Andrew Wood: What Could’ve Been

Andrew Wood was 24-years-old when he died. He died weeks before the release of his group Mother Love Bone’s debut album Apple. Reports say he started seriously playing music when he was 14, but we have to imagine that that music was probably a mess, but if he died at 24, imagine what he could’ve done by 34. I’m biased, but I can’t imagine how anyone could listen to Apple and not hear the potential he had for so much more. If rock musicians tend to peak between the ages of 27-30, Andrew Wood probably would’ve helped create three incredible albums. 

Go through the catalogues of some of the best rock musicians of all time, and you’ll find a creative peak for most of these artists, between the ages of 27-30. Some defy this range by coming out with their best albums earlier, and a few come out with their best albums after this age range, but from a cutting edge, creative standpoint most rock musicians create their masterpieces between the ages of 27-30.  

On average, the music they create before age 27 is often more passionate, fashionable and agile. Unlike literature, rock music does not require greater insight into human nature or wisdom, but it does require the artistic maturation that often hits most artists between the ages of 27-30. When we’re over 40, we view some of our passions with regret, and we regard them as a little silly. Yet, between the ages of 27-30, we still have enough of that passion left to create great rock music. We combine that with a competitive desire to creatively smash everything we’ve done prior. When critics describe this period for individual artists, they often drop tropes like, “When [the artist] wrote this album, the stars aligned for them”. I’m more inclined to believe that between the ages of 27-30, we combine the last vestiges of our passion and artistic agility with all of the other elements that define our artistic maturation. If this description of the artistic evolution is correct, one would think that the artistic maturation would only grow after 30, and it does, but the other elements that formed their cutting edge, creative peak begins to wane. There might also be some level of artistic satisfaction that follows creating their masterpiece, but for some reason the great artists of rock will come out great singles, and some really good albums, but they never top what they did before they were 30. Andrew Wood’s artistic maturation was cut short, but the small sample we received suggests to me that he had the potential to be one of the great ones. 

As with everything else long since passed, Mother Love Bone’s album Apple needs to be framed properly. It came out at the tail end of the 80’s hair metal era and before the grunge movement reached the national stage. Some suggest that if Andrew Wood survived, and the album received all of the promotion, the touring, and the publicity it rightly deserved, it could’ve prolonged the hair metal era, or provided a bridge from heavy metal to grunge. If it prolonged the heavy metal movement, it probably would’ve altered it, because no matter how one views the songs on the album, they were stronger than most of the heavy metal songs that were coming out in that era. Apple had some intangible qualities about it that allude to the fact that it should’ve been just the beginning, but it turned out to be the end. We can now hear some evidence of the lyrics “Wrote a million songs, it’s all a bore to me” on the On Earth as it is On…The Complete Works compilation, and we can also hear it in the songs he wrote for the Malfunkshun album Return to Olympus, but those songs sound so raw that they seem like a lead up to what Wood would do with the professionals who helped him create Shine and Apple.  

Why We Love Music

For a variety of reasons I could list here, but I won’t, I developed an irrational, tough to thoroughly capture crush on the harmony of music and lyrics that Mother Love Bone created on Apple. I’m no music expert or critic, of course, but I’ve listened to thousands of bands, and I’ve only experienced such appreciation euphoria about a dozen times. The first and last question I ask is why? Why do we enjoy some artists’ music appeal to us so much it makes it onto the yellow area of our music appreciation archery target? How does other music make it into the blue and red areas for us? We could say that only highest quality music make into our yellow area, but what is “high quality” music? It’s subjective to the listener.

I could list my top ten favorite artists of all time, and you would probably wrinkle your nose at three-fourths of them, and I might return a crinkling at yours. Does our individual taste incorporate peer pressure, critical review, and/or the iconography of the musicians and artists who form that inner layer. Taking it one step further, how do we separate some of our favorite bands from those elite bands we call our favorite artists of all time? 

I find the music on Apple and Shine appealing, but Andrew Wood’s hippy-trippy lyrics spoke to me in a way that few other lyricists have, and this is coming from a man who views an overwhelming majority of lyrics as woefully overrated. Some critics consider the lyrics on Apple silly and sophomoric, and they are, but that was the point of what bassist Jeff Ament called Andrew Wood’s Andrewisms. The hippy-trippy lyrics, and the game show host personality were fun. Some critics also suggest that those lyrics haven’t aged well over the last thirty years. I disagree, but regardless whether you do or not, you have to consider that the guy was 24 and under when he wrote them. Apple was his first major album. Was it his personal Dark Side of the Moon, his Sgt. Peppers, or his A Love Supreme? We all know those artists who wrote their best albums early on, and they were never able to tap into that mode again, but speaking as a fan boy here, I think it was his Rubber Soul, his The Piper at the Gates of Dawn that spoke to the potential. 

There were some meaningful songs on the albums, but for the most part, this album was fun and funny. Here are some of the lyrics that his bandmates called Andrewisms: 

Stargazer: “She dance around my, my pretty little cable car.”

This is Shangrila: “I look bad in shorts
But most of us do
Don’t let that bother me.”

This is Shangrila: “Said the sheriff, he come too
With his little boys in blue
They’ve been looking for me child.”

Capricorn Sister: “Chartreuse regalia and Purple Pie Pete (Purple Pie Pete)
You dance Electra and the night becomes day.”

Mr. Danny Boy: “With your long black kitty and your funky hair
Why did I leave you there?”

Holy Roller: “I got somethin’ to say to you people out there
You gotta listen to me people, you gotta listen to me
Yeah, the Lord’s comin’ down people
Yeah He’s gonna take you whole, He’s gonna eat you whole people
Like a big grizzly bar comin’ out of the closet and eat you whole
Ya see the Lord’s gonna come and get you people and you gotta beware
Because the Mother Love Bone camp knows what to do about it

You see I been around I seen a lotta long haired freaks in my day
But those boys in Mother Love Bone
I’ll tell you they know what’s right for you
You know they’re like malt-o-meal for you, they’re good for you
They’re like soup, they’re like nothing bad, let me tell you that much
I tell you people, the Lord’s comin’, and if you don’t believe, and if you don’t believe in what can happen to you today people

I’ll tell you people love rock awaits you people
Yeah lo and behold, lo and behold

He’s Just Weird

I don’t know if Andrew Wood wrote all of these lyrics, or how much of the music he wrote, but I give him most of the credit for the creative lyrics of these songs. There seems to be a consistency in the lyrics that the same members of Mother Love Bone didn’t display in Pearl Jam. When someone writes that lyrics speak to them, we naturally assume that they found those lyrics meaningful, spiritually fulfilling, and life-altering. They didn’t accomplish anything close to that for me, but I enjoyed them as much as I’ve enjoyed any silly, sophomoric lyrics. Most of these lyrics could’ve been written another way, a more serious way that would lead critics and industry types to take Andrew Wood more seriously. My bet is Wood had more than his share of detractors, behind-the-scenes, who didn’t take him seriously, and my bet is that numerous industry types informed him that if they were going to invest serious money in his project, he had to take his role as primary lyricist more seriously. My bet is the industry people said, “What is this lyric, and what does that mean?” His defenders obviously said, “It’s silly. He writes about some serious topics in admittedly silly ways, but it’s who he is. It’s what we call his Andrewisms, and it’s something that separates him from all the other lyricists who take their role so seriously.” The thing that numerous artists like Andrew Wood, Frank Zappa, Freddie Mercury and many others prove is that even weird and silly expression can be great. Yet, as everyone knows, that is an uphill battle for most. Most immediately disregard the silly and weird as just that, and they will never listen, read, or in any other way appreciate what they consider a silly, weird artist. 

“Yeah, I have heard Apple,” they say. “It was fine and good and all that. A little dopey, but it was fine. Now Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam is the real deal.” Other than this idea that people believe that their musical tastes is a reflection of them, and they don’t want anyone to consider them weird and silly, I don’t understand the total, and sometimes hostile, dismissal of anything weird and silly. 

Anyone who watched the documentary on Andrew Wood called Malfunkshun: The Andrew Wood Story knows that part of what made Andrew Wood so special played a role in his undoing. There is some kind of internal combustion engine that drives them to be particularly special when it comes to the creative arts, but for some of them, certainly not all, they cannot live in the normal world normally.  

As many have pointed out, most of us aren’t born creative artists. It’s a craft we learn, and most of us are pretty awful when we start. Some friends and family know it, and some of them even point it out to us, but some creative artist push on. What drives them to do more when they were just humiliated by their initial attempts, their secondary attempts, and many of the attempts they made after that? Some of the times, though not always of course, the engine that drives them to be so special can be the same one that drives them to be so self-destructive in ways that no one, especially them, can understand.  

Listening to his friends and family, viewers reach the almost painful conclusion that if Andrew Wood didn’t die at 24, he probably wouldn’t have lived too much longer. It sounds like he was disappointed that he couldn’t reverse his self-destructive ways. It sounds like he was disappointed that he knew he was disappointing his family, friends, and bandmates, but most important, himself. Those of us on the outside looking in can’t help but feel for these people, but there is also that selfish, narcissistic side of us that thinks about all the music he could’ve created for us. Whether it be in Mother Love Bone, as a solo artist, or in whatever incarnation the man chose, I think Andrew Wood could’ve been a game-changer. The only thing I know is the idea that Andrew Wood wrote so many incredible songs before the age of 24 that I think he didn’t even come close to scratching the surface of his potential, and we all missed out on years of what could’ve been.


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