Suggest a Songfact / Artistfact
Album: Temple of the DogReleased: 1990Charted:
Temple of the Dog began when Chris Cornell of Soundgarden wrote two songs in honor of his good friend Andrew Wood, who died of a heroin overdose in March 1990. Wood was kept on life support for three days after he overdosed, during which time Cornell and his band mates came to see him. Wood was in a promising Seattle band called Mother Love Bone with Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, who were forming their new band that would become Pearl Jam. Cornell teamed up with them and guitarist Mike McCready with the intention of recording some of Wood's solo songs along with Cornell's two tribute tracks. Responding to concerns that they were somehow exploiting Wood's work, the guys decided to release an album of all original material in tribute to Wood, and called the band Temple of the Dog after a Mother Love Bone lyric from their song "Man of Golden Words."
"Hunger Strike" was the last song recorded for the album; Chris Cornell wrote it because they had only nine tracks and he has a compulsive distaste for odd numbers. Describing the song in the Pearl Jam Twenty collection, he said, "I was wanting to express the gratitude for my life but also disdain for people where that's not enough, where they want more. There's no way to really have a whole lot more than you need usually without taking from somebody else that can't really afford to give it to you. It's sort of about taking advantage of a person or people who really don't have anything."
The same verse is repeated twice in this song, as Cornell felt he had said everything he could on the subject with those words. Once these verse lyrics are out of the way, it's all chorus and bridge, which works thanks to the second vocalist on the song: Eddie Vedder.
Temple of the Dog recorded the song on the very day Vedder flew in from San Diego to meet with his new bandmates in what would become Pearl Jam: October 8, 1990. It was the first time he met any of the guys, and for most of the sessions, he kept to himself (Vedder was chosen based on a tape he sent to the guys where he added vocals to some of their tracks). Chris Cornell planned to sing both the high and low parts of the "Going Hungry" chorus by himself with the help of overdubs, but he was struggling with the low register. In a defining moment, Vedder stepped up to the microphone and sang the low parts of the chorus, which made the song click for Cornell.
With two distinct voices, Cornell could now sing the verse lyrics at the beginning of the song, and Vedder could follow with the same lyrics, giving it a different sound. With both voices on the chorus, the song really came together and became the highlight of the album. It was a huge moment for Eddie, as he interjected himself into Cornell's song without coming off as arrogant, and gained the respect of his new bandmates in the process. It was Vedder's first recorded vocal for a major record, and it proved to those in the room that he understood their sound and was willing to contribute any way he could, even if it wasn't for his band.
The video for the song was shot in Discovery Park in Seattle. The western view at sunset with band members' backs to the camera facing Bainbridge Island, home of Andrew Wood, was a symbolic goodbye to their friend.
The clip was directed by Paul Rachman, who did the Alice in Chains video for "Man In The Box
" and later made the documentary American Hardcore
. Chris Cornell had done plenty of music videos and knew how to sell his performance, but Eddie Vedder had never appeared in a video and was uncomfortable lip-synching. "I was trying to coach him as best I could to just listen, and find a spot to look at, to stop your mind from wandering," Rachman told Stereogum
Matt Cameron, who was with Soundgarden at the time, was the drummer for Temple of the Dog. He ended up joining Peal Jam a few years later.
Cornell has joined Pearl Jam on several occasions onstage to perform this song.
This was the first single from the album and by far the most famous song by Temple of the Dog. The follow-up single, "Say Hello 2 Heaven
," is a song Chris Cornell wrote for Andrew Wood.
Temple of the Dog got back together for a tour in 2016. Around this time, Chris Cornell told Rolling Stone: "'Hunger Strike' and 'Wooden Jesus' were ideas that might have been a few months old, but I had never really finished writing or fully realized them. They didn't feel like Soundgarden, so I didn't really pursue them. But 'Hunger Strike' came about because of an existential crisis that Soundgarden faced at that moment. We were sort of the first band [from Seattle] that had attention from labels in a meaningful way. There was a bidding war, which was unusual for any band from Seattle. We were living our dream, but there was also this mistrust over what that meant. Does this make us a commercial rock band? Does it change our motivation when we're writing a song and making a record? 'Hunger Strike' is a statement that I'm staying true to what I'm doing regardless of what comes of it, but I will never change what I'm doing for the purposes of success or money."