It was March of 1990 and Andrew Wood had just passed away. The charismatic frontman of Mother Love Bone (“MLB”), who was on the verge of releasing their highly anticipated debut album, lost his battle to heroin. He was 24 years old.
Whereas most Seattle frontmen depicted themselves as shying away from the spotlight, Andrew Wood actively embraced it. He dressed for the stage and had that larger-than-life personality. He resembled the ’80s rockstar and his singing sounded like a cross between Axl Rose and Robert Plant. Musically, Mother Love Bone, seemed like a successor to Guns N’ Roses and glam metal bands. However, the discerning listener could detect the makings of the Seattle “grunge” sound in the dynamism of the music.
I was never a fan of Mother Love Bone – at the time I began listening to ’90s “grunge”, my favorite of the Seattle bands was Nirvana. MLB didn’t meet my teenage criteria – it was too glam and ’80s mainstream sounding. To my ears, Mother Love Bone seemed like one of the bands that grunge came along to end. They were popular though and like many bands (some of whom made it big), they were deemed the next big thing.
Unfortunately, it all came to a quick end and they disbanded (although they did release that debut album eventually). What the world got instead was an inspiring album from Chris Cornell and the former members of MLB in the image of Temple of the Dog and of course, the beginnings of Pearl Jam. Temple of the Dog would go on to release their self-titled album just a few months before Pearl Jam’s first record.
This self-titled record is accordingly a tribute to Andy Wood but it’s also an exploration of a softer, melodic sound which didn’t sound like either Soundgarden or MLB or a combination of them. Temple of the Dog is in its own world – reflective, soul-searching, and beautiful. It was a way for some friends to get together and create music in order to cope with the devastating loss of their friend.
With “Say Hello 2 Heaven”, Cornell regrets what could have been and wails in anguish for the friend he’s lost. The other clear tribute to Wood is the second track, “Reach Down”. There’s notable gospel influences in this one and and it celebrates Wood and his musical talent which touched his friends and fans. There’s some great tracks on this album but the most popular and the one that shines the most for me is “Hunger Strike”.
It’s a mesmerizing track from beginning to end and has plenty of depth – musically and lyrically. There’s a melancholia that envelops the song but there’s also hope that shines through. The song seems a little political with the narrator speaking about taking from the more fortunate but having issues taking from those who have very little to give. There’s a suggestion that people will always take from anyone who has anything to give. These givers will even put their own “blood on the table” and “mouths are choking” because they are overfilled with the things they can feast upon. It’s about protesting against taking and taking and not giving even though your “cup’s already overfilled”.
In the end, “Hunger Strike” speaks to me about how the less fortunate will always give no matter if they’re handing off their last piece of bread. It’s just how it works – it’s because they know what it is to have nothing that they appreciate every little bit they earn. This resonates strongly with me because I grew up quite humbly. As a child, it was a huge thing to even get new shoes, an event that happened about once a year. I remember walking to school with holes in them because I knew my parents couldn’t afford another pair. And now that I’m older and am relatively well off, I feel so grateful for every little bit I get that it’s so intuitive for me to help someone who has less.
I love this album and I guess I’ve brought some Thanksgiving themes in here – I blame this cup of apple cider and the beautiful leaves I see softly falling outside my window. I find this album reflective and uplifting and when I need a break from the hard rockers, this is a gem I love returning to.