If you look close enough, tucked away in your local CD Warehouse or Sam Goody, there’s a copy of Stardog Champion–a compilation of two albums by Mother Love Bone. For those who aren’t familiar, sit back and relax because this has become a history lesson.
Right on the cusp of a grunge revolution in 1988, there were some guys in long hair and faded denim from a newly recognized Seattle, WA underground scene. These select few decided they were going to infuse post-Zeppelin rock into the infantile alternative ’90s scene ahead. What they would face is a tragic fame wielded by Sublime, Snot and Blind Melon. Andrew Wood had the vocals to define real emotions. He had honed this talent with his brother Kevin in a band called Malfunkshun which (alongside The Melvins and Green River) is considered a progenitor of alternative rock music.
On Mother Love Bone’s 1989 debut, Shine, critics began comparing Wood to Robert Plant or Axl Rose, with his strong tenor and thick West coast accent. The five song EP was raw and heavy, save for an 8+ minute piano-laced epic titled “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns” (a track later dubbed one of the band’s best works).
Chloe don’t know better
Chloe just like me, only beautiful
A couple of years of difference
But those lessons never learned
Chloe danced the tables in the French Quarter
Always been given so I can’t always make her laugh
But I’m proud to say
And I won’t forget
Time spent laying by her side
Time spent laying by her side
And dreams like this must die
You ever heard the story of Mr. Faded Glory?
Say he who rides a pony must someday fall
I been talkin’ to my altar
Life is what you make it
And if you make it death well then rest
your soul away
John Book of Allmusic would later state that this “record contributed to the buzz about the Seattle music scene.” Thus, we find Mother Love Bone later recording at The Plant in Sausalito, CA for a March release of the group’s first full-length album, Apple. By this point, Dave Grohl was joining Nirvana after a string of failed drummers and Soundgarden were coming into its own; the state of Washington was revving the engines and rearing to take over.
An unfortunate truth about this time in music was a sudden rise in musician fatalities–Kurt Cobain being most known in 1994, Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, Layne Staley of Alice In Chains, and Bradley Nowell of Sublime, to name a few. Andrew Wood was a heavy drug user and heroin claimed his soul only days before the scheduled release of Apple in 1990, and another young artist was cut upon in the rebel dance shuffle of Generation X.
It should be noted that we are not here to hold up another dead rock star for martyrdom. Wood’s band later became famous on different measures. Upon the release of Apple, we heard the spellbinding atmosphere of “Bone China”, the funk of “Capricorn Sister”, the influential “Man of Golden Words”, and the alt-’80s tone of “Stargazer” or “This Is Shangrila”. This one and only full release reached 34 on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers of 1992, leading a wave of rock from Seattle that would define popular rock music in America for decades and thankfully thrust glam rock into obscurity.
Mother Love Bone dissipated after the death of their front man and the CD was later released July of 1990, but this was only a transition which spurred a domino effect that still survives today. How is it that we can hold this miscellaneous early ’90s band on a pedestal and not sound pretentious by bringing up suicide every six seconds? A legacy lives on in two of it’s founding members–Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard.
Soundgarden’s lead vocalist–and Wood’s former roommate–Chris Cornell, approached the pair months after the end of Mother Love Bone and asked if they would be interested in recording a single containing two songs he had written in tribute to their deceased mutual friend. This proposition would later become another once over in the form of Temple Of The Dog and its eponymous album featuring Bad Radio’s Eddie Vedder and Shadow’s Mike McCready. Temple Of The Dog eventually bore those aforementioned two singles–“Hunger Strike” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven”, the latter being a direct salute to Wood.
It’s worth mentioning that the band name comes from a Mother Love Bone tune called “Man of Golden Words”, a beautiful song reflecting on the language of music itself:
Wanna show you something like the joy inside my heart…
Seems I’ve been living in the temple of the dog.
Though Temple only released the one album, Cornell and drummer Matt Cameron returned to Soundgarden more experienced while Ament, Gossard, McCready and Vedder snagged Dave Krusen to form another popular band–Pearl Jam. To this day, Pearl Jam is still recording and still touring, but have yet to forget their roots (unlike the more ego-laden Cornell). We dub Stardog Champion a Miscellaneous Masterpiece because to truly appreciate the alternative of today and that of the ’90s musical movement, one must see and hear how the seed of a single genre was tended to on a rainy day in 1988, when a bunch of Western US kids decided to be something different. So, go digging into the CD stores, go online and order it, or pull up your uTorrent if you have to.
The temple of the dog is still alive and well in spirt. Every time you hear, “I don’t mind stealing bread from the mouths of decadence” or “I’m a stardog champion”, remember that the deaths of Wood, and various other front men, are not heroic or worthy of endless examination – simply, the lit fuse of a generation that detonated long ago and we are still sifting through its hypnotic debris today. I won’t bother scrutinizing the details over what death meant more to any given scene, as the importance of every impact is not one to be measured but instead appreciated, despite the levels of participation; Mother Love Bone is not the greatest band that ever lived, but they should be acknowledged, so be sure to listen in, for I promise you will not be disappointed.
Pick up a copy of Stardog Champion and get the full dose. If you can somehow find it, the collectible VHS known as The Love Bone Earth Affair, a 30-minute tape of concert and “making of” footage, is also hidden somewhere in the annals of Earth. You will never regret it, and that is a guarantee.