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“I Live One and a Half Doors Down from Mudhoney”

It’s all pretty much a blur of profanity, sports, disrespect, horniness, shrooms, Eminem, Everclear and jungle juice, but at some point in high school, Nirvana became my favorite band. All of a sudden, then, I was 22, singing “Lithium” to myself on a bus in Colorado and having a cute 17-year-old chick smile at me from a seat across from me. And I was reading and rereading and rereading Nirvana: The Biography by Everett True, a British music critic who had followed the band on multiple tours and wrote with an incredible force, clarity, tenacity and attention to detail. 

So it was Nirvana and everything else was just everything else, more or less. Constantly, I postured myself against what I considered a fake, corporate sheen, an unflagging paradigm of the world attempting to sell me something. CD’s became obsolete, iPods migrated to dumpsters and attics of the world, digital purchases represented suckery, but always, Nirvana remained king, to me.

And I fell, completely — I ascribed to the punk ethos doctrined in that huge, 600-page biography book. Everything mainstream was bad and a sham. Contentedness is a myth and a false. Question everything, dislike everything, despise everything. 

Mudhoney was a band that accorded pretty decently to this ridiculously staunch, militant doctrine against the commercial, a doctrine that, I think, fatally, drove Kurt Cobain against Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder, a figure who otherwise could have been a valuable friend for Cobain when he needed one. Mudhoney is from Seattle, having first picked up guitars in the ’80s and worshipped pioneering grunge rockers The U-Men. Singer Mark Arm and guitarist Steve Turner had been in Green River with Pearl Jammers Ament and Gossard from ’84 to ’88. The latter two would sign to a major with their next band and crank out songs that were earnest, tackling serious matters like domestic violence, psychosis and suicide.

By comparison, it seems, Mudhoney is always just joking around. Even on their own brief foray into the conglomerate record industry, a three-album stint that spanned from 1992 to 1998 [1], their entire disposition just seems like one of mockery, to the point where if Mark Arm were to divulge something authentic from his own personal life in one of his songs in the form of a frustration or a bit of emotion, it would just come off awkward, or even pathetic [2]. 

So I think Mudhoney set their own ceiling for themselves, in a way. And I realize it’s awkward to discuss Mudhoney and 3 Doors Down [3] in the same discourse. But it’s this very semantic discrepancy that serves toward proving the point I’m eventually going to make: 3 Doors Down has kept it real from the start. Their first single “Kryptonite” is pretty much a guileless paean to romance, with a little metaphoric allusion to identity as a superhero thrown in, perhaps. “Loser” is an incredibly staunch, sad song, dealing earnestly with dark issues that are, apparently, clearly meant to be interpreted as belonging Brad Arnold, the singer. By the end of the song, the listener has imbibed a message and is, for all intents and purposes, left to associate the contents of the lyrics with the person who’s sung them, treating the contents as objective fact. 

Of course, one school of thought handles this phenomenon and associates it with the band “taking themselves too seriously.” That was a common knock on Pearl Jam and, truth be told, even as a huge Pearl Jam fan I have to ascribe Eddie Vedder with at least a slight bent toward theatrics. But with this honesty and directness, contrasted clearly against Mudhoney’s perennial penchant for pretty much constantly insulting themselves and everything around them all the time [4], 3 Doors Down carved out an artistic nook in which they could grow, which is exactly what is going in “Be Like That,” their fourth single and a glorious self-administered gut check from Arnold that seems to beautifully fuse anxiety and an ideal with one symbiotic rock song. Upon the success of their first album, The Better Life (2000), 3 Doors Down was able to get “away from the sun” one more time to record in the Emerald City of Seattle, ironically enough. 

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[1] I’m not sure if this is important but, eerily, the exact years in which Mudhoney released major label albums, 1992, 1995 and 1998, exactly match the years Soul Asylum pulled this same maneuver, before being dropped following their ’98 maneuver known as Candy from a Stranger (really not a bad album, in my opinion).

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[2] And here by “pathetic” I mean the term in the traditional sense — encompassing pathos, or pleas for or prompts for sympathy, not necessarily incompetent to a hyperbolic extent.

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[3] I’m operating under the impression that everybody’s familiar with 3 Doors Down at this point and apologize if I’m mistaken in this. 

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[4] With their charming missives like “I feel stupid and contagious” and “Nature is a whore”; we could pretty aptly slot Nirvana in with this latter category of jaded, inverted dystopia.

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[5] This is an unrelated note but the title track on this album is undeniably cool.

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