I came back from the gym one afternoon to find my “cellphone” bouncing on my desk like a jumping bean. 23 messages. I was only gone two hours. It was 2002, who reaches out that much in 2002? Perplexed, I picked up the phone, skimmed through the lines of “I’m so sorry,” “Call me,” and “Jeff, we need to talk when you have a minute.” My grandfather, who I was incredibly close to had passed. He fought Alzheimer’s like Rocky Balboa going toe-to-toe with Apollo Creed. Finally, he was OK with the effort he put forth and called it a fight. I’ve written about my grandfather’s connection to my musical experiences in the past. He wasn’t a big music fan. He was just full of spirit. A man of golden words.
I felt numb. How the hell was I supposed to drive home four hours by myself? That was going to be an insurmountable task. What music would possibly pair with this? Nothing can make it not true. We knew for quite some time that this day would eventually come. Still, it doesn’t make it easier. I’m a true proponent for, when you feel down, it’s OK, feel down. Deal with it. The way out is through not around. Loss is a different kind of down. It’s something we all deal with. Maybe a little harder to get through, and impossible to go around.
I decided I would put on a mix. Something mindless that would simply accompany me. Route 128, MassPike, 84, 684, Tappan Zee Bridge, 287 and 17 all lay ahead. Staring me in the eye like – we’re here, you’re taking this on whether you like it or not, and we’re not going to take it easy on you. I’m 21 years old. As man as I can be. Here we go.
I had a pile of mix CD’s in college. Some that I compiled the legal way (I swear) and some that I made via Napster and all that other garbage. I waited until I got on the highway and cleared the junky side-streets. Something about a highway companion (Hi, Tom Petty!) felt right as opposed to hitting play right away.
So, eight minutes of silence first. I then grabbed a mix CD, put it in the slot and let it go. None of them ever had labels and they all looked the same. I usually put my volume at unhealthy levels. This time, middle of the road. Loud enough to qualify as loud and quiet enough to hear myself think – just enough where if I didn’t want to think anymore, the song was there to get lost in.
Well, here’s what I heard…
The unmistakable, beautifully vulnerable, first notes of “Say Hello to Heaven” by Temple of the Dog.
It was a different loss experience for me than what inspired this song, but still relatable and fitting at the time.
“Please, mother mercy
Take me from this place
And the long winded curses
I keep hearing in my head
Words never listen
And teachers never learn
Now I’m warm from the candle
But I feel too cold to burn
He came from an island
And he died from the street
It hurt so bad like a soul breaking
But he never said nothing to me
So say hello to heaven”
March 19, 1990: Tragedy struck the seemingly unbreakable Seattle scene when Mother Love Bone lead singer, Andy Wood passed away from a drug overdose. Wood had been roommates with Chris Cornell and bandmates with Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard. Cornell was on tour with Soundgarden at the time he received the call and immediately returned to Seattle to be by Wood’s side. Shortly after Wood’s passing, Cornell had to return to Europe to finish his tour. Unsure how to deal with the death of such a close friend and a mega-force in the Seattle music scene, Cornell did what he does best – write two songs. They would turn out to be “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and “Reach Down.”
In Jonathan Cohen and Mark Wilkerson’s book PJ20, Cornell explains his initial thoughts on his writing outlet, “I felt like, ‘Well, why am I writing these songs, and what am I going to do with them when they don’t sound like Soundgarden songs to me at all? I just had this notion that it would be great as a tribute to Andy, just to try to get people to think about him. Maybe I could record these two songs with the members of Mother Love Bone, and we could release them as a single.”
Cornell has often described the Seattle scene as being very supportive. Bands would encourage and inspire each other as opposed to trying to take each other down. That camaraderie made it appealing to him to attempt working with soon-to-be Pearl Jam. Cornell recorded the two songs, made a cassette tape and dropped it off at Kelly Curtis’s office. He then just let it be. Weeks later Cornell received a call from Ament who was very complimentary and encouraging about the songs and project.
For Ament it was also a chance to create music with Cornell, “I loved Soundgarden, but I saw an opportunity for us to be Chris’s band and get as weird as we could. The way Chris wrote the songs made it seem like he wanted it to be a bit more of an art project.”(PJ 20 book)
Trusting Ament and Gossard, Cornell agreed to having their new guitar player, Mike McCready, join the project. Soundgarden’s drummer, Matt Cameron would round out the team and they were on their way to making this artistic tribute. In addition to Cornell’s songs (“Say Hello 2 Heaven,” “Reach Down,” “Call Me a Dog,” “All Night Thing,” “Wooden Jesus” and “Your Savior”) Gossard would bring in three arrangements (“Pushin’ Forward Back,” “Times of Trouble” and “Four Walled World”) that Cornell would ultimately piece together.
All of the songs would take on a unique and special meaning in connection with Andy Wood and the groups attempt to honor his spirit. The title, Temple of the Dog, came from a line in the Mother Love Bone Song, “Man of Golden Words.”
“Wanna show you something like the joy inside my heart
Seems I’ve been living in the temple of the dog
Where would I live, if I were a man of golden words?
Or would I live at all?
Words and music, my only tools
Communication” (Andy Wood, “Man of Golden Words,” Mother Love Bone)
With “Reach Down,” Cornell envisioned a dialog between he and Wood where he says, “Wood is telling me everything’s OK. I kind of envisioned him making it to where his dream was, which was to be on a stage playing in front of an audience the size of the US Festival. He’s reaching down to his enormous throngs of adoring fans and pulling them up to him, and now the circle is closed, and he has achieved his dream.” Ament gives “Reach Down” an entirely different meaning, yet with a similar sentiment, “In a sense, Chris was the guy reaching down and picking me and Stone up and saying, ‘Come on, guys.’” (PJ20 Book)
It’s McCready however, who truly shines on “Reach Down” as the band encouraged him to literally go crazy on the solo. McCready started a bit tentative, ultimately getting a push from the rest of the band to really let loose. In Cameron Crowe’s PJ20 film, Cornell recalls hearing what would be McCready’s – OK you asked for it. “He’s out of of his mind. He’s got problems that are going to come out again somewhere, so good luck, guys.”
There was just one thing missing. Cornell was not fond of a nine track record. Adding one more song and making it an even ten seemed much more digestible. He ended up writing a simple one verse song with a repeating chorus which would turn out to be the epic, “Hunger Strike.”
Eddie Vedder had just gotten to town during one of the last Temple of the Dog rehearsals. Vedder and Cornell had not met each other besides a quick hello. As the band rehearsed “Hunger Strike,” Cornell struggled with hitting both the high and low “I’m going hungry” chorus line. Courageously, Vedder steps up to the one mic and lands a vocal hand. The rest is history as “Hunger Strike” would become somewhat of an anthem and the poster Temple of the Dog track.
Is it me, or was that song way ahead of its time? It seems more relevant and applicable today than ever.
“For him to write songs and then have the idea of sharing those songs with Jeff and I, was just another generous gesture that said – ‘I’m not only going to help you guys with this record, but I’m going to even ask your new singer, who’s kind of a shy, quiet guy. I haven’t really heard his voice yet, I kind of saw you guys live, maybe he can sing I’m not sure.’ And then you hear it and you go, ‘Wow – our guy sings really fucking good too.’” – Stone Gossard (PJ20 film)
“He really embraced Eddie when he moved up here. Sometimes I wonder if that was a void he felt from Andy’s passing, having another equally talented singer that he can bounce ideas off of and basically relate to. I know Eddie felt a really mentorship and I think that gave him a lot of confidence.” – Matt Cameron (PJ 20 film)
“It was the first time I ever heard myself on a real record so it could be one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever been on. Or the most meaningful.” – Eddie Vedder (PJ20 film)
The album was recorded in just 15 days with producer Rick Parashar. The final product, Temple of the Dog, was released on April 16, 1991 through A&M Records. As Pearl Jam and Soundgarden respectively catapulted, A&M decided to rerelease the record with “Hunger Strike” as a single and an accompanying music video that was filmed in Seattle’s Discovery Park.
The Temple of the Dog record was among the 100 top selling albums of 1992. It has sold over 1,000,000 copies in the United States according to Nielsen SoundScan, and has been certified platinum by the RIAA
There’s been a lasting impact of the Temple of a Dog record that perhaps nobody predicted. “We wrote these songs with no intention of them being successful and now they are. Is that a bad thing? Should we not allow that? Does that mean there’s something wrong with me? Does that mean there’s something broken in our ability to be creative without that?” Cornell told Live Nation TV. There’s been a longevity to that record with multiple angles. There’s the unique collaboration between Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, the potency of the songs themselves and of course, the emotional tribute to Andy Wood.
“And when it’s my time to call your bluff
I’ll call you beautiful, I’ll leave it alone” (Chris Cornell, “Call Me a Dog,” Temple of the Dog)
There was one proper Temple of the Dog show on November 13, 1990 at the Off Ramp in Seattle. There have been numerous one-off performances since:
o 1991 – October 3, and October 6 (RIP anniversary party)
o 1992 – Lollapalooza
o 2003 – Santa Barbara Bowl (PJ with Cornell)
o 2009 – Los Angeles, Gibson Amphitheater (PJ with Cornell) – “One person’s presence can really turn something into a special night occasion and I think that’s the case, this is what we have here tonight. Please welcome to the stage Mr. Chris Cornell.” (Eddie Vedder)
o 2011 – PJ20
o 2014 – Bridge School (PJ with Cornell)
o 2015 – Mad Season with Seattle Symphony
There have also been numerous special guest appearance renditions with someone stepping in for Cornell or Vedder:
o Pearl Jam with Corin Tucker – Sleater-Kinney
o Pearl Jam with Ben Bridwell – Band of Horses
o Chris Cornell solo
o Chris Cornell with Audioslave
o Chris Cornell with Chester Bennington
25 years later, it’s a record that will forever resonate. “It was a fun record that nobody had expectations for, so nobody worried about it. That made it feel very fresh from beginning to end,” said Cornell (PJ 20 film). As a fan, when you’re going to a Pearl Jam, Soundgarden or Chris Cornell show and you know someone from the other band happens to be in that city at the same time, you can’t help but think (hope) – I wonder if there will be Temple of the Dog performance? It doesn’t matter who it is, when you hear those opening “Hunger Strike” notes or Cornell strike the A minor into “You call me a dog” you go crazy. You’ve struck gold and are witnessing something legendary. You’re all reaching down, picking each other up. You can’t help but think and feel, Andy Wood must be smiling down. …now I’ve got room to spread my wings and my messages of love…(Chris Cornell, “Reach Down,” Temple of the Dog).
Hunger Strike Video:
Temple of the Dog “Call Me a Dog” November 13, 1990, Seattle, WA – Off Ramp
Chris Cornell solo “All Night Thing,” April 20, 2011, Toronto
Eddie Vedder & Chris Cornell “Hunger Strike” duet – Lallapalooza side-stage, September 8, 1992. Phoenix, AZ
Temple of the Dog “Say Hello to Heaven,” PJ20, September 3, 2011. Alpine Valley, WI
“I never wanted
To write these words down for you
With the pages of phrases
Of things we´ll never do
So I blow out the candle, and
I put you to bed
Since you can’t say to me
Now how the dogs broke your bone
There´s just one thing left to be said
Say hello to heaven”
(Chris Cornell, “Say Hello to Heaven,” Temple of the Dog)
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