Mudhoney is one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time. They rank right up there with AC/DC, the Ramones and Motorhead for their ability to release similar sounding, yet consistently pleasing music during the course of their existence. Their sound combines fuzzed out Blue Cheer and Stooges inspired riffs, 60s “Nuggets” garage rock and a clever, smart ass sense of humor; the band is also known for dropping musical and lyrical homages to Blue Cheer, the Stooges and Alice Cooper among others.
The story of Mundhoney is also partly the story of independent label Sub Pop, whose own principles are rife with contradiction and whose story warrants its own documentary. But I digress.
I’m Now: The Story of Mudhoney is a pretty standard rock doc; there isn’t that much stylistic flash as it cuts between talking heads, neat performance footage and old time-y TV clips, which seems to be a growing trend among these newer music documentaries. Overall, it’s an entertaining film but, if you already know the group’s story, then really there isn’t that much to get out of it other than a flannel draped nostalgia trip.
The story of Mudhoney is as follows: guitarist/singer (now just singer) Mark “Arm” McLaughlin met guitarist/sometimes singer Steve Turner while the two were in noisy punk band Mr. Epp and the Calculations who were sort of like a goofier Flipper. The two became best buds for life and went on to form Green River with guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament. Green River were essentially just a lo fi hair metal band and, when they broke up, the “sellouts” Gossard and Ament left to form Mother Love Bone and eventually become multi-millionaire rock stars in Pearl Jam.
Meanwhile Mark Arm and Steve Turner stayed “real” and “true” and “underground” by forming Mudhoney with former Melvins bassist Matt Lukin, who claims he was fired from the Melvins for “not having a pussy”, and drummer Dan Peters; the group got their name from the 1965 Russ Meyer film. At first Mudhoney thought they would release a couple singles or an EP, last for a year and move onto something else. However, in 1988, their first year of existence, Mudhoney’s Sub Pop released debut single “Touch Me, I’m Sick” rocketed up the independent charts and they were crowned the kings of this underground movement/genre called “grunge.” For the grunge neophyte, there is a HUGE difference between the noisy, messy, underground grunge of the pre-Nevermind era, with bands such as Mudhoney, Tad, Steel Pole Bathtub, Love Battery, Skin Yard and the Melvins, and the radio-friendly, “alternative rock” of Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Bush and Silverchair. I suppose Soundgarden and Nirvana fell on both sides of the fence.
Mudhoney released two well received albums – Superfuzz Bigmuff EP (1988) and Mudhoney (1989) – toured the world with Sonic Youth, toured the States with various label mates like Tad and Nirvana and gained strong reception wherever they went. Then, after the release of their 100,000 selling second album, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, the shaky financial situation at Sub Pop forced Mudhoney to regrettably leave the label and go to Reprise; apparently they would have stayed at Sub Pop had they known that Nevermind was going to be such a huge success, funnelling huge amounts of dough into Sub Pop coffers.
Anyway, the group deliberately set out to prove to fans that, not only would they not sell out to the majors but, that they wouldn’t change their sound at all. To be sure the albums Piece of Cake (1992), Five Dollar Bob’s Mock Cooter Stew EP (1993), My Brother the Cow (1995) and Tomorrow Hit Today (1998) all sound exactly the same and just like their Sub Pop releases. Okay, Tomorrow Hit Today has a slightly swampier feel to it.
By 1998, however, “alternative nation” was all but dead and Mudhoney saw the writing on the wall. Matt Lukin quit and the group went on hiatus. Then, for some reason or another, in the early aughts, Mudhoney caught a second wind that paralleled the rise of garage groups such as the White Stripes, the Dirt Bombs and the Von Bondies, hired new bassist Guy Maddison, who was a nurse by day and played in the Australian band Bloodloss at night, re-signed with Sub Pop and lived happily ever after. If you must know, the albums they released henceforth are Since We’ve Become Translucent (2002), Under a Billion Suns (2006), The Lucky Ones (2008) and Vanishing Point (2013).
People who do interviews in the movie include Seattle grunge alums Tad Doyle, Kim Thayill, all five Mudhoney members and Sub Pop label owner Bruce Pavitt.
Interesting anecdotes include:
– Courtney Love apparently seeking therapy after hearing the song “Into Your Shtik”
– Mudhoney being surprised that Pearl Jam’s road crew wasn’t full of douche bags like the one for Nirvana had been
– Mark Arm apparently dabbling in heroine and dating a stripper (although my friend Dan claims this is common knowledge)
-Mudhoney’s unfortunate meeting with an A&R gentleman from the allegedly independent Caroline records. Whatever his name is (they deliberately say it in the movie to call him out but I just forgot) makes unreasonable demands on the group that directly influence them to go to a major label
-Mark Arm working the back room at Sub Pop and personally addressing all packages that are sent out
But the main message I got out of the movie is that Mark Arm and Steve Turner (well I’m sure Matt Lukin, Dan Peters and Guy Maddison as well) are intelligent, laid back dudes who don’t have egos and are comfortable with a modest, middle class existence provided they can make any music they want. And furthermore, in spite of not becoming multi-millionaire rock stars, they still managed to party a lot and get chicks.
Now, I ask of Sub Pop, when are they going to reissue those goddamn Tad albums?!