Walking through the airport to his hotel, documentary filmmaker Scot Barbour finds a hidden surprise amongst the buildings of Toronto, Canada. The 30-something-year-old stumbles upon a hemp shop. His voice pitches with excitement for all the clothes, bracelets and flavored papers he finds inside.
“I love places like this,” he says on his cell phone, but I don’t know if he is talking to me or the employee behind the counter. He soon gets more enthralled when he finds a sweatshirt that says “THC Hemp” on the front, but he wants it in black and needs to know the price. Barbour is in luck, as the employee gives him what he asks for – a black hemp sweatshirt – and he proceeds to buy it.
“You need one of these up here, it’s quite chilly,” he tells me. “I might even wear it to the screening tonight.” The screening he speaks of is the 10-year-long journey Scot Barbour has lived and breathed – Malfunkshun: The Andrew Wood Story.
Andrew Patrick Wood came in to the world on January 8, 1966 and went on to become one of the most-loved rock gods in the northwest music scene. Andrew was born in Columbia, Miss., but found his way to Seattle after being brought up in Bridge Island, Wash. Raised on a heavy dose of Aerosmith, Elton John, Kiss and Queen, Andrew Wood joined his first band at the age of 14. The band was Malfunkshun, and they often played dressed up with bright clothes and face paint. Andrew took on his stage name, L’Andrew the Love Child, and Malfunkshun played during most of the ’80s, releasing a single on the C/Z Record compilation Deep Six.
Andrew left the band and started playing with two former members of Green River: guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament. They took on the name Lords of the Wasteland, but soon changed that to Mother Love Bone.
The band combined influences of ’70s glam-rock with the metal of Black Sabbath and the punk of Iggy Pop to form the “Love Bone Earth Affair sound,” as they dubbed it.
Mother Love Bone came to full fruition when drummer Greg Gilmore and second guitarist Bruce Fairweather were added, and the band promptly constructed a loyal local following.
Soon word got out about Mother Love Bone outside of the Emerald City, and Polygram Records came calling to sign the band in 1989. The first release was the six-track EP Shine. The quintet toured the states and began working on their first full-length. Andrew, however, dabbled in drugs, which became a habit that would take his life on March 16, 1989. Andrew was found unconscious but alive in his apartment by his fiancé Xana after an overdose of heroine. Andrew was on life support for three days afterward, but the damage was too overwhelming and he was taken off the machines.
After Andrew died, the band couldn’t carry on without their leader, and so they disbanded. The full-length they were working on, Apple, was released later the same year after Andrew had gone, and the album received critical acclaim.
The music community of Seattle was devastated, mainly the musicians and friends who knew this larger-than-life promising musician. Andrew’s former roommate Chris Cornell came to terms with Andrew’s death by picking up his pen and scratching out a few songs in honor of his long-time friend.
With Andrew’s former band mates Gossard and Ament in on the project, the three labeled the band Temple of the Dog, taken from a lyric in the MLB song “Man of Golden Words.” The three songs became a full album with the help of Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, local guitarist Mike McCready and vocalist Eddie Vedder. The album was released a year-and-a-half after Andrew had passed away.
On New Year’s Eve 1991, budding filmmaker Scot Barbour was at an after hours party with Faith No More when his world changed with one slap on the back. “I was standing there and someone slapped a Temple of the Dog sticker on the back of my jacket,” Barbour told me as he walked the streets of Toronto to his hotel. “I asked them who it was, and they told me it was a band I should check out called Temple of the Dog. I asked for another sticker, and I put that one on my toolbox (I was working as a locksmith at the time) so I wouldn’t forget.
“I was vinyl-diving at an indie store in my hometown of San Francisco, and I came across the Temple of the Dog album, so I picked it up and I was hooked.”
His passion for the music and the person turned to film as he decided to make a documentary on the life of a man he never met, a man that had been dead two years.
The wounds were still fresh, but Barbour searched to find Andrew’s friends and family for interviews.
“It was tough. This film has taken me 10 years, and I would have to say most of that time was tracking down people in Andrew’s life to learn more about him and to get film footage.”
Those people were Andrew’s brother Brian, former band mates Gossard and Ament, former roommate Cornell, Andrew’s fiancé Xana, Andrew’s mother and many more.
“I actually had to hire a private investigator to track down Xana because no one knew where she was. Luckily, I spent enough money to find her and she agreed to do the interview.
“I was at a Devilhead show (Brian Wood’s band), and they were opening for Soundgarden. I already knew Brian at the time and he knew about the movie, so he talked to Chris Cornell that night and told him he should talk to me. Chris took Brain’s word since Brian never had anything good to say. So if Brian was excited about my movie, Chris new it had to be something special and he agreed to do the interview.”
To afford to travel and hire a private investigator, Barbour would sell something major of his and get enough money to make it happen. Then he would go back home, sell some more stuff and go track down another interview. It was a lengthy process but well worth it in the end.
“I have never seen this as a money issue. I looked at the film straight forward and didn’t think about anything and let reality follow me.”
The cold hard reality of it all for Scot Barbour and many fans of Andrew Wood is that he was an individual all his own who had a great musical talent and was taken from us far too early. It is a sad fact, but if Andrew didn’t die there wouldn’t be a Pearl Jam, Nirvana might not have broken so big, and the “grunge” sound might not have ever gotten any further than the greater northwest.
“The way the whole Seattle scene worked is a bunch of people playing in garages, and Mother Love Bone was like that, along with the Melvins and Soundgarden,” Barbour explains. “Andy dies and Mother Love Bone dies. He is the first noteworthy casualty in the Seattle music scene. That turns the town’s innocence upside down, and there is no more jamming in the garages anymore.
“Kurt Cobain comes along and Nirvana gets huge, putting Seattle in the public eye. That is when their youth ends. Nirvana becomes the adult portion of the music scene and then Kurt dies. That puts the town in their old ages. This leads to sales dropping and bands like Soundgarden breaking up. Then Layne Staley (Alice in Chains) dies and that is the end, the final nail in the coffin of the Seattle music scene.
“Andy’s death represented the birth of life for the music in Seattle, then Kurt’s death took on the adulthood and Layne was the death of it all.”
Barbour bids me a farewell until we talk soon about more Mother Love Bone stories, but until then he has to jump in the shower to get ready for the screening on this night in chilly Canada. But before he makes his way to the event, he sits back in the hotel with his brand new hemp-made sweatshirt and flavored rolling papers. The Andrew Wood Story and the journey it took to be told is, at that moment and forever after, Scot Barbour’s story to tell…
Unlike a normal doc, Scot Barbour directs MALFUNKSHUN with an impressionist’s brushstroke. He artfully paints Andy’s childhood and his relationships, his dreams and his darkness, his passion and his pain with haunting lyrics and intimate conversations with family, friends and never-before-seen interviews of Andy himself. It is a story about how one beautiful yet damaged soul was the inspiration for some of Seattle’s greatest musicians.
Interwoven with rare concert and candid footage, the film’s soundtrack includes the bands Malfunkshun, Mother Love Bone, Temple of the Dog and unreleased Andrew Wood solo.
Despite his short life, the music and the legend that Andrew Wood created lives on…