Monday, March 12, 2012

Death By Misadventure- Andrew Wood

"You ever heard the story of Mr. Faded Glory? Say he who rides a pony must someday fall."

I've touched on this before, many Northwest rockers of the 1990's were poorly prepared for the pressures of stardom.  A few Seattle based vocalists, survived the rise and fall of grunge rock.  As most dull boys tend to do, they played it safe and lived to tell the tale. However, they all paled in comparison to Andrew Wood. The Love Child was born to be the stardog champion, he had the looks and charisma that all his contemporaries seemed to lack.  A natural showman, Andrew craved and thrived under the spotlight. 

Raised in Bainbridge Island,Wa.  Andrew formed Malfunkshun in 1980 (he was 14 years old) with his brother Kevin and drummer Regan Hagar. Malfunkshun is generally credited as being one of the first grunge bands, although Woods would describe them as  a glam rock band. Malfunkshun's music was more experimental and psychedelic than the heavy, stunted sound of grunge. Wood, was not a product of the grunge era, his style owed far more to Robert Plant, Freddie Mercury and the hard rock bands of the 1970's. 

As front man for Malfunkshun, Andrew took on the persona of  Landrew the Love Child.  described as "a hippie, glammed-out rock & roll god, equal parts Marc Bolan and Jim Morrison" Long before anyone coined the term "grunge" Andrew Wood was drawing attention.  Malfunkshun recorded a handful of demo tapes, but the major labels showed little interest.  In 1987 after fledgling indie label, Sub Pop turned them down as "not being grunge enough" the band's fate was sealed.

The next step for Andrew was Lords of the Wasteland, a cover band notable only because it brought Woods, Jeff Ament & Stone Gossard together for the first time. Both Ament and Gossard were former members of another seminal Seattle "grunge" band, Green River. With the addition of ex-Skin Yard drummer Greg Gilmore and Green River's Bruce Fairweather, The Lords evolved into Mother Love Bone. Andrew continued to perform with Malfunkshun throughout 1988, before they called it quits later that year.  

 Wood's exuberant, outlandish onstage personality was fueled by drug use. Like Brad Nowell, Andrew was lured to heroin because he felt it made him larger than life. The drugs transformed him into The Love Child, a figure that spoke in an effeminate voice and stared at the world in childlike wonderment.  By the time Mother Love Bone formed he was already deep into his addiction, which prompted a stint at a rehab center. The resulting moment of clarity catapulted MLB to the forefront of the Seattle rock scene.

1988 was a pivotal year for grunge rock, Nirvana released it's first single "Love Buzz" on Sup Pop and Mother Love Bone was signed to Mercury Records, a subsidiary of Polygram. As part of the deal, the band would receive their own exclusive label, Stardog Records.  Mother Love Bone's first release "Shine" (a 5 song ep, with a hidden track) came out in 1989. All Music would gush, "the record contributed to the buzz about the Seattle music scene" MLB's updated Led Zep riffs, sold well enough to warrant an album.

Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns starts with Andrew at the piano, his voice is soulful and mesmerizing. Even a casual listener can appreciate the depth of talent, the range, the vision. Andrew and Mother Love Bone were stoked at the positive reception the ep received. (two years before Nirvana's "Nevermind") "Shine" marked the dawn of a new era in rock music, it was so good that now you can't help but wonder, how the fuck did this get overlooked?

Heroin use was rampant in Seattle, especially amongst the uber hip grunge pioneers. Andrew had been a heavy user for four years, this despite numerous attempts to clean up. Soundgarden's Chris Cornell would later sum up the prevailing attitude "We worked together at a cafe. I never said, What the fuck is wrong with you?" Cornell continued "I'm sure there were enough people in his life saying that to him." It seems that Andrew's charisma and self confidence led to the misconception that he had it under control.

"for my mommy's memory, that's all she wrote boy...that's all she wrote for me"

In late 1989, Mother Love Bone journeyed to Sausalito, Ca. to record "Apple" their debut album, at The Plant with producer Terry Date. (they would finish the process at London Bridge studios in Seattle) Although the band had been together just over a year, the sessions produced an album that ranks as one of hard rock's best. Rolling Stone would describe it as "Succeeding where countless other hard rock albums have failed, capturing the essence of what made Led Zeppelin immortal."

Difficulties plagued Mother Love Bone during the recording process, some of which were related to Andrew's worsening addiction. The band however soldiered on and finished the album on schedule. You can draw several parallels between Andrew Wood and Bradley Nowell, even if their musical styles were world's apart.  Both were heroin addicts, Nowell died of an overdose in Petaluma, Ca. during his final tour and Wood started his slide towards tragedy while recording "Apple" in nearby Sausalito.

Just like Andrew Wood, Bradley Nowell would also die of an overdose with an iconic debut album set for release. On March 16th, 1990 as Stardog/Mercury was making the final preparations before the "Apple" release, Wood's girlfriend found him comatose in his apartment. Andrew had succumbed to a lethal dose of heroin. He was rushed to a hospital, where an examination showed no brain activity. His family then requested that he be taken off life support and Andrew passed away three days later.

After a short period of mourning and the anticipated hand wringing and hesitation by Polygram/Mercury executives, "Apple" was released on July 19, 1990 to rave reviews. How much of an impact would Andrew Wood have had on the national music scene? We'll never really know,  Andrew like Layne Staley had God given vocal talent, it's a shameful though inevitable waste. "Apple" withered on the charts, the release of Nirvana's "Nevermind" in 1991 would wipe the slate clean.

Following Wood's death, Chris Cornell (Andrew's room mate) teamed up with Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament to record a single in honor of Andrew. The project resulted in the "Temple of the Dog" album, recorded at London Bridge studios in Seattle and released on A & M records in 1991.  The musicians involved included Matt Cameron of Soundgarden, plus Eddie Vedder & Mike McCready (who were working with Gossard and Ament on the project that would eventually come to fruition as Pearl Jam.)

The single "Hunger Strike" was a duet between Cornell and Vedder, two more songs would emerge as  rock station staples, "Say Hello 2 Heaven" and "Reach Down" (both of which were written in tribute to Andrew Wood.) The album's success brought fitting closure for Andrew Wood's family, friends and fans.  A 2005 documentary " Malfunkshun: The Andrew Wood Story" was released on DVD in 2011 packaged with two cd's of music including never before released material from Malfunkshun. 

The documentary opens with David Wood, Andrew's father speaking at his memorial service, "You guys got to take care of yourselves, I can’t go through this again. You guys in the band, well, I bet you feel like you’re sold out, but Andy didn’t do this to you. He had everything in the world to live for and he lived for you. I hope you go on to be the biggest stars you can be. I want to see you guys on TV, but if you guys got to get another singer, don’t get a junkie.”  At the time of his death Andrew Wood was just 24 years old.

 "All I can say is that my life is pretty plain"

On the degenerate scale of outlandish drug use, Shannon Hoon ranks in the middle. Not that he didn't try, rather his time ran out before he could fully explore his capacity for depravity. There was something pathetic about Shannon, it might have been that Blind Melon was so obviously a flukey one-hit wonder.  Whatever it was, his death drew more derision or contempt than sympathy. His life hardly caused a ripple, his death barely raised a blip.

Hoon, the Indiana boy who grew up doing what Indiana boys do (he lettered in several high school sports) wanted to be a rock star. After graduation, he played with a few Lafayette, In. bands before striking out for Los Angeles.  Hoon had few attributes that made him stand out from the crowd, but he could sing.  It was his voice that led to an invitation from his future band mates, Brad Smith and Rogers Stevens  to join a band they were forming. 

Taking their name from a Cheech & Chong skit (Blind Melon Chitlin) they quickly landed a contract with Capitol Records.  Around the time Shannon Hoon joined Blind Melon, he befriended his sister's high school pal and fellow Hoosier, Axl Rose.  Guns N' Roses was in the studio recording the Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II albums. Axl invited Hoon to sing backing vocals on several tracks, most notably "Don't Cry" and "The Garden"

In 1992 Blind Melon released  its eponymous 1992 debut album, produced by Rick Parasha. The album stalled out for ten months before MTV picked up on the video for Blind Melon's single "No Rain." Soon, there was no escaping this pleasant little folk/rock ditty. Not on the radio and on MTV where it was in heavy rotation. The catalyst for all this attention was the presence of a pudgy girl wearing a bee costume, "The Bee Girl" won over the hearts and minds of millions, who also happened to like the song.

The album exploded on the charts and would eventually sell over 2 million copies. However, something didn't seem right, those that bought the album soon realized that "No Rain" was not representative of the album's overall sound. (a sure sign of a one hit wonder) To make matters worse, that goddamn Bee Girl seemed to be getting more attention than the band itself. In order to hit while the iron was still hot, Blind Melon hit the road and would keep right on touring for the next eighteen months.

Shannon Hoon had never been the most stable of lead singers, but now the pressures really started to build. Endless rounds of touring, appearances and the overwhelming need to follow up on their success pushed him to the breaking point. This culminated in his arrest for indecent exposure following a show in Vancouver, B.C. in 1993. According to police reports, Hoon raised the ire of the Canucks by performing his last three songs naked and then urinating into the audience.

While American sentiments towards Canada usually lean in the direction of "piss on them" it was inexcusable public behavior. Blind Melon's bus was blocked from leaving the venue as police moved in to arrest the lead singer. Hoon climbed out of a window and onto the roof of the bus, there he screamed incoherently at the police until his band mates talked him down. Shannon then spent the night in the drunk tank, followed by a couple of court dates and a fine.

Hoon's Canadian escapades came just a week after the entire band had posed naked on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. (a career highlight, no doubt) Hoon who would often perform wearing a woman's dress was starting to come undone (to quote a notable Canadian, Burton Cummings)  Blind Melon's appearance at Woodstock '94, kept them in the spotlight, after which they retreated to New Orleans to continue working on their long delayed second album. 

"And it rips my life away, but it's a great escape" 

Blind Melon was often tagged as a pleasant alternative band with an affinity for neo-folk rock.  A Hootie & The Blow Fish for the hard rock crowd, so to speak. The band however, (especially Shannon) was coming from a much darker place. As a result "Soup" would be a sharp departure from their debut. On the second album Blind Melon's jam band tendencies came to the forefront, while at the same time, the lyrical focus was muddled.  Despite a flurry of hype, the album sank rapidly after its release in 1995.

To compensate, Blind Melon resorted to what had worked for them with the first album,  non-stop touring.  Hoon made an effort to clean up, returning to his hometown of Lafayette, Ind. where his girlfriend gave birth to a baby girl, whom they named Nico Blue. Shannon relished fatherhood, to outsiders it would seem that he had turned his life around. After a stint at a rehab center, Shannon and the band returned to the road. They even had a drug counselor shadowing Hoon to keep him off  drugs.

Shannon wasn't done with drugs, and after just a handful of concert dates, his counselor was fired for failing to keep him clean. Shannon's drug abuse had run rampant during the band's previous stay in New Orleans (while recording "Soup") Now in the fall of 1995 they rolled into the Big Easy once more for a show at Tipitina's. Hoon loved the city, but as he told The New Orleans Times-Picayune,  "(It's) a city where one's will power is tested daily"  It was a test that Shannon was not equipped to pass.

Shannon Hoon spent his last day alive wallowing in Crescent City debauchery. Then after a daylong drug binge, he retired to his tour bus (parked in Tipitina's parking lot) The following morning (Oct. 21st. 1995) a sound man boarded the bus to wake Hoon up. Instead he found him dead from a cocaine overdose. An ambulance was called, but he had been dead for several hours. A close friend would later say "He wasn't at wit's end, I know this guy didn't want to die."

The band had spent the last three years trying to distance themselves from "The Bee Girl" and now with Shannon's death, that's all they were remembered for. A single ("Toes Across the Floor") was premiered on MTV, but its reception was so tepid that it was quickly pulled from rotation. Shannon Hoon's death didn't result in tributes and accolades from the rock community. Even in death, he  had little value as a long term commodity. Blind Melon made a halfhearted effort to continue and then disbanded. 

 "Live fast die hard and leave an unwashed, bloated corpse that stinks like shit"

Those that live in gloom are doomed, but nobody deserves to die alone. If I've learned anything from this ongoing series of the trials and tribulations of dead rock stars,  it's that they all had one thing in common: they died alone.  There was however, one  notable exception, GG Allin. Many have called him "the most spectacular degenerate in rock & roll history." which would be a fair and accurate assessment.

Throughout his musical career Allin had promised to commit suicide onstage. Whether one believes that  he actually carried out this threat or not,  depends on how you choose to define  "onstage." GG Allin considered the entire world his stage.  His last live performance  was at a punk venue in Manhattan (The Gas Station) When the show  was interrupted by a power outage, Allin simply continued out into the neighborhood streets.

A bloodthirsty crowd trailed along, goading him on like some blood soaked ECW wrestler. Allin's final sojourn started out with him naked and smeared with his own feces. After roaming the streets for several hours, the  mob arrived at an apartment (where a wild party was raging)  Allin had somehow donned a pair of crusty shorts. (rather than his customary stage apparel, a piss stained jock strap)

At the Manhattan apartment, Allin consumed massive amounts of drugs and alcohol. GG eventually found himself sitting on a living room couch, where much to the amusement of party goers, he ingested  large amounts of heroin.  It didn't take long for Allin to slip into an unconscious state. Several of his fans stopped and snapped pictures of him, not realizing that he was already near death.

The next morning, his motionless body (still sitting upright) finally caught the attention of someone sober enough to distinguish between the living and dead.  GG Allin exited this world in the middle of a party crowd, but he might as well have been on the moon."I've hit the bottom of the glass, there's just one way to go, the world I've chosen for my own is one you'll never know, when I die, when I die, down to Hell is my final destination"