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Book Review: Mud Ride By MUDHONEY's STEVE TURNER

9 Reviewer

Have you ever wished you could sit down at a bar with one of the veterans of the Seattle grunge movement and learn how it went down? Sure, there've been plenty of documentaries, interviews, podcast episodes, and books about the subject, many of them focused on the multi-platinum-selling giants like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. But Mudhoney occupies their own unique place in the scene's history, and guitarist Steve Turner was there from the very start. And now he's got a book that tells you all about it: Mud Ride: A Messy Trip Through The Grunge Explosion, which he wrote with some help from Decibel's always-excellent Adem Tepedelen.

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From the outset, the book flies by like Steve is hanging out with you, regaling you about his upbringing, passion for skateboarding, discovery of punk rock, family life, and his fascinating role in the development of the Seattle sound. It's a punchy, breezy tale from his birth in 1965 to the preparations in 2022 for Mudhoney's latest album, Plastic Eternity. In this way, it's a lot like Mudhoney's music: straightforward, to-the-point, easy to follow, and bears a hint of snarky humor throughout.

The book is divided into three parts: 1967-1987; 1988-1999; and 2000-2022. Part one focuses on Steve's early life with his family; growing up in the Seattle suburbs; his early bands; his time in and out of college; and the story behind Green River and the early years of the Seattle scene. Part two is the real juicy stuff, the core years of Mudhoney's rise in the underground and Steve's perspective on the grunge craze of the early-90s—and its disillusionment. In part three, Steve tells us about becoming a dad, his folk projects, and Mudhoney settling in as a legacy act that still puts out records on its own terms.

One thing that immediately jumps out at you is Steve's likability. Perhaps this is because I found myself relating to his feelings and experiences in so many ways. Take this line, for example, about how he approached adolescence once he got into punk: "I wasn't a complete contrarian; it was just more important to me to do the things I liked to do than to be accepted by the other kids." Hell yea! I also saw myself in Steve's passion for digging deep into sounds he enjoys, and his hatred and disinterest in doing drugs.

Seemingly born with the DIY attitude, his interest and tinkering abilities with BMX and skateboarding eventually led him to discover punk and new wave. There's a genuine thrill you share as he recounts hearing Black Flag, DOA, and TSOL for the first time. You also can't help but cheer him on as he relates the ultimate punk ethos: "You didn't have to be a virtuoso. You didn't need to have a record deal. You just needed a little bit of gear, some like-minded friends, and a desire to make a whole lot of noise." I mean … I wanted to form another band just reading that.

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But I also found myself differing with Steve on a number of things, which only adds to the strength of the book, honestly. It's a successful narrative because Steve is unafraid to be as sharp and direct as his guitar tone. As much as I appreciate Mudhoney (especially Superfuzz Bigmuff and their debut LP), I've always liked Green River a bit more. So I couldn't help but laugh when he laments how Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament were trying to take the band in a more metal direction. But that's why it was so good! (Sorry, Steve, we're a metal publication.)

Regardless, I enjoy Steve's stubborn dedication to his vision and taste in music and guitar playing. He recognizes the niche in which he operates, and Mudhoney's role within that niche.

And as a guitarist, I enjoyed learning about Steve first discovering fuzz and distortion pedals, and knew exactly how he felt when he used them for the first time: "Clouds parted. Gabriel's trumpet sounded." I also learned that Steve was the mastermind behind one of my favorite riffs of all time on "Leech" (I originally knew Melvins' stolen version).

That said, this does get me to one of the book's only shortcomings. Although he talks about his riffing styles and ideas in the early days (especially "Touch Me I'm Sick"), any mention of these cool details is missing from the discussions of the later albums, which he seemingly glosses over. The guitar sound is particularly good on records like 2002's Since We've Become Translucent, so some chatter about those riffs would have enriched part three. But I also understand he could only cram so many of these bits in before the book would get out of control.

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And to be sure, the book is packed with so many great details about the Seattle scene and its inhabitants. There's something about nearly every major player and band (with the conspicuous exception of Alice in Chains, which makes sense, as Mudhoney didn't rub shoulders with them as much, aside from Mark's contribution to "Right Turn"), along with their side projects. I laughed way too hard at Steve's description of fun side-bands as "fuck bands," as well as the stories he told of The Thrown Ups and their song titles (e.g., "The Person in My Bowel [Is Very Sad]"). Steve's terse description of Courtney Love is great too: "I liked Courtney. But she was a lot."

The band's trajectory follows that of the scene in an oddly neat fashion. Mudhoney experienced a steady rise in buzz and excitement in the late-80s, an ignition of popularity in 1991, a peak in fortunes and morale in 1993, a couple rough and complicated years holding their own … and then in 1996 the floor just kind of gave in. From there it was a slide back into relative obscurity until newer audiences found their way to grunge later on (as 13-year-old me did, obsessively, in 2000).

The end of 1993 seemed to show the promise and uncertainty of the time. Mudhoney was able to support both Nirvana and Pearl Jam on legs of their respective tours. The environment around Nirvana was tense, complicated and uneasy. The vibe around Pearl Jam was totally different, way more relaxed. You get a real "top of the world" feeling as Steve relates a celebratory moment the two bands shared:

"In fact, while on this tour with Pearl Jam in late November, we had a giant Thanksgiving meal, all of us together—the crew and everybody, like fifty people. It was so fun being on tour with them at the time (and it still is today). I was happy for them and for their success."

This also shows Steve's gratitude for Mudhoney's own success: "Mudhoney were selling tens of thousands of albums (not bad for the underground) … We led an oddly charmed life in many ways. We got to see how the "other half" lived, without having to deal with the downsides. Eddie Vedder couldn't go to the grocery store, but I could." This is a sign of true character, in that he's proud of his band's genuinely impressive record (Piece of Cake sold 150,000 copies, after all), but has a mature and sober perspective on the bands that got even luckier.

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And this character extends to the warmth he expresses toward his parents, despite his differences with them, along with the value he places on his relationship with his siblings and his two sons. Far too many veterans of the punk and alternative scenes revel in extending their adolescent resentment of their parents to the end of their days, which is just so obnoxious and tiresome. Thankfully, any sign of that is totally absent from Steve's retelling.

Anyway, I won't give everything away here, as there's so many dimensions and facets to the book that it's hard to summarize it all. But just know that there's a story about Mudhoney collaborating on a song with Sir Mix-A-Lot. There's also details about how the band got its name (hint: Russ Meyer flicks). Oh, and Bruce Dickinson makes a prominent appearance. And there's a story about the song, "Run Shithead, Run."

You get the idea. In short, it's a story you'll enjoy reading, from the endless lore about grunge, to Steve's personal experiences with having a family, running a little record label of his own, and indispensable tips on running a lean touring machine (Hint: Keep your staffing levels to the essentials, and do as much as you can yourself).

I highly recommend this book. Put on some of the band's gnarly turns while reading it. If you want Steve and his co-conspirators at their best, stick with the live stuff. The band absolutely kills it there in a way the studio recordings can't match. By the end, you'll want to hang out with Steve and jam with him.

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