Almost 30 years later, and the opening piano notes of “Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns” still give me chills.
While most songs ebb and flow from the playlist of my life, Mother Love Bone remains a constant. When you find a song that still gives you the feels decades later, whisking you away to another time, another place, you hold on–tightly.
No band better bridges the 80s heavy metal era with the emergence of 90s grunge than Sub Pop rejects Mother Love Bone. MLB’s frontman, Andrew Wood, was a fucking legend, and in life and death, a pioneer.
But at 16, I was simply obsessed with the enigmatic “Chloe Dancer” line…
“I used to treat you like a lady, now you’re a substitute teacher.”Mother Love Bone
In my rebellious neanderthal teenage brain, I interpreted the line to mean that substitute teachers didn’t warrant respect. Hey, how the hell was I supposed to know my man Andrew was talking about strippers, love, dreams, and all kinds of “adult” issues?
Though released in 1989, “Chloe” didn’t cross my personal airwaves until 1991 or 1992. It was likely the Cameron Crowe movie, Singles, that put it on my radar. Despite having one of the best soundtracks in history, well, my history at least–the movie stunk.
In fairness, at 16 years old, what the fuck did I know about a bunch of 20-something singles? But oh, that soundtrack! It was an introduction to Paul Westerberg, which led me to the Replacements, which answered the question as to who the Goo Goo Dolls (my all-time guilty pleasure band) were influenced by. And as we know now, no Mother Love Bone, no Pearl Jam. What a shitty alternate universe that would be.
I will always equate “Chloe” with boarding a Port Authority bus from NYC to visit a girl in New Jersey. She wasn’t my girl, rather the friend of a friend.
The big discovery was that New Jersey was different than New York. The neighborhoods, the people. Not in a good or bad way–just different.
And while I have no idea why we were there, or why my parents agreed to let me sleep over some random girl’s house–let alone take a bus across state lines–I do vividly recall the exhilarating feeling of seeing new things and meeting new people. It was an adventure in the suburbs, and I felt like such an adult.
I remember waiting for some guy who was a friend of my friend’s friend, getting off his shift at a supermarket. When he finally emerged, he was dressed in a white button-down shirt and black tie.
“What the fuck’s with the suit?”
No answer. And that was fair. The assumption was that Jersey had some fancy-ass supermarkets. Classy!
There might have been beer that night. And a nice house in a cul-de-sac. And my friend confessing he liked the girl we visited who had confided in me that she thought I was “cute.” But all these years later, I’d be lying if I knew fact from fiction.
That was not the only time Mother Love Bone was the soundtrack to one of my teenage tales.
I can tell you exactly where I bought MLB’s self-titled double disc. Well, almost.
I met a girl. 1992. I was on a Thanksgiving-weekend family vacation in Lancaster, PA. Said girl and I chatted on the golf course, the crisp autumn air mixing with just the right amount of nerves. Intoxicating. My buddy talking up her friend. The chill turned to frost, so we retreated inside, saddling into a lobby nook. We sat around a black lacquered baby grand piano and talked for hours, passionately debating our favorite bands. I had the Spin Doctors and Dinosaur Jr. She had REM and U2. We both agreed on the Psychedelic Furs’ World Outside album.
We were hitting it off.
Like many magical moments, it probably should have ended there. But we exchanged beeper numbers and departed with promises of a second meeting back in New York City, where she lived, too.
A few weeks after returning home, we decided to meet up at a McDonald’s on Broadway in the Village. I’m not sure what happened next, but I’m pretty sure I fell out of interest with her. Like immediately. On the spot. Who knows why. Perhaps I honed in on some minute detail and used it as a reason not to get close; maybe my reasoning was valid. Either way, this wouldn’t be the first or last time that I would let some odd brand of perfectionism drive a wedge between me and a relationship.
The brief Mickey D’s encounter with my alt-rock friend sent me on a course of silent adolescent avoidance. Acceptable behavior for a teenager in the 90s? Probably. But looking back, pretty shitty nonetheless.
After some awkward McNuggets we McSauntered down the block to a nearby Sam Goody or HMV or some other now deceased big-box music retailer.
I had a few dollars in my wallet from my Kmart job and knew exactly what I would spend it on.
Mother Love Bone, baby!
I couldn’t wait to get home to listen. There was only the E train standing between me and my Yorx Grandeur stereo system. I hadn’t graduated to a Sony or Aiwa bookshelf system just yet, but this budget-friendly audio set up gave me everything I needed at the time.
As was customary, I would drop the disc into the stereo and listen from beginning to end, inspecting the CD sleeve art both inside and out.
A few years earlier Guns n’ Roses welcomed me to the jungle, now Mother Love Bone introduced me to “Shangrila.”
“‘Cause love is all good people need, And music sets the sick ones free”mother love bone
The chorus of children singing along with “Stardog Champion” haunted me in a good way and the Man of Golden Words introduced a grunge foreshadow that no one could have predicted:
“I want to show you something, like joy inside my heart. Seems I been living in the temple of the dog”mother love bone
And “Chloe” closed the album out with magic, magic that still tingles more than 30 years later.
Here’s an ode to those small moments, spawned by music, that created a forever memory.
Thank you Andrew Wood.