Phantom Songs: Temple Of The Dog – “Hunger Strike”
Phantom Songs is an ongoing series of musical pieces that you can’t quite put your finger on. You have most definitely heard the song before, but are most likely not able to pinpoint who made it, when it was released, and/or what the song is really about. All of the artist’s history and biography was either stolen from wikipedia or made up entirely.
It would be easy for you to picture this scene, as I know you’ve pictured it before. You’re standing in a grassy field. The grass blades bear no color, just a slight hue of greyish-green that can only be described as “perrywinkle gruel”. There’s a crying clown in the background tossing flaming sticks into the air. The sky is an unnatural variant of gunmetal grey, as the fake sunset emits a cheesy red stain. There’s a little girl in a white dress that looks sad as fuck, as she tears grass out piece by piece. A bearded guy sporting a beanie and a broken bass guitar reflects on feelings of guilt. There’s a present droning sound coming from far away, as the bassist moans in agony. The clown eats a sandwich.
That’s the only way you can summarize the Seattle Grunge Movement. And people got mad rich off of it. I’m talking Vengaboys rich. So rich, they could move out of Seattle. But for some reason, they chose not to and ended up generating a genre of music that was outlasted by the careers of both Macaulay Culkin and Pauly Shore. The results were unremarkable and only a few of those bands are remembered today. One of those bands were named Pearl Jam and they had the uncanny ability to make songs that put you to sleep. Their key ingredient is repetitivity, or the ability to make every song sound exactly the same to you can tune it out as white noise and have a good night’s rest. One of my favorite Pearl Jam drone sesh’s was called “I’m Going Hungry”:
Oh man, I just love the way it takes Eddie Vedder a half hour to finish a word. It almost feels like he’s saying nothing at all. Yet it means so much to me! This was one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs to hate for over a decade. Or at least until recently…
…when I found out it wasn’t made by Pearl Jam.
TEMPLE OF THE DOG?!?! Who the hell is Temple of the Dog?!?!? Surely, they’re some rip-off Seattle Grunge Band. The lead singer sounds JUST like Eddie Vedder. And come to think of it, the moaning guy in the background sounds like Chris Cornell, of Soundgarden semi-fame. This must be some sort of parody song. Probably was featured on the soundtrack of Airheads or some other movie that tried to lampoon rock music. But I had to give them some credit. Temple of the Dog made a legit-sounding Seattle Band. I had to know who those guys were and what happened to them.
As it turns out, Temple of the Dog was founded by Chris Cornell and featured every member of Pearl Jam. Wait, what? Mind you, this was in 1990, when both Soundgarden and Pearl Jam were already real-ass bands with record contracts and whatnot. For the purpose of honoring a dead friend, Cornell invited Pearl Jam to make an entire album with him under a name that is not only unrecognizable, but also unmarketable. In fact, their hit [which is actually called “Hunger Strike”] didn’t even become a hit until 2 years later when Pearl Jam blew the fugg up. I bet that made Chris Cornell feel all sorts of great. He puts all of this time and effort into making a Seattle Superbandsonic and nobody gives a shit until they think it was made exclusively by somebody else. It took Cornell until 1994 to start making dollar dollar bills and by then, Kurt Cobain was dead and nobody really cared. Soundgarden broke up 3 years later to deaf ears.
In a way, “Hunger Strike” is Chris Cornell’s legacy. His only relevant song from an era when grunge was relevant. Painstakingly-written words, coming through a voice that it not his own but equally terrible. It’s obvious from the sound of the groaning and over-use of the word “hungry”, that the song is about pain and suffering. But is that really all that’s to it? Let’s take a look:
I don’t mind stealing bread
From the mouths of decadence
Read more: Pearl Jam – Hunger Strike Lyrics | MetroLyrics
First off, I have to point out that I’m copying and pasting from MetroLryics. MetroLyrics: For All Your Lyrics Desires and Needs and Whatevers®. Even MetroLyrics think’s this song is by Pearl Jam. Suck it, Cornell!
Secondly, very interesting opening line. The stereotypical thing to assume would be that our protagonist is a thief, or a pauper if you will. This modern-day Robin Hood wanders around Seattle stealing biscotti’s and lattés from newspaper-clutching yupptards. He probably lives in a shelter and spends his day protesting for the benefit of Generation X. Or maybe it’s something else. Bear with me, here. He is stealing bread straight from a mouth. There’s only one creature that does that. In the first 2 lines, it’s a dead giveaway that our protagonist is not a human, but a bird.
[Just as I wrote that, a bird crashed into my window. It’s a sign.]
But I can’t feed on the powerless
When my cup’s already overfilled
But it’s on the table
The fire’s cooking
Our bird hero has some morals and a clear code of honor. Despite what his friends and peers do, he refuses to prey on smaller creatures for sport. He figures that there’s no reason to eat when he’s already eaten enough. His friends mock him about this endlessly, even setting him up on scenarios where it seems all too tempting to prey on a small creature. It’s all set up for him, lying on a silver platter, just begging to be eaten. But this bird must persevere!
And they’re farming babies
And the slaves are all working
Blood is on the table
The mouths are chokin’
This is the bird explaining to his friends why he won’t participate in their hunting. One day, a few months ago, he came across a red barn. He peered inside and saw a ghastly operation. Hundreds upon hundreds of fellow birds, aptly called “chickens” by the humans, locked up in cages and forced to have babies on a daily basis. They work around the clock, so the evil human can take their babies and use them as food. They don’t even give the babies a chance to grow up. They die prematurely in their shell. In every American household, the blood of innocent birds has been spilled all over the breakfast nook. And their chewing mouths don’t even realize the pain and anguish they’re putting these enslaved birds through. Since that day, he has sworn to never prey on the weak and only steal food straight from a human’s mouth. This act can be deemed very tricky, especially when you live in a rural countryside where most humans eat indoors. In fact, it’s been days since he’s tasted a morsel.
I’m going hungry
Keep fighting the good fight!
So there you have it. Chris Cornell might not have a lot to say, but he firmly believes in Bird Rights. Because after all, they like humans. Except they’re birds. Yeah!
Join me next time when Sister Hazel sings a love song about a tooth brush!