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Victoria author takes a messy trip through the birth of grunge

"This is the first first-hand telling of the birth of grunge, from somebody who was there from Day One," Adem Tepedelen says of his co-author, Mudhoney guitarist Steve Turner. "It is 100 per cent the first one written from that scene."

For those who have a working knowledge of the groundbreaking music scene in Seattle, Washington, the Big Four of Grunge need no introduction.

Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains are the groups which made the city synonymous with alternative rock in the 1990s. Equally vital to that community, however, is Mudhoney, the pioneering rock quartet many consider to be the linchpins of grunge, the trailblazing music genre.

Victoria author Adem Tepedelen was a student at the University of Oregon when Mudhoney guitarist Steve Turner formed his first notable band, Green River. The punk group was short lived, but its legacy looms large to this day: After dissolving in 1988, its members would go on to form Mother Love Bone, Temple of the Dog, Pearl Jam, and Mudhoney.

That fertile period of of Seattle history provides the backbone for Mud Ride: A Messy Trip Through the Grunge Explosion, a memoir Turner co-authored with Tepedelen. “He was there from the earliest days, going to shows in the late 1970s and early ’80s,” Tepedelen said. “He grew up in that music scene.”

Tepedelen, 55, was living in Seattle by 1990, when the newly formed Mudhoney was making serious inroads as band. Tepedelen remained stationed in Seattle until 2002, when he moved permanently to Victoria. That gave him an insider’s perspective on Mud Ride. He was an editor with The Rocket when the Seattle biweekly was the top music magazine in the Pacific Northwest, and has been in the orbit of several key people interviewed in the book.

Turner and Tepedelen didn’t know each other before they worked together on Mud Ride, but connected at length during the pandemic via Zoom. Weekly meetings over the course of a year led to the creation of the memoir, which Tepedelen said is the first from a ground-zero member of Seattle’s alternative rock assembly.

“This is the first first-hand telling of the birth of grunge, from somebody who was there from Day One. It is 100 per cent the first one written from that scene.”

Turner provides an authoritative voice. Recordings from that early Seattle era were primitive, but Mudhoney efforts, which were drenched in Turner’s signature fuzzy guitar tone, always stood tallest.

Touch Me I’m Sick is included on the band’s 1988 debut, Superfuzz Bigmuff, the spark which set fire to the city’s nascent music scene. When Rolling Stone created its list of the 50 Greatest Grunge Albums in 2019, it placed Superfuzz Bigmuff at No. 5 — ahead of Nirvana’s In Utero, Soundgarden’s Superunknown, and Alice in Chains’ Dirt.

Mudhoney and Pearl Jam remain the only groups from the era still in operation today, and both still have the majority of their key members in the line-up. That gives Mudhoney a level of seniority few can match. Guitarist Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam — barely a band when Mudhoney jumped from Sub Pop to a major label in 1991 — says as much in his forward to Mud Ride.

Turner writes at length in the book about grunge, the once-thriving, and later much-maligned, genre of music that is native to Seattle. Many from that community, including Mudhoney singer Mark Arm, have been quoted as loathing the term, despite it being one of the top Washington State exports alongside Starbucks, Microsoft, and Jimi Hendrix.

Turner acquiesced whenever the dreaded G-word came up in conversation, and celebrated its contribution to Seattle lore.

“I really found him to be a really easy person to collaborate with,” Tepedelen said. “He’s very open, and was willing to talk about whatever, which is how you need to be when you’re doing a memoir. You need someone who feels comfortable talking about stuff that’s kind of uncomfortable at times.”

Vancouver and Victoria (where Green River performed in 1987) were influential stops for bands from the Pacific Northwest, and the city’s key acts — Mudhoney included — were no exception. “Back then, crossing the border was no problem,” Tepedelen said. “B.C. has always been a part of the success of these bands, and was always a market that they were aware of and appreciated.”

Mudhoney never reached the same level of popularity as its Seattle peers, and was bested sales-wise by a number of lesser-talented grunge bands. But Turner, 58, full of intelligence and wit, remains an erudite spokesman for the city, nonetheless.

“I really liked the idea of Steve’s role as a sound innovator and creator and originator,” Tepedelen said. “I was really into the idea of who was responsible for this sound and this aesthetic. in a lot of ways, Mark Arm gets a lot of credit for the attitude of grunge, but when you look at what people really think about grunge, a lot of it comes down to the sound. And Steve had such a distinctive sound. He was really important in establishing this blueprint.”

Mud Ride: A Messy Trip Through the Grunge Explosion is available in stores and online June 13.

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