My personal temperament toward music, both live and recorded, was so hotly maniacal and all-consuming in the 1980s that naturally, my memories, connections and tendency toward nostalgia are rooted in the years 1981-89 more than anywhere else. Mudhoney were central to my sickness at the highest point in its bell curve. Having already been a Green River aficionado while they were around, when that first Mudhoney 45 came out, me and several of my pals were so blown away by their dramatic supercharging of the “long-haired punk” formula, with its the new emphasis on distortion and wide-grooved volume, that we instantly hatched a plan to see the band 4 times in a row in late ’88 (as their “Superfuzz Bigmuff” EP was just coming out), from San Jose to Los Angeles to San Francisco and Huntington Beach. In between, I sheepishly asked Mudhoney’s tour manager Bob Whittaker if the band would play my college radio show on KCSB in Santa Barbara on their lone day off, promising beer, a good time and a place to stay. Offer accepted, it set up a nice acquaintanceship w/ each of the band members & a friendship w/ Whittaker that continues to this day, and prodded me - as if I needed prodding - to see several dozen Mudhoney shows throughout their 25+ years of existence.
Has my intense rabidity for the band’s music, forged at age 20, waned a bit since 1988? Of course it has. I can look at Mudhoney critically and place them very much as a vital and still-awesome cog in their scene, which extended well outside of Seattle and encompassed other late 80s champs like Pussy Galore, Laughing Hyenas, Lazy Cowgirls, Sonic Youth, Dwarves, feedtime, Scratch Acid and so on. Their records rocked, their live show was better, and there really isn’t a single record they’ve put out since those early years where I haven’t really gravitated to 2 or 3 intense and raw tunes, especially in the 2000s starting with “Since We’ve Become Translucent”. So my approach to reading Keith Cameron’s well-composed biography was to marinate deeply in the nostalgia more than anything else, and yet when I exited the book, it was with a deeper appreciation for the individuals in the band, and the choices they made, than I’d even had before.
More to so than even their songs or stage presence, it’s Mudhoney’s complete and utter disregard for the trappings of fame and the sick machinations of the music industry that was so compelling. These are 5 people (counting later-period bassist Guy Maddison) who’ve always been eminently approachable, friendly and just as wildly excited about obscure 45s and bands as you/I am. Cameron does a terrific job capturing and coming back to that, as he relays tales (all with the full participation of and many interviews with the band members) of early obscurity, the pendulum-shift bedlam of the 1988/89/90 explosion of the “Seattle scene”, drug use, sobriety, major label weirdness, Sub Pop financial shenanigans and some extreme record collecting as well.
If you read Mark Yarm’s book about “grunge” (“Everybody Loves Our Town”) you’ve already seen chunks of this, but this one’s fully centered on the only arguably great band to come from all of that nonsense. It’s rare to find a group of musicians in any genre who’ve stuck together as long as they have with their reputations as individuals and musicians fully intact – and it almost never happens in rocknroll, certainly not on the shoestring independent level that Mudhoney’s pretty much operated on for more than three-quarters of their career. More so than even the indie documentary that was made about them recently (“I’m Now: The Story of Mudhoney”, which, uh, yours truly has two brief speaking parts in), this book is the right sort of exploratory & explanatory angle to expound upon how these people as individuals engineered their lives to keep playing the music they wanted, and keep their collective and personal integrity very much intact.