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a significant death.

October 26, 2013

Seattle.. 1990.

A man named Andrew Wood, singer for a band called Mother Love Bone, died of an aneurysm caused by a heroin overdose.

Unless you are from Seattle, or have watched the great romantic comedy “Singles” (released in 1992), which was set in Seattle, and/or have heard the soundtrack from that film, you have probably never heard of Mother Love Bone. Had Andrew Wood lived, and were he still alive today, you probably still would not have heard of the band he fronted.

Mother Love Bone was popular in Seattle, and, at the time of Wood’s death, was getting ready to release their first studio album, called “Apple.” The album was released some months after Wood’s death.

I have heard the album. I once owned a copy. There are a few semi-decent songs on it, one really good one, and the rest I did not care for. In my opinion, the best song MLB ever made was not on “Apple,” or, I should say, not entirely on that album. Their best track is sort of a song and a half. “Crown of Thorns,” the only excellent track on “Apple,” was released on a Mother Love Bone EP, and later on the “Singles” soundtrack, with another, shorter song used as an intro.

The song is called “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns.” It is very bittersweet, and it is wonderful. I think it is the best song on the “Singles” soundtrack.. which is a rather good soundtrack overall.

Yes, MLB had some potential to write excellent music, but, my guess is, they never would have gotten far. This is just a guess. I am basing this guess on a couple things: competition and talent (and the lack thereof).

In the early ’90’s, there was serious competition in Seattle. Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Nirvana all became world famous. I don’t think MLB would have attracted much attention. There isn’t room at the top for everybody, and the bands I just mentioned were more deserving of their success than Mother Love Bone would have been had they reached the same heights as the others.

Talent? I’d say that Andrew Wood’s voice was.. just ok. Sometimes better than ok, depending on the tune. On a few songs, his voice carried just the right emotion, and on other songs, Wood sounded annoying.

His stage presence.. I’ve seen some old footage. Wood was going for a playful, somewhat glam image, but not a very flashy one. He looked like a low-rent, foppish singer who loved to clown around. Sort of a knock-off of other late ’80’s singers, wearing ripped t-shirts and jeans instead of spandex and lacy shirts, and sporting Janis Joplin sunglasses, silly hats, and various feminine accoutrements.

Fans of MLB have said that Wood was really great on stage, in the clubs and bars where MLB performed.. and maybe he was. However, based on Wood’s not exactly stellar talent and the mediocrity of most of the songs on “Apple,” I really don’t think MLB would have achieved much success or become famous.

Why then, do I consider Wood’s death to be significant?

Read on.

After Wood’s death, two of the members of Mother Love Bone, guitarist Stone Gossard, and bassist Jeff Ament, decided they did not want to give up on music. They wanted to find some more musicians, and especially a talented singer. Eventually, a friend of theirs put them in touch with a man from San Diego, named Eddie Vedder.

Vedder might have forever remained in obscurity if Andrew Wood had not died. But, because Wood died, Gossard and Ament formed another band, and hired Vedder as their singer.

They first called their band Mookie Blaylock, the name of an NBA player.  Jeff Ament, originally from Montana, explained how the band began calling themselves Mookie Blaylock in an 2008 interview found in a newspaper called The Missoulian (Missoula is a city in Montana):

“When we were recording our first record, we had a per diem of about $10. So when we got lunch at the store across the street, we’d always buy a pack of basketball cards. When we turned in our tape, we didn’t have a name for the band yet so we put a Mookie Blaylock card in the case. We were about to go on a tour and still didn’t have a name and needed one quickly. We were told it didn’t need to be the name that we were going to use forever, just something for the tour. Someone saw the Mookie Blaylock card and said, ‘How about Mookie Blaylock?’ We decided to go with it and did a 10-show tour with Alice in Chains as Mookie Blaylock. Mookie was cool about it, too—he didn’t sue us. I actually got to meet him later on and shoot around a little bit. We also made a Pearl Jam T-shirt with a picture of him on it. I guess we owe Mookie a lot.”

The band eventually felt odd about using Blaylock’s name and changed the name of the band to..

Pearl Jam.

I expect you’ve heard of Pearl Jam, even if you live in Outer Mongolia.

Why the name Pearl Jam? Eddie Vedder, for awhile, floated a story that he had a great-grandmother named Pearl who made jam laced with peyote, but later admitted he’d made this up.

Another explanation for the band name.. Jeff Ament liked the word “pearl,” and the word “jam” came about because the band really liked classic rocker Neil Young, who would jam for a really long time during his concerts.

Pearl Jam went on to achieve astonishing success, and is generally considered to be one of the greatest American rock and roll bands of the past 20 or more years. If you appreciate Pearl Jam’s music at all, I highly encourage you to watch the documentary “PJ20.” The title refers to the first 20 years of Pearl Jam’s history.. 1990 to 2010.  It was made by Cameron Crowe, who also made the movie “Singles” I mentioned earlier, many other great films, and who wrote and still writes for Rolling Stone magazine.

Temple of the Dog.

Besides the formation and success of Pearl Jam, one other positive thing came about as a result of Wood’s death: the formation of a band called Temple of the Dog. The name was chosen because of a line from an MLB song called “Stardog Champion.”. The band was put together by Chris Cornell, the frontman of Soundgarden, who had been Andrew Wood’s roommate.

Members of Soundgarden and Mother Love Bone were friends. Cornell and the drummer from Soundgarden, Matt Cameron (who plays drums for Pearl Jam, and has for years when he hasn’t been drumming for Soundgarden), teamed up with Ament, Gossard, and PJ’s other guitarist, Mike McCready to form Temple of the Dog.

Vedder, still new in town, was invited to do a duet with Cornell on one of the songs, called “Hunger Strike,” which became the only radio and MTV hit of the album.  Even though “Hunger Strike” was the only single,, the album eventually sold over a million copies. This is in large part because within a year after the album was released, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden became very successful. Fans of both bands, including myself, purchased the Temple of the Dog album. I still remember the excitement I felt the first time I saw the video for “Hunger Strike” on MTV.

I have listened to “Temple of the Dog” many many times. I even tried to learn one of the songs on guitar. Almost every song on the album is excellent. This collaboration and album would not have happened if Andrew Wood were still alive today.

Andrew Wood’s death was significant because his vacancy provided the chance for Ament and Gossard to form another band, team up with Vedder and other band members, and form Pearl Jam.

Also, because of Wood’s death, we are blessed with the Temple of the Dog album.

A strange twist of fate.

It seems that sometimes the best thing a person can do is.. die.. therefore allowing new life.. and new music..to be born.

Andrew Wood’s passing.. a significant death.

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