Vinyl Dust-off: Temple of the Dog

The latest finds from excursions into ancient record bins. This week explores a little-known Seattle supergroup.

The sonic archaeologist brings you his latest finds from excursions into ancient record bins. This week explores a little-known Seattle supergroup.

By Lliam Easterbrook
[senior features writer]

5/5 records

I’ve been searching for Temple of the Dog since I first started collecting vinyl five years ago. It’s been that elusive and ethereal record, the one I could never find, let alone get a glimpse at — anywhere. For me it has been the holy grail of vinyl, the one I’d berate my friends about — like I was mad I couldn’t have it — during our “if you could have one record pressed on gold vinyl” conversations (a vinyl record pressed in gold will never tarnish or deteriorate, I’ve been told). And now I own the bastard, finally. This particular pressing is green, not immortal gold — but I like the idea that every time I spin it, it dies, so I’d better enjoy the life out of it while the needle can still fuck the groove, you know?

Temple of the Dog was formed in 1990 as a one-off tribute album for late Seattle Mother Love Bone singer Andy Wood, who passed away a few months before, from a heroin overdose. Wood was Soundgarden singer/songwriter Chris Cornell’s best friend and roommate at the time, and after Wood’s death, Cornell gathered members from Mother Love Bone (Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament) and other Seattleites (Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, Shadow guitarist Mike McCready) and newcomer, unkown surfer/vocalist Eddie Vedder, to record songs he had been writing as a tribute for the late Wood.

The result of those brief and sombre sessions is a record of unflinching sincerity, terrible loss and incessant brooding.

It’s as if Cornell has carved an epitaph for Wood — candid themes of isolation, drug use, and pain — into a weary, universal headstone that knows them all too well. If you’ve lost someone to darkness, Temple of the Dog will likely trouble and sadden you, move and uplift you, rattle and sober you. And sometimes you need a record like that.

“Say Hello to Heaven,” the bluesy opening track, is the song Cornell first penned for Wood after his death. Cornell, the unknowing friend, reveals the limited ways people allow us to know them. He sings, “He hurt so bad like a soul breaking/ But he never said nothing to me.” Often people only let us in so far, no matter how much further they want or need to let us in. Some wall or mask is always there, in all of us. Some of us are just better at breaking them down in ourselves, for others, and in others, for ourselves.

“Times of Trouble”, a piano ballad about Wood’s heroin use, is a lament on the drug’s deteriorating effects, the physical paralysis, the mental anonymity behind the veil of euphoria. Cornell croons, “When the spoon is hot/ And the needle’s sharp/ And you drift away/ I can hear you say/ That the world in black/ Is upon your back/ And your body shakes/ So you ditch away/ And you close the shades.” Cornell’s relent is the psychology, the despair that forces the drug, not the drug itself: “Don’t try to kill your time/ You might do it/ Then you can’t change your mind/ You’ve got to hold on to your time/ Till you break through these/ Times of trouble.”

TOTD is not all demise and reprise, however. “Reach Down” is anthemic grunge — “You’ve got to reach down, and pick the crowd up” — while Hunger Strike (Vedder’s first studio recording) is a stab into gluttony and social inequality — “I don’t mind stealing bread from the mouths of decadence/ but I can’t feed on the powerless when my cup’s already overfilled.” The album’s closing track, the beautifully crooned “All Night Thing” is about short, one-time loving, harkening back to the broad theme of the mystery and boundless abyss that lurks in the human condition, the masks we wear and are afraid to peel away, because what lies beneath is bare, soft and exposed: “And if it’s an all night thing/ And we fall like a tear falling to the ground/ I’ll never come around/ And you’ll never hear a word from me.”

For me, Temple of the Dog is a poetic revelation into the brevity of life, the ever-impending, ever-impeding melancholy that seems to come with artistry, and a touching account of life taken too fast.

Play it Loud. Play it Proud.