Music News

Here Comes the Sickness

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But on the strength of a double-disc, career-spanning compilation called March to Fuzz, Mudhoney has decided to hang it up -- at least under that name, in that lineup. Before they do, though, they're taking a last loop south through California and Arizona, five shows, quick and dirty, before they head back to Seattle to play the gig that will sew it, or this part of it, all up.

So here it comes, punk: Last Chance to See.

Mudhoney formed in 1988, on the very first day of the year. Guitarist Steve Turner recalls the date with pinpoint accuracy: "That was the first day Matt [Lukin] came up to play with us." Turner and Mark Arm, who'd played together for a few years in a variety of settings, had been borrowing drummer Dan Peters from the host of bands Peters was playing with. On January 1, Lukin drove up from Aberdeen, the coastal town about a hundred miles southwest of Seattle where he was living, to play bass. Mudhoney didn't waste any time during that first year; in 1988, it produced two 45s and the Superfuzz Bigmuff EP, all while Lukin was making that God-awful commute, followed in November 1989 by its self-titled full-length debut.

Mudhoney's first single, "Touch Me I'm Sick/Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More," was also an early release from Sub Pop, a regional label you might have heard of. As such, it arguably lays claim to being the very first grunge recording, and Mudhoney's records in fact kept that label in business long before Nirvana's success turned a brighter spotlight on it. Almost from the day of its first release, Mudhoney was being celebrated, not just by Seattle locals but by bands like Sonic Youth, who took the band along on the U.K. tour that introduced Seattle's kinda-sorta progressive hard rock to international audiences.

Among the first bands to record for Sub Pop, Mudhoney was also one of the last to leave, signing with Reprise in 1992; and by the time it made the move, the industry was scrambling to recover from having had its blindfold tugged. "There was this really brief period where the record companies finally had to admit they didn't have a clue what was happening," says Turner. "So they signed all these bands, they signed people . . . well, they signed bands like us," he continues after a pause, "and they not only signed us, they left us alone. We'd go record and bring them the master tapes, and they said, 'We don't know what this is or why it sells, but just go do it and bring it back and we'll release it.' Of course, they got control again, really quick. It didn't take long until they got to where they thought they understood it."

"That was a really weird, funny time," says Arm, who is reluctant to compare the resultant feeding frenzy to any previous model. "At the time, I just wanted to hear something different from the screechy falsetto voice that it seemed like every '80s rock band was doing, or bands that were just copying hard-core punk, like, 'Here's another Minor Threat Xerox band.'" So, to all appearances, did everybody else in the country. But even after Nirvana and Pearl Jam achieved mainstream fame, after a half-dozen Seattle bands had done solid major-label work and hundreds of copycat bands had risen up around them, Mudhoney still came across as something of a wild card.

Consider: Mudhoney's ambiance was always more garage punk than dour hard rock, and they had trouble taking themselves (as opposed to the music) too seriously. Where Pearl Jam performed "Rockin' in the Free World" with Neil Young, Mudhoney collaborated with Sir Mix-a-Lot on the rock-meets-rap Judgment Night soundtrack for the song "Freak Momma," a freewheeling, hilarious cut on an otherwise serious project. The screamingly funny Billy Corgan once snidely remarked that Mudhoney's members were probably jocks in high school; Mudhoney thereafter took to performing in warm-up shirts that spelled out the band name in cheerleader lettering. Asked to contribute to the soundtrack of Cameron Crowe's syrupy grunge-ode film Singles, Mudhoney delivered "Overblown," which opened with the couplet "Everybody loves us, everybody loves our town/That's why I'm thinking lately, time for leavin' is now." Tapped to write accompaniment for a main character's mad dash across the landscape in the film With Honors, they worked up two versions of a track called "Run Shithead Run." Eddie Vedder filled in for Jim Morrison in a Doors reunion performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Mark Arm wrote a memoir of Mudhoney's trip to the White House for the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal magazine titled "The Executive Branch of the United States of America vs. Mudhoney" (GR Fall 1994).

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Eric Waggoner