Already making waves on the Seattle punk scene of the early 1980s, forming The Vains when he was only 15 and playing drums for the Fastbacks, Duff McKagan was 17 when he joined The Living. Consisting of McKagan on guitar, singer John Conte, bassist Todd Fleischman, and drummer Greg Gilmore (Mother Love Bone), The Living opened for DOA and Hüsker Dü, and recorded an album, The Living: 1982, which never saw the light, until now.
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“I went through and listened to everything for the first time in 39 years and what brought me back to that time was those lyrics,” said McKagan, who was joined by Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard, in a recent interview with STROMBO on Apple Music Hits of the previously unreleased material, recorded in 1982. “We really thought we were fully formed at 17 and 18 years old. It’s like, you’re starting to be a veteran in the scene at that point when you’ve started at 13 and 14, so you hope you got fully formed stuff.”
After Gilmore recently unearthed the seven songs they had recorded nearly 40 years earlier, written entirely by an angsty teenage McKagan, the two decided to bring The Living: 1982 back to life, releasing it under the Seattle-based Loosegroove Records, owned by Gossard and Regan Hagar (Satchel, Brad).
Remembering the earlier smaller music scenes in West Seattle and Seattle proper, McKagan said it was always a mix of ages and characters in local bands, all in the midst of rampant drugs and the onset of HIV/AIDS. “You were opened up to people in all kinds of walks of life—homosexuals, black, white, intravenous drug users,” says McKagan. “The HIV/AIDS was creeping around… understanding what that was, it was a time for awakening, for sure, socially [and] politically as well.”
Upon hearing the The Living: 1982 for the first time, Gossard said he was just shocked at McKagan’s songwriting at such a young age.
“Duff, you’ve been writing songs for a while, but it’s just the dynamics of them and the architecture of the songs is either super intuitive, and you were just onto something, you weren’t thinking about it,” said Gossard to McKagan. “It’s the kind of stuff, as a songwriter, you have to really remind yourself to create these opportunities for the song to recharge and for it to sort of get to create dynamics in it and all of that stuff just seems really evident to me. But I think it’s just a tribute to your natural songwriting skills stuff.”
Reflecting on his own earlier writing, and for Pearl Jam and even the short-lived Temple of the Dog with Chris Cornell, Gossard believes there’s an element of tapping into your childhood energy of writing and creating music for the first time that should always be kept intact.
“I think when I’m at my best, I’m the same kid that started playing guitar on a whim and with the idea that I want to find something for myself and just be part of a club or be part of a team or a part of a band that sort of supported each other, and that you could be yourself,” said Gossard. “Even if you weren’t that great you could still be part of the alchemy that made it great. If I can just forget everything, stumble around on my guitar, that’s usually where I have the most success.”