Q&A: “Hunger Strike” Director Paul Rachman Looks Back On 25 Years Of Temple Of The Dog
For those who grew up with the alt-rock ‘90s, the images are permanently seared into the subconscious: a lighthouse beaming across the overcast dawn, a bonfire raging in the pitch-black night, and two of the most iconic singers of the era belting through the long grass (and their own long hair). The video for the elegiac “Hunger Strike” first hit MTV in mid-1991, as the first transmission from Temple Of The Dog, a grunge supergroup assembled from members of Seattle leading lights Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, the latter then known as Mookie Blaylock. The project paid tribute to the late Andrew Wood — lead singer of Mother Love Bone, good friend of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, and bandmate of future Pearl Jam members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament — who had overdosed on heroin the previous year.
When the “Hunger Strike” clip initially debuted, the response was modest, and whatever excitement it generated was mostly attributable to the story of Wood’s death and the growing star power of Cornell. But by the next year, grunge had exploded, Pearl Jam had become one of the biggest bands in the world, and a re-cut version of the video was dropped into the heaviest of MTV rotations. Today, “Hunger Strike” arguably stands as the pre-eminent power ballad of the entire grunge era, and the sweeping, evocative imagery of the Seattle-set video is inseparable from the majesty of the song itself.
Before the band released their 25th anniversary reissue of their self-titled ‘91 debut LP today, and before they head out on their first official tour together this November, we talked to the director of the “Hunger Strike” visual, Paul Rachman. In the early ‘90s, Rachman was a member of the Propaganda Films stable of acclaimed video directors, and he would go on to co-found the Slamdance Film Festival and helm the 2006 punk documentary American Hardcore, but he credits the grunge movement and bands like Temple Of The Dog with rescuing his career from the nadir of early-’90s hair metal.
We spoke to Rachman about what it was like to brave the elements with the future giants of ‘90s alternative rock and see Eddie Vedder’s star power shine through on his first-ever video shoot.
STEREOGUM: How did you originally get hooked up with the Temple Of The Dog video?
PAUL RACHMAN: Well, I was a music video director for Propaganda Films in LA, and I had done the Alice In Chains “Man in the Box” video. I directed that in December of 1990, which was kind of at the time that they were finishing up with the Temple Of The Dog record. And Alice In Chains happened to share the same managers as Soundgarden and Pearl Jam — Kelly Curtis and Susan Silver. So the “Man in the Box” video kind of broke Alice In Chains. It was a Buzz Bin video, it was pretty successful.
Incidentally, when grunge came around, it really rescued my career. I came out of hardcore punk rock — all my early early work was Bad Brains, Gang Green, all that stuff. When I showed up in LA as a music video director in the late-’80s, all the big budgets and all the money was in glam and heavy metal. And it was tough for me to be doing all that stuff because it wasn’t really hitting my gut. And when grunge came around, it just hit my gut, and my work improved. Because I kinda needed to love the music for the work to be good.
So anyway, the band loved the “Man in the Box” video, and when the Temple Of The Dog album was ready, and they were ready to do a video, Kelly and Susan came to me directly. And that’s how I got the job.
Susan had said: “We really want you to do this, and the guys in the band want you to do this, but we need you to come up to Seattle, come up a week early and hang out with them.” Because early on, there was a little bit of disagreement between the Soundgarden camp and the Pearl Jam camp. Basically, the Soundgarden guys didn’t want to be in the video. They didn’t want a video with the band members. They wanted something a little more cinematic, filmic. A little more of a pure tribute to Andrew Wood. Whereas the Pearl Jam guys — who weren’t Pearl Jam yet, by the way, they were Mookie Blaylock — they really wanted to be in the video. They needed the exposure.
This wasn’t something that the managers could really solve. So they needed a third party. And for me, it was like, “Oh great, so I’ve been given this video, and there’s no idea.” So I went up to Seattle, the mid-early spring of ‘91, and met with the bands. I’d never been to Seattle, and I was kinda taken by, you know, there’s a certain dark beauty up there. There’s overcast, the weather changes in a second… from what I understood the landscapes and everything were really striking. So I kinda hung out with the band, and was just throwing out this idea of scouting some great, iconic Seattle locations… the idea was to make something very organic. Keep it connected to the city, keep it connected to the place, and in turn, keep it emotionally connected to Andrew Wood in that way.
So they actually liked that. And Chris Cornell came around. And he’s the one who actually kinda led me on my scout. And he brought me to this park called Discovery Park in Seattle. And it had everything. It was an incredible place, because it had some old buildings where we could do some interiors, it had these great vistas overlooking the water, it had a forest, it had this area with all these big weeds. At a stone’s throw from each other, it had such a variety of looks. It was incredible. And I go: “Oh, this is perfect, let’s do this.” And we picked half a dozen spots that I thought would be visually striking, and that was it, we were off.
For shooting a video on location, I’d gone there with a little extra time, ahead of schedule. And they were… you know, when I look back, they were like the nicest band, the nicest people I’d ever worked with. Kelly Curtis, who’s now Pearl Jam’s manager, was somewhat experienced with film production already. He’d worked with Cameron Crowe already, maybe as a production manager. And they were just so incredibly helpful. Because this was a low-budget video. It’s not like A&M was throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars behind this kind of hybrid, one-off band. They were doing it because of the success of Soundgarden. Because Soundgarden was already a big band, they were established.
So the next day, I hung out with Stone [Gossard] and Eddie [Vedder]. We kinda had lunch. Eddie was pretty shy and quiet, but whenever he did say something, he was very on-point, very specific, and very clear with what he liked and what he wanted. And Stone was just the nicest guy to talk to. We talked a lot about punk rock, we talked about hardcore punk, which I was pretty versed at — really about my early, early videos.
So that’s kind of how I got it. But I had to go up there to seal the deal. Because if I had gone up there, and we didn’t kinda agree on something, it might not have happened.
STEREOGUM: What were your initial impressions of “Hunger Strike” the song??
RACHMAN: Oh, I loved the song. The song was amazing. All the music on that album is so emotional and heartfelt. Even without reading the lyrics, you can feel that these songs mean something to somebody. There’s so many great songs on that album. “Say Hello 2 Heaven” is a great song, the whole album is incredible. But this was the chosen track.
STEREOGUM: Were you familiar and/or a fan of both groups already, independently of each other?
RACHMAN: Well, the funny thing is, Pearl Jam was [still] playing as Mookie Blaylock. And I’d seen them as Mookie Blaylock. What they were telling me about their new band was [just], “We have a new band, and our record is coming out next year,” or later that year. But I hadn’t heard any tracks. I don’t think it was ready. But I could tell these guys were focused, they were talented, and you could tell — this time they’re going out and they know what they want.
STEREOGUM: Was there any kind of rivalry, friendly or otherwise, between the two camps?
RACHMAN: Absolutely not. There was no rivalry at all. You could tell that these guys had known each other for a while. They were very collaborative, very supportive of each other. But you could tell that everyone, particularly Chris, they were just excited about this record. This was an important record for them, and for Chris in particular, you could tell that he was committed to this, committed to this being successful — because of his best friend, his roommate. You could tell that this was more than a side project to him.
STEREOGUM: What was the actual day of filming like? When did you start, what was the weather like??
RACHMAN: Oh my God. So the day of the scout was kind of your typical half-overcast Seattle day. It was beautiful. And I wake up that morning in the hotel, and I look out the window, and it’s snowing! There’s snow on the ground, it’s sticking. I’m like, “Damn!” And we’re like, “We’re going anyway!” If this is gonna be a video that’s in the snow, you just go. And the way the weather was explained to me in Seattle, it changes within hours, if not minutes. I had faith.
So the crew gathers, we get out there, and the first shot I set up was the shot of Chris Cornell on the crest, with [Matt] Cameron behind him on the drums. The snow had cleared by the time we got to Discovery Park, and there was no more snow on the ground. But it was drizzling maybe, it was overcast. And sure enough, we set up the shot, and the minute we’re ready to roll, the sun peeks out. And it was brilliant. I remember looking at the monitor — you know, we’re shooting film, so you’re not really seeing what you’re getting until you process the film — but I could tell that these shots are great.
Now, Chris had experience doing music videos. He was good. He was a great performer, and I just told him: “It’s playback, it’s stupid, but you gotta go for it.” And he got that, I didn’t really have to show him much.
STEREOGUM: Around what time of day was it when you were shooting that?
RACHMAN: That’s like early morning. That shot, we were up at, I’m gonna guess between 8 and 9 AM. Because it was a long day, this was a one-day shoot. So we got that set up, and then we shifted to an interior.
Now incidentally, you know that there’s two versions of the video. The basic difference between the two versions is that the first version has a bit of a darker mood. It’s a little visually darker and stranger, maybe a little more focused on the loss of a friend, that type of vibe. The second version, we went back with an editor and put more Pearl Jam in, once Pearl Jam broke. And the second version came out a year later. And I love the second version, I have to say. I did not see this as compromising the vision at all, because it made sense. It absolutely made sense.
So we did these interiors with Eddie and Chris — there was like a table with food and ants crawling around. I’d placed these guys kind of sitting under the table. It wasn’t really rock star stuff, it was kind of anti-rock star in a way. And the minute we got inside, it started pouring. So then I think it was lunchtime, and we broke, and we go back outside, and it had stopped raining. And then we went to the weeds, the shot in the tall grasses. And in the tall grasses, I shot the Pearl Jam guys with their guitars, and I shot Eddie.
This is the very first music video Eddie’s ever done. It’s his first time being filmed for something like this, first time being filmed for anything maybe. And he was really uncomfortable with the lip syncing. It just felt artificial to him, he didn’t really like it. But it wasn’t a conflict at all. He was communicating with me that it felt weird, and he was trying to find a comfort zone in there, and 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. All the other people in the bands had had some music video experience, because Mother Love Bone had done a video, maybe two. But for him this was new.
So we did several takes with Eddie, and he nailed it. I mean, I could just tell looking at the monitor, “Wow, this is a great close up.” I just knew it.
STEREOGUM: Those shots were magnetic, certainly.
RACHMAN: And I knew it then. I wasn’t jumping up and down saying it, because I wanted to keep everything [moving]… but it was great. I think I did Eddie first, and then I went onto some of the cutaways of the band members playing in there.
Mike McCready, that might have been his first music video, too. Because he was in some other bands in Seattle, and Stone and Jeff [Ament] asked him to join what became Pearl Jam, and also to play on Temple Of The Dog. And I remember he was just explaining how lucky he felt, and how in awe he was to be invited to play with these guys, to be invited to be in a band with these guys. And he also had a great sense of humor, just a funny guy. He was awesome.
So we did the weeds section, and then there might’ve been a couple of other setups, but the next big setup was in the woods. And we knew we were going to hit the woods, we knew we were gonna create a bonfire, and we knew that the woods setup was gonna be a bigger setup, because I needed one big light source to make it kind of like moonlight or something — because, you know, daytime is still ending early that far north in the spring. So we go up there, we’re setting up, and we start rolling the first take of the whole band in the woods, and it starts hailing. And these hail stones are like two inches round, I kid you not. I think Matt’s drums got ruined from the hail stones. And the hail storm lasted… a couple minutes? But it felt like an eternity. It was pelting us, these were like rocks falling from the sky.
STEREOGUM: Was the band totally unfazed by this? Like, “Oh, this is just what it’s like up here?”
RACHMAN: Well, apparently, this happens in Seattle. Everybody was a little freaked out, because it was like: “Are we gonna get this shot? What’s gonna happen?” We were worried about the equipment, we were worried about the lights, whatever. But then it stopped. And we just continued shooting.
So then we had to start a fire, and everything was kind of wet. We got that done. And we wrapped it up that way, in the woods. And it was a fulfilling experience for me. You know, you go out and you direct a video like that, you do everything in one day, multiple locations… the band, the management, could not have been more cooperative. I felt I was being trusted. There was never any: “Oh, I don’t want to do that,” or: “I don’t like this.” Once we had set the vision a few days before, they just let me go. It’s definitely one of my top experiences as a director.
STEREOGUM: It took a little while for the video to take off, right?
RACHMAN: Yeah, that’s the next thing. So anyway, just to finish up the production, either later that night or the next night, we had like a band and production dinner. And I remember at that dinner, Jeff, Stone, and Eddie and Mike, they told us the name of their new band. They probably had decided already, but they announced it to us at that dinner, “It’s gonna be called Pearl Jam.” And I remember me and my producers were like, “Pearl Jam? What does that mean?” It definitely didn’t sound like the name of a band from that era. A lot of the grunge bands — not that they were grunge, I’m not calling Pearl Jam grunge — but you had these names that sounded a little more specific, a little darker. Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Nirvana. Pearl Jam just had a different tone to it.
But when I look back, it’s the perfect name. They really were focused on — and I think Stone might’ve said this at the lunch I had with him — “This next band, we want to be a rock band for a long time.” They wanted to have the longevity of the big rock bands. They didn’t want to be a punk band, they didn’t want to be a grunge band, they wanted that. And in hindsight, that name is perfect.
So basically, the Temple Of The Dog album is released spring of ‘91. And the video plays, but I don’t know if it’s getting a lot of daytime play yet. It’s a record of note, but it’s not a gangbuster, breakout record. It gets a lot of news as to the reason for the record, Chris Cornell is the star, and the video is playing on alternative shows… and the better part of a year goes by. And the Temple Of The Dog record is just kinda there, it’s not this big breakout. It’s kind of an insider record, in a way.
And then, the Pearl Jam record [Ten] comes out the following [August]. But basically, Pearl Jam breaks in ‘92. So in ‘92, A&M decides to re-edit the video — which was fine by me. The budget on the first one was so low that I had to edit it a bit [myself]. I come from an editorial background, but as a director, it’s always better to step back so you can be more observant, rather than hands-on. But we didn’t really have the budget the first time around. So the second time around, a really great editor was hired, and the focus is [placed] on Eddie and Pearl Jam. So I think a lot of the darker, weirder stuff was replaced, the more conceptual stuff that was in the original version was replaced with Pearl Jam performance. And I loved it.
After the Pearl Jam success, they re-marketed the Temple Of The Dog record, and that video hit the Buzz Bin, it was in top rotation, it was on all the time, all over the world. And Eddie’s close up was mesmerizing. So the new version of the “Hunger Strike” video hits, and it’s gangbusters. It’s great. It helps everybody. And I guess that’s kind of the whole story.
I’m thrilled that the Temple Of The Dog record is getting re-released. I think the timing couldn’t be better. Because new music in general sounds so fake now. And there’s nothing more real-sounding than the Temple Of The Dog record.
STEREOGUM: Are you going to see them live when they come around?
RACHMAN: I definitely intend to see them live, and I hope I can. I remember when Pearl Jam came through New York a couple years ago, Stone put me on the list and I went to the show. I think Band Of Horses were opening for them. So I was Stone’s guest, and they came out and played “Hunger Strike” with the singer from Band Of Horses, and they hadn’t played that in a really long time. That was beautiful, it almost brought a tear to my eye. I’m incredibly lucky and thankful to have worked with those guys.
The Temple Of The Dog reissue is out today via UMe.