Sometime in the late 80’s or maybe early in the year 1990, I had a friend who I occasionally played basketball with and would run into from time to time. I was working a lot and the amount of ball I was playing was less and less but I still liked to run some games now and again. It’s hard even to call this guy a friend because quite honestly I don’t remember his name. He was a squirrely thin guy who could really play and was always quiet and never talked trash. In fact he didn’t talk much at all. He loved music though and he had decided that it was some sacred duty to show me the changing world of rock music since at the time about 90% of what I listened to was R&B. So almost every time I would run into him he would hand me a cassette tape of music almost all of it underground. This is how I discovered bands like the Pixies, Sonic Youth, the Descendants and a host of other bands some good many of them strange.
So a few times we went together to Deep Ellum in Dallas where there was a rebirth of music and clubs. We saw a lot of live bands and I am sure I may have even seen some of the early grunge bands that toured as Seattle was just about to explode. It’s in one of these clubs that I heard that Andrew Wood had died. I thought he was some local kid or maybe a friend they all knew and didn’t think much of it. Over the course of the next year Andrew’s name kept surfacing. Nirvana hit it big. My friend Eric had to play it for me and from that point on I bought few R&B albums. Pearl Jam followed Nirvana as did Soundgarden who I had already heard. Other bands followed like Smashing Pumpkins, Concrete Blonde, Cowboy Junkies, the Pixies all now had willing ears to listen to their music. Suddenly music was amazing.
Then in 1991 a song hit the airwaves that had been released almost a year earlier. The video was so cool because it featured members from both Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. The band was Temple of the Dog and the song of course was Hunger Strike. I wondered why these two bands would join forces for an album and then learned it was a tribute album; a tribute to Andrew Wood. I really wanted to know who Andrew Wood was and why he was so important.
Andrew Wood was born January 8, 1966 in Columbus, Mississippi. Later the family moved to Bainbridge Island, Washington near Seattle. He was the youngest of three boys. To say that he was raised in a dysfunctional family is a bit of an understatement. There were conflicts and rampant alcohol abuse and drug addiction. Andy began using drugs as early as age thirteen perhaps earlier. One of the many things you learn in a social work education is family systems theory. Andy became the entertainer of the family, the one who made everyone laugh and so he learned at an early age to always be on and his personality even at a young age was big. He would often sit in his room and have pretend concerts or pretend to interview himself as a big rock star.
In 1980 Andy formed the band Malfunkshun with his brother Kevin and friend Regan Hagar. They began playing shows in Seattle which had a lot of very small music clubs. Malfunkshun would become a major influence on the developing Seattle sound. Andrew would come on stage playing bass wearing white face paint and called himself Landrew the Love God. Their music was Love Rock. They often played without a setlist, were sometimes booed or turned people off yet they were part of a small group of musicians that played off of each other. Bands like Green River, Soundgarden, Skin Yard and a host of others watched each other’s shows and fed off of them. Audiences grew bigger, the music less raw. In 1985 Andy’s drug use which now included heavy use of heroin had reached the point where even he knew he needed help and he entered rehab later that year. By all accounts rehab went quite well.
When he got out of rehab he drifted a bit and found an unlikely soul mate and friend in Chris Cornell who was looking for a roommate. Andy needed a friend who wasn’t using drugs Chris needed help with the rent. Their friendship was fast and furious and it was said that had either been a woman they would have been the perfect couple. Cornell would tell stories of how they would play music sometimes for hours and record them on cassettes, marveling at Andy’s ability to create sometimes masterpieces of music with no rehearsal and on the fly. Sadly none of that music survived.
In 1988 Green River disbanded. Mark Arm went on to form the band Mudhoney. Former Green River guitarist Stone Gossard began writing songs with Andrew Wood finding an easy going song writing relationship each helping the other with songs. With Regan Hagar and Jeff Ament they formed a brief one gig band called the Lords of the Wastelands. After this gig Stone, Jeff and Andy decided to carry on with a different version of this band adding drummer Greg Gilmore, and guitarist Bruce Fairweather and they began immediately playing the Seattle area clubs with tremendous buzz and success under their new name Mother Love Bone. They recorded an EP Shine in 1989 and began drawing attention from major recording labels. Other bands too from the burgeoning Seattle music scene were drawing interest. Nirvana had moderate success on the Sub Pop label with their album Bleach and were already looking for ways out of their deal with Sub Pop. Soundgarden too were signed around this time. Other bands like Alice in Chains were waiting in the wings. Mother Love Bone signed to Polydor and traveled to San Francisco to record Apple. Andy was struggling. There is now tons of speculation about how Andy was feeling. It was certainly possible that being in a band where he didn’t have to be in charge of all things creative both relieved him and minimized him. People look back at his lyrics and see a dark soul full of demons but outwardly he was larger than life in photo ops and in shows and in interviews. Nevertheless he was using heroin more and more. Many years later a friend of his who did drugs with him said Andy always wanted to get higher and of course with heroin it just takes you lower. He felt Andy never really understood that but maybe Andy understood it all too well. Andy finally checked himself into rehab before the release of Apple to prepare himself for the tour to come. There was certainly hope. The band was only just learning how addicted he was despite being told by Andy’s girlfriend that he was in trouble.
On March 16, 1990 Andy was found passed out by his girlfriend who had first thought he was only sleeping. When she could not wake him up an ambulance was called. He was initially pronounced dead. He improved and then suddenly turned after suffering an aneurysm. Andrew Wood was removed from life support on March 19, 1990 and died later that day. In one of the strangest twists to this story was the family contacted Chris Cornell who was out of state on tour so that he could be at Andy’s side when they removed the life support. In the documentary Malfunkshun Cornell spoke about how that was both cool and creepy. Regardless when Cornell spoke about Wood’s death there was a grief a mournfulness to him that I believe never went away. After Cornell died many on multiple Andrew Wood and Mother Love Bone sites claimed how the two were finally together again but that too has such a creepy component to it.
At the time of Andrew Wood’s death I had still not heard of him. In fact the first time I heard the words Mother Love Bone was in reference to Temple of the Dog being a tribute album to Andrew Wood former lead singer of Mother Love Bone who died tragically of a heroin overdose. Around 1992 I saw the movie Singles and during the opening credits there was the graffiti wall that used to be in the area of a lot of clubs and right in the center Mother Love Bone in all its splendor. Just a few years ago Jeff Ament had that wall graffiti replaced on the outside wall of Easy Records as a tribute to his former band. Still I had not heard a single Mother Love Bone song until I bought the Singles Soundtrack which included the song Chloe/Crown of Thorns. In 1992 Stone Gossard with the surviving members of the band released Shine and Apple together under one album Mother Love Bone which I acquired somewhere around 1993. Eventually I had both Shine and Apple on vinyl.
The more I listened to the music of Mother Love Bone the more I fell in love. It made me remember arena rock of the 70s but it was so fresh and new, unique and compelling. It was easy to see why a record label would want to record that music. Had Andrew not died Apple would have been the first Seattle album to hit it big. I am one hundred percent sure. The time was right, the songs are simply too good. It was a perfect convergence of the right personnel the right time for a change and a personality big enough to lead that change. Andy could have been all those things but really all we have are what ifs or should haves or could have beens and that is the sad story of a young man who once interviewed himself as a rock star in his room as a child.
Knowing Mother Love Bone, hearing Andrew Wood’s voice opened up something inside of me, something deep that struck at my love of music my love of a story and even the sadness in my own soul. Yet there was an additional discovery for me. In 2005 Scott Barbour a director and producer released the documentary Malfunkshun; The Andrew Wood Story. It was a tremendous documentary with friends, bandmates, family and Andy’s girlfriend all participating. There were hours of interviews done, footage from the Malfunkshun days, home movies and Mother Love Bone footage and interviews with Andy himself. It also included a cd of Malfunkshun’s music almost all of it previously unreleased. I didn’t discover this until 2012. I bought it new and stared at it for days. I needed it to be the right time to watch it because I knew it was going to probably devastate me. One day I put it in and there he was, larger than life speaking alive and well and on always on. Throughout the documentary the music plays and I sat there singing the songs watching mesmerized tears steadily rolling down my cheeks sometimes sobbing. It had seemed like such a long journey for me. In 2016 Stone Gossard released an amazing boxed set. It’s well worth the cost.
There is this fine sometimes razor thin line between fandom and fanaticism. I love Andrew Wood love his soul love his music. He was just that kind of person, that kind of musical figure to me. He was flawed. We all are flawed and sometimes we judge those flaws in others way too harshly when it would be easier on our souls to just be kind. There are fan clubs to Andrew Wood and to Mother Love Bone. One of my friends from facebook is a site admin for one of these sites or was at one time. I am on both sites but rarely post. I can only read the same posts so many times before I shake my head and back away. Would Mother Love Bone be bigger than Pearl Jam? How huge a star would Andrew be? There are posts bashing Pearl Jam. Why oh why did Pearl Jam insult Andrew’s memory by not mentioning him at their Hall of Fame induction? It all gets old.
I love Pearl Jam. Personally I think they will very likely be that band that carries on like Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones and please don’t take that as some comparison as it’s not. I just mean that they will have that kind of longevity. It was discovered when Andy was hospitalized that he was battling a lot of health issues he knew nothing about. I doubt Andrew stays with Mother Love Bone had he lived but all that is conjecture. Andrew’s life was short and maybe he gave us all he had because there certainly is not any more coming. It can be sad playing what if games. I understand them just refuse to be lured down that particular rabbit hole.
For me he will always be Landrew the Love God and his music will always be love rock. I still sometimes mourn him, feel sad that such a burning light is gone but I don’t dwell on those feelings long. I don’t think Andrew would appreciate it at all. I think he would be pleased that young people are still discovering his music and that is a very good thing.
Rest in peace you beautiful soul