Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Man Who Sold the (Grunge) World to Sweden~ by Richard Wilson

The magic year for me was 1991. I was a 20 year old Swedish guy with musical dreams. I had graduated with low grades and I thought life was finally about to begin. No more school for me! (it turned out to be lots more of school though years later.) I had been working at the grave yard for two summers to get money to go to America for three months, with my friend Fredrik.

 Now, me and Fred were metal heads. We were playing in bands and we had our last show with a band called Rebel Kiss, before we went to the states. We played covers of Skid Row, Joan Jett and added a few songs of our own. I was fed up with playing drums. I had done it since I was 4 and I wanted to do something else. We had no clue what was in store. Guns n' Roses released Use Your Illusion. I didn't like it. Fredrik loved it. Metallica released the black album... Well. More on that later.

 Richard Wilson today

Fred worked at a record store and before we went to America he played me some songs from this new album by a band called Pearl Jam. It had some awful pink cover art, I thought. The music seemed ok, a little less aggressive than what I would normally listen to, but I didn't really get it then. I had heard Mother Love Bone at another friend's and thought that was okay too. It was too much "glam" for me, though. I had no idea about the Andy Wood story back then. I was into thrash metal mostly.

So in September of 1991 these two Swedes went to America to meet with some pen pals and party! Back in the day we actually wrote hand written letters and sent to the other side of the world! There was nothing called the internet. It was freaking dinosaur land. The world seemed so much bigger then. Looking back at it we were two really innocent kids from a small town in Sweden going to huge cities like New York, LA, Houston and New Orleans.

Richard's VIP Pass from the Pearl Jam show 

I remember flying over LA thinking "God, how in the hell are we gonna find our ways in this town? We're gonna get lost and never come home." We never got lost -- that I can remember -- but USA was VAST to me. I looked at the map when we were going to Houston from New Orleans and it looked fairly close... It was something like a 8 hour greyhound bus ride! The state of Texas is bigger than the country Sweden. Go figure!

In New Orleans we stayed at the Bravenders. It was two brothers and their lovely mom Beverly. She used to make us breakfast and dinner. I had never had potato chips and toast for breakfast! She made a great pot roast too. It was awesome. We hung out with the local dudes in the neighborhood and went to the rock bars. Just like in Sweden, heavy metal was huge but something wasn't right. Metallica had put out the black album and it kinda SUCKED! To me it did. I was a fan since the early days long before Bob Rock fucked them up. I used to get teased about liking them. People said they sounded like a washing machine full of stones. Now every one and their mama suddenly loved Enter Sandman and Nothing Else Matters. "Dude, Metallica is great, you were right". I was gutted.

 Richard finally getting to visit Seattle a few years ago

Two things happened in New Orleans that probably changed my life forever. I was listening a lot to Bleach by Nirvana because Jason Newsted said they were cool. One night this guy Noah came over to our house with a advance copy of the new Nirvana cd. Nevermind. I'm like: "gimme that"!  We nervously put it on the stereo. At first I'm not digging the polished sound. It sounds nothing like Bleach. It was something about those first three songs though. The more I listened the more it grew on me. When the video for Teen Spirit started to show up on MTV that was it! Holy crap those grungy foxy cheerleaders!

 This was the antithesis to Warrant! This was what I had been waiting for! If there would have been a camera present to film us, I think it would have probably made a pretty awesome Beavis and Butthead episode! Then one night we were drinking and watching Headbangers ball. There's guests from Pearl Jam, Mike McCready and this super weird dude Eddie Vedder. He's writing shit on his arms and he's vaguely answering questions at best. He's like no other rock star I had ever seen. This guy is super weird but in a good way. He made the host Ricki Rachtman confused as hell.

Richard makes a friend in Washington State 

We loved it and turned more and more towards the new alternative music scene. It was like a new us against them thing brewing...We started buying alot of new cd's and I think these New Orleans guys Noah and a guy called Jamie introduced us to alot of "alternative" music. I remember hearing Soundgarden, Janes Addiction, Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumkins and stuff like that. A whole new world was opening up right before us. To be honest this is how I also discovered Mother Love Bone, full on. Holy shit! Songs like Man of Golden Words, Stargazer, Bone China. I can't believe I didn't like this better before. I kept quiet listening to his last workds in Stargazer and asked myself, " But what is a Xana?  Maybe a girl, but then, who is Xana " ?!  (I found out about that soon as well;) I bought the Half Ass Monkey Boy t-shirt. I found out more about Andy's tragic passing through magazine interviews and when Temple of the Dog was released in his honor I couldn't believe how awesome these guys are! The sky was the limit!

After New Orleans we went to Houston. We had now bought army boots, wore long johns with cut off army pants over and we bought flannel shirts at K-mart for $5. We were evolving into grungers! We couldn't grow goatees no matter how we tried though. That shit came way later :) It was this buzz all over that is hard to describe. I felt like we were part of something magical that was very present but still vague. There was a sense of freedom if you will. We read a lot of magazines and in one of them was a gig ad for Pearl Jam live in Houston at The Vatican, October 11 1991.

 There was no chance in hell we'd miss that! So we had this guy, a friend of the family we stayed at, drive us there. He was smoking pot all the time while driving, and he had a loaded shotgun for protection in his truck. Hey, it's Texas! I don't think I had even seen anyone smoke pot before, and the shotgun was really frightening but what the hell, we have to see Pearl Jam!The Vatican was a small club with a capacity for I would guess maybe 4-500. When we saw Pearl Jam there were maybe a 50-100 people there. The opening band was called "I Love You". They were really cool. We sat in the back and suddenly spotted Jeff Ament and Doug Pinnic sitting close by. Fred went over there and talked to them and asked for autographs. I was too shy and I wasn't into asking for autographs. 

 Richard's original Nirvana Ticket 

This night is a 22 year old blur in my memory but I remember a few things. The show consisted of most of the songs from Ten and a version of The Beatles' I've Got a Feeling' . Eddie was totally maniacal and hung from the ceiling, climbing the amps and stuff. At one point some idiot yells out "Where's ANDY"? To which Jeff took great offence and was rightfully pissed off, as was the rest of the guys. Ed replied with "He's in a good place now".

After the show the pot smoking shotgun shooting guy introduced us to Dave Abbruzzeze as his "nephews from Sweden". Dave was super friendly and talked with us at length. We might have said hi to Stone and Mike I don't remember. I don't remember much of what we talked about with Dave but he invited us backstage. This might be the moment of my life that deserves the biggest face palm. We're like "no man, we need to get back home "!We did meet Jeff too and I remember him liking my Mother Love Bone t-shirt and said they quit doing drugs after Andy passed. At least that's how I remember it. As far as I've heard no one else ever did heroin, but they we're all against all drugs now. Seemed to make sense.

We also met Eddie and Fred said "Man, you guys are gonna be HUGE"! To which he replied "You really think so? Thanks!" (Little did he know a few weeks later they would explode into what they became). I also remember him saying he had a soar throat, but we never noticed during the show. He was singing even better than on the record! I bought a Pearl Jam/Mookie Blaylock 10 basketball jersey, but didn't have enough money to get the matching shorts. Another face palm moment.A few weeks later there was a new ad for Nirvana playing at the Vatican! Are you kidding me? We are so going! When we got there we soon find out it's sold out... Wtf? I don't remember how but we got hold of their tour manager and said we were from Sweden. "You guys flew here for this"? Well... not really but we did travel from New Orleans for this, Fredrick half lied.

 The guy tells us to wait and he's hushing and pulling us to the side. We walk with him where no one can see us and he pulls out VIP tickets from people on the guest list. Lucky for us, and sucky for them. He's offering us these tickets for I think double the price and we buy them of course!Needless to say, this time the place is PACKED! It was right at this moment that Nirvana started to break from playing small clubs like this! We were so lucky to have seen both of these bands at their first steps to major stardom! Before the show we are once again sitting in the back. There's a door there and when we are standing by it it opens. Fred is a tall guy. Out walks an equally tall guy. They are facing each other for a moment, as if both perplex of their equal size, and slowly the tall guy closes the door again. That was a weird moment. We had no idea what Nirvana looked like. We had seen the Teen Spirit video which gives little away really. When they took to the stage the tall guy walks out with a bass on. It was Krist Novoselic! I think Fredrick was happiest about that more than the music. Another grunge giant!

 This show was totally insane! Kurt was turning his back at the audience any chance he had. It seemed to me like we were witnessing their rehearsal more than a gig, only the rehearsal was huge and chaotic! Shoes were flying everywhere, crowd surfing, stage diving, all the good stuff! We didn't get to meet the band like we did with Pearl jam but a close encounter by the two giants was cool enough! So this is the way we took grunge to Sweden. 

 We couldn't stop talking about this amazing trip and the new bands we had discovered. Our friends back home were all like Pearl whaat? Soundwhaaat? Oh we have heard Nirvana. It's ok but no metal. Me and Fred tried to convince our friends to start a grunge band but most just shook their heads. So we started writing stuff ourselves and probably started the first Swedish grunge band! A few months later the music climate of course changed forever and almost every metal band in town was now a "grunge band".