photo & text by nacrowe
in spite of all the SURPRISING career achievements and accolades of the SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK movement of the early 1990s, the recent MUD RIDE: A MESSY TRIP THROUGH THE GRUNGE EXPLOSION (CHRONICLE PRISM, 2023) memoir by founding MUDHONEY guitarist STEVE TURNER attests to how SMALL, INSULAR and INCESTUOUS the beginnings of that ISOLATED regional scene actually was. at the center of it all was a generation of 1980s HARDCORE kids that were trying to figure out what followed up on that INFLUENTIAL national underground scene.
because of their relatively long distance from other MAJOR MARKETS, these kids effectively entertained themselves and established an INTIMATE music and arts scene that was as SUPPORTIVE as it was ECLECTIC. some bands emerged with more of a PLODDING and DOWN-TEMPO riff heavy BLACK SABBATH / late era BLACK FLAG vibe (MELVINS), while others a more PSYCHEDELIC, HEAVY BLUES LED ZEPPELIN type of thing (SOUNDGARDEN), while still others where inspired by the more FLAMBOYANT CLASSIC ROCK elements of KISS, QUEEN and AEROSMITH (MOTHER LOVE BONE). the book goes through many of these EMERGING bands and how their personnel changes reflected competing influences, ambitions and philosophies on how a band should be presented and sound like. for me that was the crux of the memoir and its most INTRIGUING aspect, especially how it distilled the early scene band GREEN RIVER, made up of MARK ARM and STEVE TURNER of what would later become MUDHONEY and STONE GOSSARD and JEFF AMENT of MOTHER LOVE BONE and PEARL JAM. long story short, the band basically bifurcated due to the competing SONIC and BUSINESS SENSIBILITIES of those two camps, which manifested itself in the LONGSTANDING 30+ year careers of both MUDHONEY and PEARL JAM.
for me MUDHONEY (as well as the MELVINS) is the perfect band to speak reflectively about the GRUNGE movement, partly due to their early involvement and influence on the scene as well as their ability to survive and thrive longterm and make EVEN-HANDED BUSINESS DECISIONS. MUDHONEY never got anywhere close to the INCREDIBLE COMMERCIAL and FINANCIAL SUCCESS of scene peers in NIRVANA, PEARL JAM, SOUNDGARDEN and ALICE IN CHAINS. their career trajectory was respectable, but more muted probably due to the more chaotic and noisier aesthetic of their sound which was heavily indebted more to proto-PUNK bands like THE STOOGES and MC5 and GARAGE ROCK in general than 70s METAL or CLASSIC ROCK. those other bands found a way to manifest and crystalize a new AGGRESSIVE sound that translated well to MAINSTREAM RADIO, whereas MUDHONEY and similar bands like the MELVINS and the U-MEN never figured such out.
watching these peers navigate the waters of the major label scene allowed MUDHONEY the perspective of how to make SHREWD BUSINESS DECISIONS when ultimately given the opportunity to sign with REPRISE RECORDS in the mid-1990s. much like with the experience of the MELVINS and SOUTHERN CALIFORNIAN MELODIC HARDCORE band BAD RELIGION, both of whom were signed to ATLANTIC RECORDS around the same period, once the the ride was over after a handful of albums, all three bands seamlessly returned back to independent labels (SUB POP, EPITAPH and AMPHETAMINE REPTILE respectively) the better for temporarily utilizing the DISTRIBUTION and BOOKING acumen of their former CORPORATE OVERLORDS. all three learned from the mistakes of others and were left relatively unscathed from the experience, which was not the norm.
MUD RIDE is pretty SOBER accounting of an UNEXPECTED, UNFORESEEN and UNLIKELY musical career. it is also the narrative of a collection of musicians that viewed the cultural landscape and the opportunities available with PERSPECTIVE and didnt let AMBITION cloud their judgement. how the HARDCORE scene prepared them for that DIY ETHIC to go out and reach for success on a modest scale is something to be admired. that INFORMED ethic also allowed a band like PEARL JAM, who were that rare band to reach the upper echelons of the MUSIC INDUSTRY, to maintain a level of PERSPECTIVE as well in the process. it allowed them the ability to call shots and treat their team well and not get gobbled up by CORPORATE INTERESTS that sought to exploit, confuse and dismantle them like their peers in NIRVANA. the SEATTLE GRUNGE / ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion is an endlessly FASCINATING topic and MUD RIDE provides a UNIQUE perspective on the last INDEPENDENT music scene to marinate in relative ISOLATION arguable ever (due to the advent and proliferation of the internet and social networking). definitely a book worth checking out.