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The Story Behind the Song "Hunger Strike" by Temple of the Dog

Mike Grindle is a freelance culture writer with a love for film, music, and literature.

Chris Cornell singing and playing guitar in the "Hunger Strike" music video. In the background is drummer Matt Cameron.

Chris Cornell singing and playing guitar in the "Hunger Strike" music video. In the background is drummer Matt Cameron.

In 1990, grunge was in limbo. Andrew Wood, a singer poised to become the face of the Seattle scene, died of a drug overdose just days before his band, Mother Love Bone, released their debut album. Wood's friend and roommate, Chris Cornell, found his band, Soundgarden, in the middle of a record label bidding war.

At the same time, Wood’s former bandmates—soon to form the core of Pearl Jam with vocalist Eddie Vedder—were unsure of their future in the music industry. All, of course, were on the verge of enormous success, but nobody knew it yet.

Out of this period of uncertainty came Temple of Dog, a pre-fame supergroup of Soundgarden and former Mother Love Bone/future Pearl Jam members. Their song “Hunger Strike” beautifully encapsulates the uncertainty surrounding the grunge scene and served as a mission statement for its future.

About "Hunger Strike"

  • Released: 1991
  • Genre: Grunge, Classic Rock
  • Album: Temple of the Dog (self-titled)
  • Highest Chart Position: #4 on the US mainstream Rock chart

If you’ve never listened to Temple of the Dog, "Hunger Strike" is a good introduction. More "ballady," melodic, and arena-ready than anything else coming out of the Seattle scene at the time, the song foreshadows the big things that were in store for the group’s members.

"I don't mind stealin' bread from the mouths of decadents/But I can't feed on the powerless when my cup's already overfilled."

Recording "Hunger Strike"

Cornell, who served as the lead singer and songwriter for Temple of the Dog, described "Hunger Strike" as “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.”

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Despite the bold statement and the song's eventual greatness, there was a time when it looked like it wouldn’t be more than filler. During rehearsals, Cornell was struggling with the low notes, so Vedder—in a moment of total spontaneity—walked up to the mic and started singing those lines. Suitably impressed, Chris asked Eddie if he’d record the parts in the studio and the result would be Vedder’s first featured vocal on a record.

“I’m not now, and certainly wasn’t then, self-assured or cocky,” Eddie would comment later, “But I could hear what he was trying to do, so I walked up to the mic — which I’m really surprised I did — and sang the other part, 'Going hungry, going hungry.' The next time I was up, he asked if I’d record it.”

The group plus friends and other members from Soundgarden and Pearl Jam

The group plus friends and other members from Soundgarden and Pearl Jam

Delayed Success

The finished song would turn out to be Temple of the Dog’s biggest hit, although that wasn’t saying much at the time. That’s because the group did little in the way of promotion or touring to promote themselves, viewing the whole thing as a one-off project between friends. But, when Pearl Jam and Soundgarden took off, MTV started giving the song more airtime, and the band soon gained a cult following.

Despite the interest and mystique surrounding the band, it wasn’t until 2016 that Temple of the Dog finally went on tour: in celebration of the 25th anniversary of their debut album. Then, just a year later, tragedy struck with the sudden death of Chris Cornell, ensuring that the tour would remain the band’s one and only.

Alternative Versions

Since its release, the song has been covered by a number of artists. Los Angeles-based Damon Valley recorded a live acoustic version for his 2018 album, The Fight Cycle, while post-grunge quartet Halestorm recorded the song for their 2011 covers EP, ReAniMate.

Both Pearl Jam and Soundgarden have performed the song on special occasions, some of which have ended up on live albums. The original recording was remastered for the 25th anniversary reissue, and it's this version of the song that ended up on the self-titled Chris Cornell compilation in 2018.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Mike Grindle

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