Favourite Spins: Temple of the Dog S/T
“I never wanted to write these words down for you
With the pages of phrases of things we’ll never do”
Temple of the Dog, “Say Hello 2 Heaven”
Some of my most favourite albums turned 25 last year. 25. That means a quarter century has passed since all of the records I loved as an 18 year old were released. I’m an adult now, indeed.
25 years ago, grunge broke through the mainstream and alternative was the label you pasted on music that lived along the margins. It would be a commercial radio format in a few short years. But for a little while, the bands my friends and I discovered 25 years ago were fresh and different and scary and exciting and so mercifully not mainstream (yet).
Count me among those who only picked up on Temple of the Dog after A&M Records reissued their lone self-titled album, when Chris and Eddie wailed on a beach on MuchMusic and it was beautiful.
The Temple of the Dog story is tragic but sweet. Andrew Wood, frontman for Mother Love Bone, the silver thread woven through many Seattle-area bands whether as a friend or a bandmate, dies of an overdose at age 24. His good friend Chris Cornell of Soundgarden records two songs to a cassette, presents them to Andrew’s bandmates Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, who happen to be starting a new band. They record an album’s worth of songs. It’s released without fanfare in the spring of 1991. A few months later, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam blow up on the rock charts. The following year A&M reissues Temple of the Dog (raise your hand if the Soundgarden+Pearl Jam=Temple of the Dog promotional sticker slapped on the CD made you cringe when you saw it in a record store.) and “Hunger Strike” becomes a monster hit.
I really enjoyed Temple in 1992, but it would not have made my Top 5 from that time period (let’s call it My College Years). That said, when I found the 25-year anniversary 180-gram reissue on vinyl at my LRS (Local Record Store) at a Boxing Week sale, I grabbed it and did not let go.
It’s a striking addition to any record collection for a few reasons. For starters, it’s a double LP, but only three sides have music. The fourth non-music side has a beautiful silhouetted image of the band on in that famous beach photo. It doesn’t serve a purpose other than to impress your friends when you show it in the right light, but it’s cool.
When I listened to the LP for the first time, it hit me that it had been at least a decade since I last played that album. That’s regrettable, because as far as rock albums go, this one is solid. It’s a delicious slice of a faded era, but it doesn’t sound dated. “Wooden Jesus” and “Call Me A Dog” would stand as my favourite album tracks, and “Pushin’ Forward Back” is one of those singles that really should have been a hit (at least on rock radio). “Hunger Strike” remains my favourite, a song too powerful to be lumped into the power ballad category.
On a completely shallow note, let’s talk about Chris Cornell’s hair for a moment. Short hair really suits the man, so I don’t know why we (by we I mean the gals I attended college with) lost our damn minds when he cut his hair off prior to releasing Superunknown. I watch that “Hunger Strike” video now and think…no, Chris. It’s beautiful hair, but it’s just too much. Although the bob he was sporting in the Sonic Highways doc? Terrible. Allow me to explain my feelings using the following equation:
Chris Cornell with short hair > Chris Cornell with long hair > Chris Cornell’s ugly bob
But Eddie Vedder’s circa 1991 long hair rules them all. We love Eddie.
Temple of the Dog’s one and only album, whether on vinyl, CD, cassette or Spotify, is worth a revisit. It’s a labour of love that is far from self-indulgent, but instead truly heartfelt. We’re lucky they chose to share it with us.
A footnote to this essay: I started this sometime over the winter and kept forgetting to edit, add photos and post. So it sat among my drafts, forgotten, until this evening.
This morning, before the 8am newscast and before checking my social media feeds, I received a text from my husband telling me that Chris Cornell had died. Like many of my friends, I was stunned, shocked and saddened. The revelation that he had taken his own life magnified my grief, as it did for so many other fans. So I spent my work breaks today reading tributes, streaming Soundgarden and Audioslave, cursing depression and feeling for his family and friends. Chris Cornell made incredible music and had a four-octave range that could move mountains, but he was also a husband and a father and a friend to many. People not nearly as famous or as musical as Cornell battle mental illness every day. If you are one of them, please know that you are loved and you are needed here, and I am here to listen. There are also people out there who can help you. If you know someone who may be hurting, please offer to listen and be there for them.
Now I’m going to throw Temple of the Dog on, listen to “Say Hello 2 Heaven”, and try not to cry.