The Love Child: Celebrating Andrew Wood on His 50th Birthday

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“Hey Mr. Lovedog
You will always be
The one back home that could’ve had it all
Hey Mr. Lovedog
You never really knew me
God bless your velvet gifted soul
Makes no sense at all
Now you’re the Holy Roller
With the hub cap diamond star halo
This is goodbye to Captain Hi-top
Hope your Pearl jam
Can keep it strong”

– Mr. Love Dog by Faster Pussycat

Today marks the fiftieth birthday of Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone singer and lyricist, Andrew Patrick Wood. Known by so many names, L’Andrew, The Love Child, the “Man of Golden Words,” the mythology that envelopes his character is larger than life. Born in Columbus, Mississippi on January 8th, 1966, he would find his voice and legacy in the budding music scene in Seattle and the surrounding areas from the early ’80’s until March 19th, 1990. Wood died from complications regarding a hemorrhage aneurysm, after falling into a coma from a heroin overdose on March 16th, 1990. Wood was let off of life support three days later. At the time, Mother Love Bone, his current project that was attracting all kinds of label attention, was to drop their first album, Apple, on Mercury Records. Due to Wood’s passing, the remaining bandmates opted to postpone the album release until four months after his death, on July 19th, 1990. Tragically, it gained extremely positive feedback from major press outlets.

It’s a strange thing that happens with music sometimes. It was only through the death of founding member and guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hillel Slovak, that the band made their connection with guitarist and songwriter John Frusciante that changed the faces of multiple genres with albums like Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Californication. One in 1988 at the news of Slovak’s death might think the Chili Peppers are just over for sure – because their music was intertwined with the friendship and camaraderie between the band members. But the destiny of art seems to propel vision beyond death – in the wake up of Andrew Wood’s death, both Temple of the Dog and Pearl Jam were founded. Those two groups, but especially the latter, continued to have a masterful impact on music in a way not unlike Andrew Wood’s artistry, especially with the inclusion of his friends Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron, and his bandmates Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament.

Wood’s music was very radically different in terms of instrumentation than some of the other bands in the “Seattle scene” at the time. Compare a song like “This is Shangrila” to Nirvana’s “Negative Creep” or Soundgarden’s “Flower.” But the common line is the burst of integrity these bands possessed. These “grunge” bands started purely out of a love for music they admired and rarely much less, because there was not very much opportunity for Northwest artists at the time to see any real fame or success with music, outside of cover bands who played twangy rock at bars. Jimi Hendrix before grunge was the only exception to the rule, only because he moved to the other side of the world, England, to finally achieve his fortune and legacy as, well, Jimi Hendrix.

Wood entered the music scene officially Easter Sunday 1980, when him and his brother Kevin started their first band, Malfunkshun, with Dave Rees and Dave Hunt. Eventually Regan Hagar, a drummer from a band named Maggot Brains, was eventually recruited as the other members cycled out and Malfunkshun became the legendary backyard power trio of the desolate quasi-suburbs of Bainbridge Island, Washington. Drawing influence primarily from glam rock and KISS, they stood out from many of their contemporaries who drew from punk or Black Sabbath. They managed to find a spot on the C/Z Records compilation, Deep Six, featuring bands like the Melvins, the U-Men and Soundgarden, the other original members of the Seattle music scene of the 1980’s. Sub Pop, who was more focused on more “indie and edgy” music, never approached the band on the grounds of their influences.

Malfunkshun regularly played shows from 1980 through about 1987, though Andrew Wood’s rehab visit in 1985 led to a hiatus for Malfunkshun. While never really breaking up, Wood and Hagar starting jamming with the guitarist and bassist from Green River, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament. Though Wood conceded that their respective bands represented a different kind of ethos, Malfunkshun being a “T-Rex” band and Green River being a “Stooges” band, the “melting pot,” as Wood put it, ended up working very well. Disinterest and subsequent inactivity with their former bands, with new projects in the Seattle scene emerging, both led to the permanent freezing of Green River and Malfunkshun. Mother Love Bone was formed from out of the impromptu cover band Lords of the Wasteland consisting of Wood, Hagar, Gossard and Ament. Somewhere between 1987 and 1988, Hagar was replaced by Greg Gilmore, the drummer from Skin Yard, which featured famed Seattle producer Jack Endino on guitar. Green River’s other guitarist, Bruce Fairweather, was also added as an additional guitarist.

Generally speaking, Mother Love Bone became Seattle’s first supergroup. Malfunkshun, Green River and Skin Yard were all very locally established acts with dedicated fanbases. When they hit the scene, whether people were elated, sad at the break ups of former bands, angry or confused – they were garnering some form of attention. Within a year, the band was signed to the Stardog subsidiary of Mercury Records (owned by PolyGram) and put out their first effort, the Shine EP. Record sales shot up and the band went on tour around the United States, covering territory like Texas, California and the furthest reaches of Massachusetts, opening for English rock band Dogs D’Amour at certain dates. In 1989 they also released their first single, a cover of Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up,” separate from the 2014 Record Store Day re-release.

At the time, Andrew Wood was dating Xana La Fuente, the muse of such songs like “Stargazer”, off of their debut and final album Apple. No one was truly able to stop Wood from doing what he would do, but Xana tried to steer his creative efforts away from inspirations like drugs and discouraged their use. But Wood, La Fuente and their immediate friends like Demri Parrott, the on and off girlfriend of Layne Staley, all explored and dabbled with hard drugs like heroin at one point or another. Their arguments became slump but the help was always there. Wood allegedly went through rehab again during Mother Love Bone’s inception and was clean off of heroin for some time.

“She’d have to tie me to the ceiling
A bad moon’s a comin’ better say your prayers child
I wanna tell that I love you but does it really matter you?
I just can’t stand to see you dragging down again
Again my baby I’m here, oh yeah, so I’m singing”

– “Crown of Thorns” by Mother Love Bone

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Andy Wood, a My Little Pony figurine and Xana La Fuente circa 1987/1988

One persistent theme of Wood’s life was stardom. He always, always wanted to be a big star. He built his stage personality from his first days in Malfunkshun and continued to build it as he fronted Mother Love Bone through the end of the eighties. To him, it was everything. When digging deep into archives and interviews regarding his character, that seems to be the one universal characteristic of Wood by everyone who knew him. Call it silly, a pipe dream, whatever – but he took whatever he got with it and ran as fast as he could. We was the culmination of all his idols – KISS, Marc Bolan of T-Rex and the hardest of ’70s rock. Hell, he even maintained a “KISS shrine” in his youth. He was about to pave a new road for hard rock, for his beloved term “love rock,” but it wasn’t meant to be.

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Wood spent three days in the hospital and was doing well progressively in the first 24 hours, but his condition got worse with time. Evidently, 10 hours of nurse notes are missing. When the notes resume, he was braindead. Indeed, they are certain speculations on how certain medicines affected his body. Chris Cornell flew in from New York to wish Andy goodbye, with family and Xana at the hospital bed. His funeral was held at the legendary Paramount Theatre in Seattle, of which family, friends and fans sat in. Cornell recalls a story after the funeral:

“Sitting in Kelly Curtis’ living room with about 30 people, all sobbing. We had just come from Andy Wood’s extra weird funeral-wake thing at the Paramount Theatre. It had these new age overtones that didn’t fit Andy’s life at all. There was an amazing film of Andy with Mother Love Bone band mates. All of Andy’s friends and family were there, mixed with a bunch of fans who I didn’t like but knew Andy would have loved. The fans went home. His friends went to Kelly’s.

We were crammed in a smallish living room with people sitting on every available surface. Couch arms, end tables, the floor. I was leaning on the back of one of the couches that face away from the rest of the room and toward the front door. I remember Andy’s girlfriend looking at everyone and saying “This is just like La Bamba” then suddenly I heard slapping footsteps growing louder and louder as they reached the front door and Layne flew in, completely breaking down and crying so deeply that he looked truly frightened and lost. Very child like. He looked up at everyone at once and I had this sudden urge to run over and grab him and give him a big hug and tell him everything was going to be OK. Kelly has always had a way of making everyone feel like everything will turn out great. That the world isn’t ending. That’s why we were at his place. I wanted to be that person for  Layne, maybe just because he needed it so bad. I wasn’t. I didn’t get up in front of the room and offer that and I still regret it. No one else did either. I don’t know why.”

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While on tour in Europe with his band Soundgarden, Cornell, depressed over Wood’s death, wrote the songs that would become “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and “Reach Down.” Not Soundgarden-esque material, he presented it to Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament and they expressed interest in recording the songs as a tribute to Andy. Initially planned as a single and b-side, the jam sessions brought forth a full album worth of material. Mike McCready, a childhood friend of Gossard was brought into the sessions and Eddie Vedder, who had just moved from San Diego, California, sat in on the sessions and eventually found his way as backing vocals. Matt Cameron sat in for drums and Temple of the Dog was born, the namesake from a lyric of Mother Love Bone’s song “Man of Golden Words.” From the sessions, Pearl Jam began their career with each other as they auditioned Vedder around the time of Temple of the Dog’s recording. Alice in Chain’s famous single “Would?”, was also given to his legacy, as the band was friends with Wood and played several shows with Mother Love Bone. Alice in Chain’s debut album Facelift was also dedicated to Andrew Wood and Jerry’s Cantrell’s mother. Ironically, both Vedder and Wood are Capricorns. Wood’s Moon is in Leo and Vedder’s is in Virgo, in exact astrological succession. Neat huh?

Candlebox’s “Far Behind” was also penned in Wood’s memory

Wood’s music and artistry is forever connected to so many memories for me. I’m incredibly grateful for the time he spent here down from Olympus. My friend actually was almost named Chloe by her father, after “Chloe Dancer.” Love rock will always have a special place in my life. Somewhere from Mount Olympus, Andy Wood is looking down and the legacy and music he spawned from beyond the grave. He wrote, “Dreams like this must die,” but they would not.

PS: Slipknot’s Corey Taylor recently covered “Chloe Dancer” in concert recently and made a medley of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette.” Completely unexpected…but lovely.

 

 

  • Raj

    Happy 50th birthday Andy, would have been cool to see what MLB could have been.

  • Pingback: Happy 50th Birthday Andrew Wood! | Grunge Graveyard()

  • Chris Cornell’s Mustache

    happy birthday andy! still love mlb.

  • nomad

    What might have been.

  • Gordon Ottershaw

    So missed , one in a million .