Music News

Here Comes the Sickness

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Mudhoney, in sum, never quite fit the mold, much less the idiot media stereotype of grunge's brooding, coffee-fueled flannel-jockey poster boy. "If you're not having fun," asks Arm rhetorically, "what's the point? Even on albums of ours that I thought were darker than the rest, we still had a good time. That's the whole idea."

The intense focus on Seattle in the early 1990s was like very little that had happened previously in rock. Athens, Georgia, was probably the last place to have received any kind of geographically based scrutiny, but it didn't last much past the B-52's and R.E.M., and to nowhere near the same intensity. Seattle, by contrast, was supposed to lead rock music entirely out of the doldrums. Not surprisingly, the locals didn't buy it.

"Nobody [in Seattle] ever romanticized that notion, or the scene overall," says Turner emphatically. "The funny thing was, it peaked at different times. By 1990 it had peaked here, and by that time, really, I was sick of it. And then it peaked again, nationally, in '91, '92. . . . It was really weird to see all these people, my friends, having such a strong impact on the musical culture. Every time I thought it couldn't get any weirder, it would.

"But I think that by the time Cobain shot himself, that was it, that was when everybody had had enough. People were so sick of the whole Seattle thing . . . the record companies had recovered from the shock, they'd wrestled back control. They got cynical about it, the public got cynical about it. That was it."

Nonetheless, Mudhoney plowed through the remainder of the '90s with a string of good records rooted in the garage-punk tradition in which it'd always worked best: 1991's Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge was its last recording for Sub Pop. Piece of Cake and My Brother the Cow followed on Reprise, and in 1998 Mudhoney teamed up with Memphis producer Jim Dickinson, who'd helmed Big Star's legendary Third sessions, to record the excellent Tomorrow Hit Today.

Mudhoney's last live show, until very recently, was played in the year of that last release, in Portland. "We never broke up," reports Turner; but still and all, time passes, and new priorities arise. "Matt decided that he didn't want to play music anymore, and Dan's wife just passed the bar exam. Dan and his wife also just had a baby, so he's going to be doing house-husband duties for a while." Discussions with Sub Pop about assembling a best-of collection soon mutated into a projected "best-of and rarities" set, which is how March to Fuzz is subtitled, spanning the group's work for Sub Pop and Reprise.

"Since Warner Bros. is a major stockholder in Sub Pop, we had access to everything, and finally we decided to pull the B-sides, the compilation tracks, and as much uncollected stuff as we could, and we figured, well, we can do a whole career on one release," says Turner. "We tried to take into account what people would want to hear, as well as the stuff we wanted to include. Mark and I worked really hard on the list; we had a great time."

"We tried to arrange the songs on the first disc like we would if we were doing them live," adds Arm, "so that first disc isn't chronological by any means." Nonetheless, the best-of portion of March to Fuzz is admirably comprehensive despite the chronological seesawing, including both sides of the band's very first single as well as a hefty portion of songs from equally represented phases of Mudhoney's career. "You can even hear it, listen to it like a live set, with the last song and then the encore," Arm says, laughing. But it's the second disc that's the real kicker here, offering rare or uncollected tracks, soundtrack work, and (in an inspired block early in the disc) a selection of primal covers ranging from Elvis Costello and the Angry Samoans to Black Flag and Billy Childish. It's a remarkable performance not because Mudhoney reproduces "Fix Me" or "Pump it Up" note-for-note -- they don't -- but because embedded in each track is a small thread of the musical history from which Mudhoney drew its own art.

"We're a rock band," says Arm flatly. "We're not pretending we're absolutely unique. I really hate bands who try to come on like they're doing this wonderful thing that's never been done before. Not that we're trying to copycat. . . . I hope we have our own sound that comes across, and we are trying to do something that is somewhat unique, but at the same time we're all aware of our history, of what's come before us."

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Eric Waggoner