Tecmo Bowl, Grunge and Andrew Wood

When Tecmo Bowl hit America in 1989, Andrew Wood was a man standing at the edge of greatness.

By March of 1990, he was dead. It’s strange, sometimes, how two seemingly disparate elements can come together, and, for a moment, reveal a deeper truth.

Not long before heroin took Andy’s life, he sat down in his bedroom, NES Advantage on his lap, and recorded a video of his favorite game: Tecmo Bowl. Except for the history left in Andy’s wake, it would be just another artifact of a failing war on drugs, a nameless junkie spaced out and smiling. For countless music fans, that video of Andy playing Tecmo is all they have left, forever linking a musical revolution and the best football video game ever made.

The world had taught Andrew Wood invincibility. Up, up, down, down, left, right, start. Just 23, his dreams were already blossoming. Andy’s vocation, his life, was his music. Hair and Glam rock were slowly dying. Record company A&R men, hungry for a new sound, began trekking up the 101 from LA to Seattle. In dingy Washington clubs, they encountered a spark of pure life, an angel floating on stage, making a sound like nothing they’d ever heard.

Andy Wood.

Andy would be the link between the 80s and 90s, a bridge between glam and grunge, over which many would cross. Andy’s previous band, Malfunkshun, had just broken up. For his effervescent nature and the the smile almost perpetually on his face, Andy wasn’t always the easiest to be deal with. He was, after all, a heroin junkie.

So together with Seattle musicians Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, Andy and his drummer formed a band they called “Mother Love Bone.” Record execs went gaga. In just under a year, Mother Love Bone had a contract with PolyGram records. Their debut EP, Shine, quickly followed, with plans for a full record soon after.

Andy wouldn’t live to see the record. On March 16, 1990, only a few months removed from his Tecmo Bowl video, Andy Wood was found comatose by his girlfriend. Attempts to revive him from a heroin overdose failed. Mother Love Bone’s one and only album, Apple, was released posthumously in 1990. In a November 18, 1990 review, The New York Times lamented that Andy “could have been the first of the big-league Seattle rock stars.”

Andy Wood Plays Tecmo Bowl

Perhaps it’s fitting that one of the final images of Andrew Wood’s varied life is his face aglow with Tecmo Bowl. better to be remembered smiling, doing what you love, than with a needle in your arm. Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell rounded up musicians from the Seattle scene, including Mother Love Bone members Ament and Gossard, to record an album in tribute of Wood. They called the project, “Temple of the Dog,” the name drawn directly from Andy’s lyrics.

Following Temple of the Dog, Ament and Gossard found a new singer and formed a band called Mookie Blaylock. The singer they found was Eddie Vedder. The band would eventually rename itself Pearl Jam.

Andrew Wood’s death is the fulcrum, the continental divide separating two eras of music: before him was glam and hair, after him grunge. All from a kid born in Mississippi, a kid who formed his first band at 14, a kid who loved football video games, especially Tecmo Bowl. Andy’s Tecmo diary shows us that, outside the stage’s limelight, he was just a person who loved music and Tecmo, a person who fought a demon and lost.

Who knows; had Andrew Wood bested his shadows, maybe an afternoon like this would find him lurking on the Tecmobowl.org forums. Perhaps he’d be prepping for upcoming TSB Tournaments. Maybe he even would have won a few Tecmo Madisons along the way.

Now, Tecmo Bowl is part of Andrew Wood’s legacy, one of the last moving images of a man who moved music. We watch as the Godfather of Grunge sits in his room–probably stoned–and imagines himself GM of a powerful Tecmo Bowl dynasty. Despite his bragging, the video sees Minnesota mount a stunning comeback against Andy’s Cowboys. Andy explains his faltering performance with a grin:

“It’s okay. I will live, the sun will shine tomorrow.”

If only.


Keith Good

Keith Good is a future Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and 8-bit game geek. A perpetual optimist, he convinces himself every September that this could finally be the Cleveland Browns' year. He was once told to eff off by one of the Tecmo Browns. You can check out his other work at www.keithisgood.com and follow him on twitter @keithisgood.

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