andy was on the bed facedown unconscious, so I called 911 and they were trying to tell me how to give CPR…They pronounced him dead at the scene, but they told me to go to the hospital, so I went to the hospital–and then he was alive again. He was in a coma, and he immediately looked totally different. He was swelled up like a balloon, unrecognizable, and all his organs just started to shut down, his brain wouldn’t stop swelling.” – Xana La Fuente

On March 16, 1990, Xana finds Andy in their apartment after an apparent heroin overdose. Three days later, doctors at Harborview Hospital determine that he had suffered a hemorrhage aneurysm and had lost all brain function—recommending that the family remove Andy from life support.

“When they pulled the plug, me and my brother Brian were there, and that’s about all I remember. It was such a traumatic experience. We stood by his bed and watched the heart meter slowly stop, and then, boom, it was over.” – Kevin Wood

Wood’s death hits the scenesters hard, especially his bandmates in Mother Love Bone. Stone and Jeff decide that Mother Love Bone wouldn’t be the same with another singer and therefore, they call it quits. Both men struggle with the next phase of their lives, unsure how or if to continue as professional musicians.

Eventually, they heal enough to consider putting together another band. Stone turns to an old friend, a guy he bonded with in high school—Mike McCready. Stone and Mike loved talking music, but Mike had gone in a different direction, finding his roots in the area’s heavy metal scene instead of the punk rock vibe of what would become the Sub Pop sound.

Jeff is talking with drummer Jack Irons as they’re trying to put together a lineup for their first post-Mother Love Bone band, Mookie Blaylock. Jeff says, “Here’s a couple of extra tapes; if you know of any other drummers or singers, give ’em to whoever you think.”

Jack’s response: “I know this one guy down in San Diego who might be cool…”

YOUNG EDDIE VEDDER

“Jack sent me three of their songs. I had them in my head from the night before at work, and I went surfing and had this amazing day. The whole time I was out there surfing, I had this stuff going through my head–the music–and the words going at the same time. I put them down on tape and sent it off.” – Eddie Vedder

On September 19, 1990, a cassette arrives in Seattle with demo versions of the songs “Alive,” “Once,” and “Footsteps.”

“I went surfing in that sleep-deprived state, and totally started dealing with a few things that I hadn’t dealt with. I was really getting focused on this one thing, and I had this music in my mind at the same time. I was literally writing some of these words as I was going up against a wave or something. I got out of the water, and I went right into the house and recorded three songs. I didn’t even write down the lyrics. I just wrote an outline and sang it, and the only time I even listened back to it was when I was mixing it down from four-track. I listened to it, got it right, and then listened to it again, and then just sent it off. I didn’t really think about it. When I think back, it’s pretty weird, because it was like a three-song mini-opera, this story that was really intense. Pretty much half of it was real, and half of it was extensions of reality.” – Eddie Vedder

Meanwhile, Chris Cornell begins writing songs about his departed friend, Andy Wood.

Chris Cornell // Soundgarden

“The songs I wrote weren’t really stylistically like something my band Soundgarden would be used to playing or would be natural for us to do but it was material that Andy really would have liked, so I didn’t really want to just throw it out the window or put it away in a box, y’know, put the tape away and never listen to it again.” – Chris Cornell

An understated personality but with a ferocious onstage presence, Cornell is left reeling from his friend’s death. He asks Jeff and Stone to be part of this one-off project he’s calling Temple of the Dog. In October of 1990, rehearsals begin at the Galleria Potatohead on Second Avenue in the Belltown neighborhood. Because he hates odd numbers, Cornell adds a tenth song to the stack of demos, a throw-away tune titled “Hunger Strike.”

“I had written ‘Say Hello to Heaven’ and ‘Reach Down,’ and I had recorded them myself at home. My initial thought was I could record them with the ex-members of Mother Love Bone as a tribute single to Andy… I had pulled out ‘Hunger Strike’ and I had this feeling it was just kind of gonna be filler, it didn’t feel like a real song. Eddie was there kind of waiting for a [Mookie Blaylock] rehearsal and I was singing parts, and he kind of humbly–but with some balls–walked up to the mic and started singing the low parts for me because he saw it was kind of hard. We got through a couple choruses of him doing that and suddenly the lightbulb came on in my head, this guy’s voice is amazing for these low parts. History wrote itself after that, that became the single…” – Chris Cornell

Chris could have stopped, thrown a rock star fit, or stomped out of the studio. Instead, he christens Eddie, which ultimately births what will become Pearl Jam, an act not lost on those in the Seattle scene who, decades later, erect a bronze statue of Chris Cornell outside of the Museum of Pop Culture—the only musician honored in such a way on the grounds of the museum.

The guys record fifteen songs in just three weeks. The song “Hunger Strike” serves as Eddie Vedder’s first music video appearance, a song that goes on to peak at number four on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and has since become a staple of modern rock radio.

“At the beginning, Eddie was kind of struggling to get vocals done, and people were getting a little nervous. He wasn’t fully nailing it. Think about it: He was in the shadow of Andy Wood, brand-new band, he’s still trying to figure out the sound. Plus the weight of, Wow, I’m on a major label. Then he started staying the night in the studio… Over the making of the record, the Eddie Vedder persona seemed to take shape.” – Dave Hillis

Some in the scene see Eddie Vedder as an outsider, someone threatening the close-knit community. Others believe that nobody can replace Andrew Wood.

“Chris already asked us to play on his songs, so him inviting Ed to participate, too, was just another like huge, generous, gracious gesture that said, ‘I’m not only going to help you guys with this record and these songs I wrote, but I’m also going to write some lyrics to some songs that you wrote, Stone and Jeff, and I’m going to even ask your new singer, who I haven’t really heard his voice yet, to sing on it, too.’” – Stone Gossard

A veteran of the Seattle scene and Soundgarden drummer, Matt Cameron, reflects on Cornell’s role in shaping the grunge movement.

“Sometimes I wonder if that was a void that Chris felt from Andy’s passing, like having another equally talented singer that he could bounce ideas off of or just basically relate to… He really embraced Eddie when he first moved up here, and I know Eddie felt a real mentorship with Chris’s relationship in the beginning stages… Chris had a bigger role than he knows with the genesis of Ten and Pearl Jam starting out.”

On November 13, 1990, while tracking the album, Temple of the Dog plays their only show until a short-lived 2016 reunion when Temple of the Dog plays eight shows, starting on November 4th at the Tower Theater near Philadelphia, and finishing on November 21st at the Paramount Theater in Seattle.

On April 16, 1991, Temple of the Dog is released by A&M.

By the end of 1992, “Hunger Strike” is a massive hit and both Soundgarden and Pearl Jam rise to meteoric fame.

“I was going to try, or die trying. I felt like it wasn’t gonna happen if you didn’t make it happen. If you were gonna get your music out there, you really had to be full-fledged.” – Eddie Vedder

Andrew Wood chooses life over death. But like many addicts caught in the snare of chemical dependency, he loses a battle of willpower against an incredibly addictive substance, and it costs him his life. Those close to the flamboyant singer are left to sift through the wreckage, wade into the creative unknown of a record industry in transition.

However, the end of Mother Love Bone is the beginning of Mookie Blaylock, which soon morphs into Pearl Jam.

Within a week of Vedder’s arrival in Seattle, the band has written eleven songs.

“[It] was just a totally magical thing, the most intense musical experience I’d ever been involved in. I’d written three more songs before I left San Diego, and then we wrote more from scratch while I was in Seattle. All of a sudden, we had eleven songs.” – Eddie Vedder

During a show in late 1990, Chris Cornell calls Eddie Vedder onto the stage. He hoists Vedder upon his shoulders—literally.

Since its inception, Pearl Jam has sold more than 32 million albums domestically, including all of the band’s live bootlegs, and has sold over 85 million copies worldwide through 2016.

While not enjoying the same level of commercial success as their contemporaries, Soundgarden paved the way for the entire grunge movement, along with legendary bands like Nirvana and Alice in Chains.

The tragedy of Andrew Wood became the triumph of Pearl Jam, with music that has become emotionally resonant for Generation X. As it happens in nature, death begets life.

Andrew Wood, Chris Cornell, and Eddie Vedder are the Three Kings of Puget Sound—two of those musicians whose legacy is all that remains.

Wood and Vedder represent the ends of a continuum, one that could have only been connected by Chris Cornell—an unassuming man full of compassion and empathy.

We’ll never know what might have happened if Chris Cornell had not put his arm around Eddie Vedder and invited him into the scene, literally and figuratively. We do know the consequences of that action, one that outshined the sadness of Wood’s passing.

I’m your host, J. Thorn. And this is “Consequences of Rock.”

Episode written by J. Thorn, edited by Eve Paludan.

Recorded at 88.7 FM WJCU studios.

Audio mixed and engineered by Adam Phillips.

Produced by J. Thorn and Adam Phillips.

All research was conducted at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – Library and Archives in Cleveland, Ohio, with a special thanks to Jennie Thomas, Director of Archives, William Jackson, Archives Assistant, Sule Holder, Library Assistant, and Laura Maidens, Librarian.

Music Credits:

California Wind  – Bruno E.

Fresno Alley-Josh Lippi & The Overtimers

Burning Time – Threefold Law

Hueristics for the Brain- pATCHES

Introspective Spacewalk- Asher Fulero

Shoelace- Quincas Moreira

St Francis- Josh Lippi & The Overtimers

The Saloon Josh Lippi & The Overtimers

They Might Not- Puddle of Infinity

adriann- door slam- from Freesound.org

Hupguy- heart monitor- from Freesound.org

ukjoncollins billingsgate fish market- from Freesound.org

soapybubl- low boom- from Freesound.org

StrangerEight- acoustic ambient- from Freesound.org

aceinet- Floyd filtertron AC- from Freesound.org

InspectorJ- ambience seaside waves close A- from Freesound.org

Johanneskristjansson- cheer crowd- from Freesound.org

zerolagtime-  tape slow1- from Freesound.org

For a complete list of sources cited, see the show notes for this episode.

Sources

Grunge. Abrams, 2009.

Yarm, Mark. Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge. Crown Archetype, 2011.

Clarke, Martin. None Too Fragile: Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder. Plexus, 2011.

Neely, Kim. Five Against One: The Pearl Jam Story. Penguin Books, 1998.

Peterson, Charles, and Lance Mercer. Pearl Jam: Place/Date. Universe, 1999.

Pearl Jam Twenty. Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle, WA.

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3 thoughts on “1990 // Mother Love Bone // Three Kings and a Crown of Thorns”

  1. Music emotionally resonant with Generation X–so true! I had a conversation with Layne Staley once and told him how the song Love, Hate, Love helped me get over a bad breakup. He said it helped him too. I did not know Chris Cornell was so instrumental in welcoming Eddie Vedder into the Seattle scene. Very cool. They were both phenomenal front men.

    “…the consequences of that action, one that OUTSHINED the sadness of Wood’s passing.” I heard what you did there. 😉

    I was so ready for the hair/glam metal scene to die. I lived in Southern California at the time and was really into the Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction. When the Seattle bands showed up, I was glad to see them. I saw most of them before they ever got big. Alice in Chains hadn’t even released Facelift the first time I saw them. They were amazing. Layne Staley completely mesmerized me. They remain one of my favorite bands.

    I’m fortunate I got to see Temple of the Dog in 1991 (at the Hollywood Palladium!). AiC, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden also played that show. Wow. I went on to see them all several more times. I saw Nirvana live a couple of times too. I’m sad we no longer have Layne Staley, Chris Cornell or Kurt Cobain in the world. 🙁

    1. You are fortunate indeed. TOD didn’t play many shows back in the day.

      Zach thinks AIC is a better band now than they were with Layne. I totally disagree. They might be better musically, but you’re right, there was something about Staley. That Mad Season record makes me cry every time I listen to it.

  2. I’d forgotten about Mad Season! I’ll have to go listen to it. Thanks for the reminder.

    I do like AiC’s new stuff; in fact, Voices is one of my favorite songs by them. Jerry Cantrell is an incredible songwriter.

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