“I never wanted to write these words down for you, with the pages of phrases of all the things we’ll never do,” sang Chris Cornell in his gripping ballad, Say Hello 2 Heaven.
The song was a tribute to his good friend and fellow musician, Andrew Woods, frontman of the up-and-coming grunge band, Mother Love Bone. At only 24, Woods died and left behind him an immeasurable void. Cornell spent the days after his friend’s funeral jotting down the lyrics to two incredible pieces that would bring together Mother Love Bone’s scattered members, his band Soundgarden, and a gas station night attendant named Eddie Vedder.
Together, they called themselves Temple of the Dog. They produced no more than one album together, but an album that has stood the test of time. Today, with Chris Cornell no longer with us, Temple of the Dog’s lyrics are more relevant than ever.
Let’s pay tribute to the supergroup whose members went on to change the course of music.
In the late ‘80s, rocker Andrew Wood hopped around Seattle in colorful scarves, oversized glasses, and sporting long strands of dirty blond hair. Flamboyant and larger than life, Wood suffused his conversations with sarcasm, jokes, and a refreshingly effortless air. He had just broken up with his previous band, Malnfunshkun, and was preparing to take the world by storm with his new group, Mother Love Bone (MLB).
While his roommate, Chris Cornell, was doing his best to deglamorize the rock ‘n’ roll frontman image, Andrew Wood wasn’t afraid to glorify his presence, drawing inspiration from his musical heroes from the previous decade like Freddie Mercury and Paul Stanley.
At the crack of the ‘90s dawn, MLB released their debut album, Apple. Sadly, Wood didn’t live to see it take off.
Four months before Apple was released, Andrew Wood’s girlfriend found him unconscious on the floor. Frantically, she called for help. He had overdosed. Rushed to the hospital and placed on life support, things weren’t looking too hopeful for the aspiring rock star. Wood was pronounced dead that very same day.
“We were traveling back from Europe when I got the news, so it was a little confusing,” Chris Cornell told Rolling Stone magazine. “It didn’t seem like someone that alive, and particularly that young, was actually going to die. It was like watching a play where there’s going to be a surprise ending and your worst fears aren’t going to come true.”
Wood’s funeral was a blur to many. The surviving MLB members, young and distraught, were left in disbelief. Cornell and his group, Soundgarden, were no less stumped. “I don’t really remember doing much else after the funeral other than just being swept up in the grief of the moment,” Cornell recalled.
There’s a misconception surrounding Andrew Wood that he was a sad, hopeless junkie. But far from it. According to Cornell, his friend was a lively, hungry spirit who had high hopes for the future. That’s what made his death so surreal. Cornell called his demise “the end of the scene’s innocence.”
In the weeks following Wood’s death, Chris Cornell channeled his grief into words and created two brilliantly poignant pieces – “Say Hello to Heaven” and “Reach Down.” The tunes didn’t sound much like records Soundgarden would release, so he decided to play them for Mother Love Bone’s members instead.
The boys from MLB parted ways after Wood’s death, so getting them back together proved to be quite difficult. Bassist Jeff Ament was off getting his art degree and was hesitant about getting back with his former bandmates. “I was like, Ah, I don’t know. The Mother Love Bone situation wasn’t the healthiest of creative environments,” Ament recalled thinking.
Passing on the opportunity to play with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron wasn’t something Mother Love Bone’s alumni were willing to do. So, after hearing Cornell’s demos, they put their differences aside, plugged in their guitars, and came together to play in honor of Andy.
The boys thought they were getting together for just one or two singles. But after a few rehearsals, it was evident that they were in it for much more. “We decided that we were going to try and do something. We just didn’t know what it was,” Jeff Ament explained.
The two sullen ballads Chris wrote to his fallen friend eventually expanded into an entire album. The boys called themselves Temple of the Dog, taken from a line in Mother Love Bone’s song, 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.”
Temple of the Dog’s recordings took place in Seattle’s London Bridge Studio, where Mother Love Bone had recorded Apple. The boys found it cathartic to play there, with Wood’s presence still lingering, his laugh faintly heard and his voice still bouncing off the walls.
When the boys first got together, they sort of shut themselves off from the rest of the world. They were, according to Ament, “really cynical about what was going on [outside the studio].” The supergroup’s members had no idea whether the songs would be played on the radio or whether anyone would even bother hearing them, but they genuinely didn’t care.”
“But after what happened with Andy, we just didn’t have the tools to deal with it,” Ament explained; “I didn’t have anyone around that I was used to talking about that stuff with. [So] making that record really helped that process. It helped us come to terms with losing a friend.”
Temple of the Dog’s album has two elegiac pieces dedicated to Woods – Say Hello 2 Heaven, an anguished plead, and Reach Down, a fast-paced flurry telling the story of a dream he had of Andy. “The songs were a real departure from Soundgarden,” Jeff Ament explained, “It happened very quickly.”
Apart from a few loose references to Andrew in “Times of Trouble” and “Four Walled World,” the rest of the album consists of Cornell’s previous work and some unfinished pieces from Mother Love Bone’s abandoned drawer of tunes that were completed with the help of Cornell’s lyrics.
But in one way or another, the theme of loss colored all the album’s songs.
The song that introduced Temple of the Dog to the world was “Hunger Strike,” an honest track centered around inequality, greed, and the importance of feeling grateful. Cornell sang the words in a moving duet with a young newcomer in town named Eddie Vedder.
Fresh off the bus from the West Coast, Vedder’s arrival in Seattle came at the perfect time. He intended to meet Gossard, Ament, and McCready, who were working on forming a new band, and see whether he was suitable. It just so happened that they were busy recording Temple of the Dog’s album at the time.
Vedder, the band’s unexpected guest star, hung out with the group while they recorded, and, after hearing Chris struggle with some of the lower tones in “Hunger Strike,” offered to fill in the blanks. “He sang half of that song not even knowing that I’d wanted the part to be there, and he sang it exactly the way I was thinking about doing it, just instinctively,” Cornell recalled.
According to Chris, Eddie was in the corner of the room writing and drawing in his notebook when suddenly, he got up, shyly grabbed the mic, and started singing the low parts of Hunger Strike. Chris joined right after and began singing “going hungry” in a higher tone. In that instant, “the whole thing came together in my brain,” Cornell admitted.
Coming from San Diego, Eddie felt a bit lost in Seattle. But Chris Cornell made sure he felt right at home. “Ed was super, super shy,” Mike McCready revealed, “[But] Chris took him out for beers and told him stories… From then on, he was more relaxed.” Chris appreciated Eddie for both his talent and humility.
Ultimately, not only did Gossard, Ament, and McCready find Vedder suitable for their band (Mookie Blaylock turned Pearl Jam), but Chris Cornell wanted him as part of Temple of the Dog as well. Vedder ended up singing backing vocals on three more tracks.
Temple of the Dog released their album on April 16, 1991. It didn’t create as many waves as the boys expected it to, with only a modest showing on the charts. But the supergroup’s get-together brought to life something way bigger – Pearl Jam.
After they wrapped up recording their tribute to Woods, Vedder, Gossard, Ament, and McCready began working straight away on their first album – Ten, which was released that same year in August. The following month, Soundgarden’s album Badmotorfinger and Nirvana’s Nevermind were also released. By the end of year, grunge music had entered the mainstream.
With Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden in the forefront of rock music, Temple of the Dog’s song Hunger Strike resurfaced. Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell in a moving duet? Audiences were surprised they had missed it. “[Hunger Strike] wasn’t a huge commercial success until the two separate bands emerged with successful albums. Somebody at MTV figured that out and started playing the video,” Cornell explained. The song boosted Temple of the Dog’s album back on the charts.
It eventually reached No. 5 and attained Platinum status. This called for a tour, but unfortunately, the members were so busy with their own commitments that they couldn’t find the right time to do it. “Every time we got around Chris the topic of a reunion would come up,” Jeff Ament shared, “It [always] felt like there was some unfinished business.”
When Chris Cornell wrote Hunger Strike, he wasn’t sure what to do with it. “[It] didn’t feel like Soundgarden, so I didn’t really pursue [it],” he told Rolling Stone. The singer explained that the song came out of an existential crisis his band, Soundgarden, was facing at the time.
“We were living our dream, but there was also this mistrust over what that meant,” Chris explained; “Hunger Strike is a statement that I’m staying true to what I’m doing regardless of what comes of it, but I will never change what I’m doing for the purposes of success or money.”
The music clip for Hunger Strike was shot at Discovery Park in Seattle. Paul Rachman was the director—the same guy who directed the video for Alice in Chains’ Man in the Box. According to Rachman, there was a slight argument between Soundgarden and Pearl Jam’s concerning the visuals of the video.
“Early on, there was a little bit of disagreement between the Soundgarden camp and the Pearl Jam camp,” the director told Stereogum. “Basically, the Soundgarden guys didn’t want to be in the video. They didn’t want a video with the band members. They wanted something a little more cinematic, filmic. A little more of a pure tribute to Andrew Wood. Whereas the Pearl Jam guys… they really wanted to be in the video. They needed the exposure.”
Even though the boys never properly toured, Chris Cornell would occasionally join Pearl Jam on their shows and sing Hunger Strike. And once Matt Cameron became Pearl Jam’s drummer in 1998, every such occasion would become a Temple of the Dog reunion.
Their time together at the studio back in the early ‘90s was such a raw and emotional experience. Ament described it once as, “10 songs. Spontaneous creation. Emotion. Very pleasing. Real music. No analyzing. No pressure. No hype. Just music to make music. Friends and a reason. Chemistry. Beauty. Life rules!”
In 2011, Chris Cornell joined Pearl Jam on stage at their 20th anniversary and played a mini-Temple of the Dog set with the guys. That evening, he talked about what the record meant to him. “It was a turning point in my life, and I think everybody’s lives when we lost him,” he told the crowd. “This one is for him, for him always. Andy, this is for you.”
But the supergroup’s songs touched many fans on a personal level, and Chris was often asked to sing Hello 2 Heaven as a tribute to someone else who had passed away. “It’s awkward because it’s so specifically about Andy,” he once shared, “But that is the greatest thing about being a songwriter. Your song has its own life.”
2016 was the year Temple of the Dog finally got together. In honor of their 25th anniversary, the supergroup performed their songs on stage, moving the crowd to tears. “The shows were so beautiful,” Jeff Ament recalled; “I think everybody was playing at such a high level – a level we wouldn’t have been able to play at when we made that record.”
The one person missing during that show was Eddie Vedder. When Chris started singing Hunger Strike mid-concert, fans hoped Eddie would show up. Unfortunately, that never happened. Sources close to Vedder reported that his absence was due to family commitments.
On May 17th, 2017, Chris Cornell stepped on stage at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, where he performed with Soundgarden as part of a string of planned reunions that would see them touring across various cities around the States. No one would have imagined it would be his last performance ever.
A few hours after the show, Cornell was found dead in his hotel room. The reason? Suicide. In retrospect, fans present that night stated that something clearly wasn’t right with the Black Hole legend. He wasn’t fully there, missing the words in some of the songs and letting the crowd sing along while he zoned out.
One fan mentioned that Cornell was “visibly agitated at times.” He even left the stage at one point before coming back to sing Been Away Too Long. During his brief absence, the band was left to fill in the void with some instrumentals until he rejoined.
Been Away Too Long was then performed in a “strange, bass-heavy rendition that moved in the wrong direction,” a fan and reporter from USA Today wrote. Chris wasn’t in sync with the music and looked irritable for most of the concert.
Chris was found in his hotel room with a band around his neck and doctors ruled that he had died from asphyxiation.
According to Chris Cornell’s wife, Vicky, her husband “wasn’t a rock star junkie.” She relayed that Chris loved his life, loved his family, and loved his art.
She believes that a mixture of prescription drugs and a disastrous addiction shifted his brain chemistry and led him to do the unthinkable. She noted that when she spoke to Chris that night he was “slurring his words [and] he was on and off incoherent.”
Eddie Vedder still struggles to process Chris’s death. He told People Magazine in 2020 that he “had to be somewhat in denial at first.” He said he didn’t have a choice. That he “was just terrified where I would go if I allowed myself to feel what I needed or what I instinctively wanted to feel or how dark I felt like I was going to go.”
Vedder believes that he will grow stronger as time goes on, but he still hasn’t fully dealt with it yet. The two were close friends for years. In their early days in Seattle, they would go on crazy hiking adventures and long mountain bike rides.
Eddie Vedder has come a long way from his days as a shy newcomer in Seattle. When he hesitantly grabbed the mic during Temple of the Dog’s first recordings, he had no idea how huge he was going to become. So, after decades of performing with Pearl Jam, successful solo projects, and numerous awards, where is Eddie today?
Pearl Jam’s frontman is currently busy planning the band’s upcoming shows scheduled to play between 2021-2022 across several countries around Europe.
His latest solo project is titled Matter of Time, a six-track EP, with two new original songs Matter of Time and Say Hi, and renditions of three Pearl Jam songs as well as a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Growin’ Up.
Bassist Jeff Ament has played with a lot of bands over the years, starting with Green River back in the mid-‘80s, moving on to Mother Love Bone, coming together for Temple of the Dog, and finally, finding stability and success with Pearl Jam.
Today, Ament is just as excited as his bandmates to kick off Pearl Jam’s tour this upcoming year. He took advantage of last year’s pandemic to sit at home, reflect, and dig deeper into what kind of music he wants to create. “I quite liked it,” he said of the quiet time he spent at home with his loved ones.
Guitarist Mike McCready joined Temple of the Dog thanks to his childhood friend and former Mother Love Bone member, Stone Gossard. After Woods passed away and MLB disbanded, Gossard brought McCready along with him to Temple of the Dog’s recording. It quickly became obvious to everyone that he was talented enough to join.
McCready then formed Pearl Jam along with the other Temple of the Dog members, and today, like his bandmates, he is thrilled to get back on stage. But McCready hasn’t spent the last year waiting at home. He’s launched his own limited edition Fender guitar.
Drummer of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, Matt Cameron spent most of his life on huge stages with some of the most talented artists in the rock industry. The skilled drummer has been ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the “100 Greatest Drummers of All Time.”
Not only that, but in 2017, Cameron was inducted into Rock ‘n’ Roll’s half of fame as a member of Pearl Jam.
Fun fact: Matt Cameron played a huge part in bringing Temple of the Dog to life. The former Mother Love Bone members weren’t too sure about reuniting, but after hearing that Cameron was in on the project, they immediately rushed to the scene.
Like his bandmate Jeff Ament, guitarist Stone Gossard’s musical journey began with Green River, progressed to Mother Love Bone, reunited with Temple of the Dog, and moved on to Pearl Jam. Today, the guitarist says that his biggest muse of all the musicians he’s worked with is Eddie Vedder.
He told Kerrang! “I write every song for Eddie, ultimately… he’s my muse.”
Apart from being an incredible lyricist, Gossard’s strumming skills have captured the attention of not only Pearl Jam fans but music critics from all over the world. He’s been listed in Rolling Stone’s “Top 20 Guitar Gods.”
Soundgarden formed before Temple of the Dog, back in the mid-‘80s. After several successful albums, they dissolved in 1997 because, according to drummer Matt Cameron, “Soundgarden was eaten up by the business.” To everyone’s delight, they reunited in 2010.
“The 12-year break is over, and school is back in session,” Chris Cornell tweeted. Tragically, a few years later they disbanded again, this time because of Cornell’s demise.
In 2018, Soundgarden’s guitarist Kim Thayil told The Seattle Times, “I don’t know really what kind of thing is possible or what we would consider in the future. It’s likely nothing. The four of us were that. There were four of us, and now there’s three of us, so it’s just not likely that there’s much to be pursued.”
Temple of the Dog lefty a mark on music history. It was a spontaneous album that no one had any particular expectations for, which made it remarkably raw and authentic. “We learned to just live in the moment and become open to the idea of collaboration,” Cornell once explained.
Decades later, after Chris Cornell passed away, Rolling Stone noted that they believe that Temple of the Dog’s album “deserves immortality,” and that it has received an entirely new meaning and is more relevant than ever after his unfortunate passing.
Andrew Wood’s untimely passing left a mark in music history, and while he might not have made a huge name for himself in the industry, he sure made it possible for other artists to do so. The collaboration of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam’s members brought forth a memorable, moving album.
“At the end of the day [the making of the album] was the enormous gift that Andy left us,” Cornell once stated, “and I’ve thought about it in every situation I’ve been in since then when it comes to writing and performing.”
Temple of the Dog was one of the many bands that originated in the ‘90s and helped create a new wave of throat shredding records. Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, and Smashing Pumpkins were other groups that took part in a memorable movement called Grunge.
The late Kurt Cobain believed – in his usual cynical fashion – that grunge would someday become corny. “Grunge is as potent a term as new wave,” he told Rolling Stone; “You can’t get out of it. It’s going to be passé.”
Some fans believe that the ‘90s grunge scene died down after Kurt Cobain took his life in 1994. Others believe it happened a while later, in 1997, when Soundgarden disbanded. Either way, there’s no denying it slowly faded away. But that’s not to say that the world today is devoid of snarly, dirty, heavy-based rock singles.
Foo Fighters is seen by many as a “post-grunge” band. Three Doors Down, Incubus, and Creed are also post-grunge bands that found success in the early ‘00s after many believed the genre was gone for good.
So, is grunge passé? It depends. If you look at mainstream charts, yes. But if you dig deep into the lyrics and the meanings behind many of gunge’s greatest records, you’ll realize that they’re still as relevant now as they were in the late ‘80s and ‘90s.