Bone Idol Magazine Article
Years after his death, Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood is finally achieving some of the stardom he craved in life. But who was this charismatic pivotal figure that was an influence on grunge and some of the best bands to come out of Seattle?
January 8th is a significant day on the musical calendar. It's the birth date of three of rock and roll&roll's most flamboyant showmen. It's the day that brought us Elvis Presley, David Bowie and Andrew Wood. If you haven't heard of the last name, you're not alone.
Wood was the extroverted singer of Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone, two pioneering groups in the hugely influential Seattle music scene of the late 80s and early 90s, but his death of a heroin overdose in 1990 at the age of 24 brought an abrupt end to his dreams of joining The King and the Thin White Duke at the top of rock's hierarchy.
In the sixteen years since Wood's death, his pivotal role in a movement that spawned the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, has elevated him into something of a mythical figure. Now, thanks to an illuminating new documentary, 'Malfunkshun; The Andrew Wood Story', a whole new generation of fans will be able to discover the man behind the myth. Musical history is sprinkled with artists such as Robert Johnson and Nick Drake whose talents are only fully appreciated long after their premature deaths. For the colourful and tragic Wood, his time is surely nigh.
With a passion for the theatricality of performers like Freddie Mercury, Elton John and Paul Stanley, Wood brought a sparkle and humour to a monochromatic, po-faced musical landscape. Donning feather boas, a pink bowler and make-up, he was a charismatic frontman whose effervescent personality belied a dark side engulfed by drugs and alcohol. Evidence of his struggles dominate his lyrics. 'My future was in my hands, till I washed it all away,' he wrote in 'Come Bite The Apple'.
That future looked bright when he recorded the song for Mother Love Bone's debut album 'Apple' in September 1989. The group, with Wood on vocals, Jeff Ament on bass, Stone Gossard and Bruce Fairweather on guitar and Greg Gilmore on drums, had signed a lucrative deal with Polygram and appeared perched on the edge of success. But on March 19 , just weeks before the release of 'Apple', Wood died. The fame he'd sought all his life had cruelly eluded him, but it was just around the corner for Ament and Gossard who went on to form Pearl Jam immediately following the demise of Mother Love Bone.
For Gossard, it was obvious that without Wood there was no Mother Love Bone. "Mother Love Bone was based on him. Nobody had a singer that was funny. Not in Seattle at that time. It was all very serious and kind of heavy and dark and punk. So, if you're in a band with someone like Andy, you got to lead with that card."
Gossard was well placed to comment. Prior to Mother Love Bone he had played with Ament and Fairweather in Green River, who appeared on the 1986 EP 'Deep Six' alongside other emerging local groups such as Malfunkshun, The Melvins and Soundgarden. "You hear some of this stuff we did, it just features his rock and roll take on life," Gossard adds.
Andrew Patrick Wood's rock and roll take on life developed at a very early age. The youngest of three boys, he was born in Columbus, Mississippi in 1966 before the family moved to the rural community of Bainbridge Island in Washington, a short ferry ride from Seattle.
"I can still see him in my mind as a small two or three year-old child singing and dancing," recalls his brother Kevin who later teamed up with Andy to form Malfunkshun. For Kevin, it was clear from the outset his young sibling was a natural performer. "Oh, yes, it was like he was born to it." While his obsession with Elton John and the more glamorous exponents of rock was still a few years away, his first musical infatuation was with someone slightly less exotic. "I know he fell in love with Glenn Campbell," remembers Kevin. "That was his first big influence as far as wanting to be like somebody."
According to Kevin, who still performs Malfunkshun songs today in his group HippieGlitz and previously played in Devilhead with his other brother Brian, all the Wood boys inherited their passion for music from their parents. "My mom bought us music whenever we wanted. She was totally supportive and eager to have us enjoy music. She enjoyed the same music as we did."
While Kevin developed his own distinctive ultra fast riffing skills on guitar, Andy focused on piano before the pair first collaborated in 1980. "He was doing his own bedroom tapes and then I joined in," says Kevin. "We were totally turned on to the punk scene. We wanted to be rockers. We were influenced by the experimental, like Devo, the Plasmatics, shock rock, theatrical, that kind of thing because we both loved Kiss."
Adapting their name from the words 'report malfunction' Kevin saw written on a piece of tape at the restaurant he was working, the three-piece, with Andy switching to bass and his schoolfriend Regan Hagar on drums, adopted alter egos and set out to conquer the world. "Well, we all had our own personalities. Andy was more of the Love God, a more of an effeminate look and more of a Paul Stanley type of thing. I went for the little bit more sinister look and Regan was kind of a wild man."
For Kevin, who called himself Kevinstein and Regan who went by Thundarr, the nicknames were more of a joke, but for Andy, who christened himself Landrew The Love Child, it was if he'd developed a whole new persona. The name had come from Star Trek, which was a nightly feature of the Wood evenings. "There was an episode where these people had to obey the will of Landrew. That's where that came from."
But even before Malfunkshun boldly tried to go where no band had gone before, Andy was already fronting a hugely successful group . . . in his head. "He had an imaginary group, the Andy Wood Band", explains Kevin. "They charted and had multiple platinum releases," he laughs. Andy didn't confine his fantasies to music. "He had an imaginary football team. It was something he would develop stats on. He even had an imaginary friend when he was child called Gaymoof or something like that."
One thing Andy Wood wasn't short of was friends. His gregarious, fun-loving personality drew people like a magnet. Always dressing exotically, he was perpetually "on" and didn't require a stage to perform. "If you got around him he would just sort of hold court with comedy and one liners," says Gossard . "He was really a cut-up. He's pretty short and a little paunchy and you wouldn't think of him as your classic singer rock star guy. That's what made it so everybody loved him so much because he didn't have any pretension. He wasn't trying to be anything that he wasn't. He was making things up and you could see that he was being spontaneous and creative and everybody just wanted to get close to that."
It's clear that Wood left a deep and resounding impression on all those who knew him and saw him perform. Soundgarden's Kim Thayil, speaking in the documentary, remarks, "The guy was really cherubic. His cheeks were rosy. He always had this smile. He was the type of guy, if you squeezed his head, no shit would come out if it. He was like an angel."
Thayil's bandmate Chris Cornell became one of Wood's closest friends, even providing him with a place to stay after one of Wood's stints in rehab. During the documentary Cornell recalls the experience of encountering Andy. "Meeting him was kind of startling really because he was kind of effeminate, the whole make-up thing, dressed in some weird psycho T.Rex, Kiss costume." Following Wood's death it was Cornell who penned the songs 'Say Hello 2 Heaven' and 'Reach Down' as a tribute to his friend. Putting together a group of Andy's friends, as well as an unknown singer from San Diego called Eddie Vedder, they recorded the album Temple Of The Dog, the title coming from a line from Mother Love Bone's 'Man Of Golden Words.'
I want to show you something, like joy inside my heart
Seems I 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
Malfunkshun continued playing live, though rarely venturing too far from home. But by 1987, with only the two recorded tracks, 'With Yo' Heart (Not Yo' Hands)' and 'Stars-N-You' on the 'Deep Six' compilation, to show for their endeavours, Andy was becoming increasingly frustrated that stardom was still but a dream. He moved to Seattle and started jamming with Gossard, Ament and Hagar, playing an occasional show under the name Lords Of The Wasteland.
There was something about the way that he was approaching rock and roll too at that time that really turned us on," recalls Gossard. "I think not so much even musically, but just in terms of his imagery and his sense of humour and how you could create this whole world out of it." By early 1988 Green River had folded, Fairweather was recruited and the drumstool was taken over by Greg Gilmore who had previously played with Duff McKagan in 10 Minute Warning. Mother Love Bone was born. Their birth signaled the death of Malfunkshun, something that still rankles with Kevin Wood. "Yeah, it was a pretty tough pill to swallow," he sighs. "It still is in a lot of ways. When I think of what could have happened with that band, and how much better we were than Mother Love Bone, it still pisses me off if I let it."
Although clearly upset, Kevin understands his brother's decision. "Andy saw an opportunity to play with these guys because they were more formulated in their rock approach. They were more trendy. They were more like Guns N' Roses. And he got caught up in that because he was getting tired of struggling and not getting anywhere." That Andy lacked the courtesy of informing his Malfunkshun colleagues of his departure was a regret he expressed in the documentary and one shared by his brother. "He didn't tell me and that's another reason I was a little more upset."
Mother Love Bone, considered a local supergroup, quickly established themselves. The "more motivated" approach that Kevin recognized became apparent early on as the group entered the studio almost immediately to record a demo. The resulting tape led to them securing a manager in Kelly Curtis and, following yet more demos and the interest of a number of major record companies, a deal with Polygram who even gave them their own Stardog label. The contract, the biggest for any Seattle band to that point, focused attention on a region that had rarely generated more than a cursory glance from the industry. As a result many local groups got signed and the tidal wave that was grunge gathered force before crashing on the musical shoreline with such a resounding impact.
Following the release of the six-track EP 'Shine' in 1989, Mother Love Bone began to look beyond their native state, undertaking a nationwide tour in support of Dogs D'Amour. 'Shine' brought the group a bigger following and a greater appreciation of Wood's lyrical gift, something Gossard was already aware of. "Everybody in the band knew that Andy was special, that he had this way with words. He was a wordsmith. He played with words." It's something that's evident in lines likes 'She's my hot, my Hotma Gandhi' ('Thru Fadeaway'), but Gossard also saw the affect Wood's increasing drug problems were having on his lyrics. "In the end the lyrics got darker and darker and darker. By the time we made 'Apple' we were much more serious."
Wood's introduction to drugs began at an early age. He was 12 when he first discovered dope. He would combine smoking with drinking before later going on to try and, in the words of Kevin, "master LSD." "Me and my brothers were pretty heavy partiers," confesses Kevin. The documentary unveils the brothers' omewhat dysfunctional home life, with Brian even spending time living on the streets. It also shows a journal kept by Andy in which he wrote "I attempted suicide after break-up with first girlfriend."
"I just think there was always an innate sadness about him," confides Gossard. "You got that there was a tragic sense to him and he carried this weight that manifested itself in him being the classic entertainer and clown and yet, at the same time, there was only so much of his energy to go around and everybody wanted it."
"He probably had intuition that he was going to die," admits Kevin. "He knew that he was doing something dangerous. That fear might have crept into his lyrics or his actions and thinking."
You ever heard the story, of Mister Faded Glory
Say he who rides the pony must someday fall
I been talking to my alter it says life is what you make it
And if you make it death well rest your soul away, away, away 'Crown Of Thorns'
"As much as anyone could understand their fate, he knew it all along," says Scot Barbour, director of the documentar 'Malfunkshun: The Andrew Wood Story'. Barbour, who draws parallels between Wood's life and Van Gogh, concedes he was drawn to Wood as a subject in part because of the story's fateful conclusion. "I really think it justifies his life more. It made me feel, looking at him like an artist, that he had set out to accomplish something and he had accomplished what he was supposed to do in life. He did it. He touched people in a way that he wanted to at the cost of his life. That didn't matter to him. He knew he did what he was supposed to do while he was alive."
Gossard is convinced Wood had a profound understanding of his own mortality. "I think he always had this tragic sense about himself. He had a sense that it wasn't necessarily going to last. I think he was hoping that it was going to and kind of racing towards feeling all of a sudden like he could be successful and navigate his way through life. But also some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy about his own early demise."
In an interview with RIP magazine conducted on March 15, 1990, shortly after yet another stint in rehab, Wood talked about his ongoing battle with heroin. "It's a total struggle. When you first get out, you're on this pink cloud, and it's pretty easy. After a while things start getting more real, and you have to just stay straight a second at a time." The next day, Wood slipped into a drug-induced coma. He was discovered by his fiancée Xana LaFuente who called the paramedics. After initially being declared dead, Wood was revived and taken to Harborview Medical Center. He remained in intensive care on a respirator for three days, surrounded by friends and family, until Cornell could fly back from New York to be by his side when life support was finally removed.
"There's not a day that goes by when I don't think about him," mourns Kevin. When asked why his brother has left such a lasting impression, he talks with the love and admiration of both a sibling and a fan. "He had it all basically. He had charismatic looks. He had incredible musical genius. He had a gift of poetry, melody. The thing that becomes so mysterious about him is that you had to be at the right place at the right time to even know he existed. When Mother Love Bone was starting to break, if you blinked your eye back then you would miss the whole thing. A lot of people never even saw him or heard any of it and now it's coming around and more people are being exposed and are realizing this guy, he really did have something special."
For those who blinked or weren't at the right place at the right time, it is not too late. Thanks to the efforts of all those who didn't and were, Andrew Wood is set to finally achieve in death the stardom his talents deserved in life.