[Today: The Archduke of grunge…]
The 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Karl Ludwig Joseph, heir to the Austrian throne, was a seemingly minor event that ended up leading to World War I. Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood was rock-n-roll’s version of Archduke Ferdinand. His heroin overdose on March 19th, 1990 didn’t cause even a slight ripple in the national music press, but it was the singular event that led to the popular explosion of grunge.
Wood’s roommate was Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell, who began writing songs dedicated to his deceased friend as part of his grieving process. When he began recording those songs, he recruited ex-Mother Love Bone guitarists Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard to play with him, along with a singer and guitarist – Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready – that Ament and Gossard had started playing with in the wake of Wood’s death. Cornell also included Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, who currently sits behind the kit for Pearl Jam, the group that Ament, Gossard, McCready and Vedder formed shortly after they played on Temple Of The Dog.
Vedder’s husky voice and daring stage antics helped bring grunge to an international audience, and it’s impossible to see the Seattle scene going nuclear without his presence. But if Andrew Wood hadn’t died in the spring of 1990, Ament and Gossard wouldn’t have been looking for a new lead singer, and Eddie Vedder might still be catching waves on his surf board in San Diego and working at the local Kinko’s. By all accounts Wood was a magnetic lead singer and engaging live performer, but Mother Love Bone’s version of hard rock leaned towards the hair metal of the 80’s, with a heaping helping of Glam Rock thrown in for good measure. In other words, it sounded little like the punchy, intense music that came to be known as grunge, and an awful lot like the 80’s hair metal that grunge was constantly contrasted with.
Temple Of The Dog however, was a harbinger of what was coming from Seattle. It preceded Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s Ten, and Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, and its best moments – including ‘Reach Down’ and ‘Pushin’ Forward Back’ – are as good as anything from those more celebrated albums. Cornell’s grief is painted all over lines like “I never wanted to write these words down for you/With the pages of phrases of the things we’ll never do” and it’s impossible to miss the sadness and sense of loss that comes from this album’s foundation in death. But if you listen close, you can hear the birth of something big as well.
Listen: Crown Of Thorns [Mother Love Bone]
Listen: Pushin’ Forward Back [Temple Of The Dog]
Listen: Stardog Champion [Mother Love Bone]
Listen: Reach Down [Temple Of The Dog]