I have long been a huge fan of Pearl Jam, but I would have to say that my following them reached it's peak in 2003. I had been a fan of the group for over a decade by that point, and had gone to see them numerous times, had read books about the group, collected t-shirts, bootlegs, posters, and other artifacts, and just generally You might think that I would have tired of them, but it was quite the opposite, feeling I had grown with the band, and they had been a constant presence. If anything, I was an even bigger fan of the band after ten years than I had been at the beginning.
There is a reason for this. I was absolutely disgusted with George W. Bush. I remember feeling absolutely disgusted with Bush. I mean, before he was even elected, when the Republicans chose him as the "obvious" heir apparent to the White House, as if his resume to that point was so commendable and golden. Yet, as Jello Biafra suggested during the NO WTO Combo's show during the "Battle in Seattle", "King George" was already anointed unofficially by 1999. He was the chosen, so to speak, by the powers that be.
Unfortunately, however, he did wind up as President. I remember feeling so depressed at having to hear the words "President George Bush" once again, as he was sworn in on January 20, 2001, following the stolen election (let's remember our history, and call a spade a spade, as well).
I did not like George W. Bush, and distrusted his intentions. That was true before the election, and afterwards, too. That included on September 10th, 2001, and September 12th, 2001, although I tried to suspend my skepticism in hopes that he might show real leadership. As far as I am concerned, he did not, and that included that moment that exhilarated so many, when he stood on the rubble and declared that the terrorists were going to hear the American people. And then, of course, that included the lead up to the war in Iraq, and everything that happened afterwards.
But the atmosphere was so stifling at that time. People tried to intimidate you if you were opposed to the Iraq invasion at the time, like it was such an obviously good idea. Given that all the stated justifications for the war were proven false, and that the war proved far costlier to Americans than almost anyone had expected or anticipated. Thousands of lives were lost, and tens of thousands more were seriously wounded.
Yet, the biggest outrage, I remember, was when Americans finally heard about the price tag of the war (What?! War costs money?!! Who knew?). That was when the real outrage seemed to hit home, and the popularity of the war plummeted.
I got in numerous heated arguments with quite a few people who were supportive of the war and/or President Bush. I remember some of them well. In particular, I remember urging supporters of that war, my age and younger (I was in my twenties at the time) to go ahead and join the war effort. Why have others do your fighting for you? You think this guy (Saddam) is really an immediate and serious threat to world peace? That he is Hitler incarnate? Then go ahead and go overseas, and join the fight! Why not? If I believed that he was that dangerous and threatening, I would do that!
More or less, that was what I told many of the supporters, particularly male supporters. Usually, that was met with an uncomfortable smile, as if I were kidding. Some challenged me to join the army, to which I replied, simply, that I had not supported the invasion to begin with, and did not believe that the war in Iraq was justifiable on any level.
Yet, the atmosphere was stifling, and you did not hear too much dissent on the television.
So, quite naturally, I looked for outlets. Art has always been an outlet for expression of all sorts, and I have never been one to think that politics is somehow "out of bounds". Some feel that way, including the friend that I was originally supposed to bring to one particular concert of a band that I really turned to quite a bit in 2002-03, during the height of the Iraqi war fever - Pearl Jam.
I saw Pearl Jam a few times that year, and they meant more to me than ever before. It was nice to hear the voice of others who did not think that George W. Bush was the greatest president, or that he, and his views, represented America. That, moreover, he actually represented the worst of America.
Pearl Jam had released "Riot Act". I do not believe that this was the band's strongest effort, although I like it far more than some people. But it was an interesting album, with some solid music. It came to be important to me, also, because it was an anti-war album. The band did not shy away from voicing their opinions, at a time when far too many seemed to be willing to go with the war fever that had taken hold. Note that this title, Riot Act, could be interpreted as having numerous meanings. Riot Act could be taken as a rebellion, or it could be seen as clamping down on rebellion. Some suggested that they had expected the album to be far harder, given the name. But also, if you add the letters P, A, and T to the front of the name, you get something very different, and very relevant, to those times, as well as another reminder of the actions of your friend and mine, George W. Bush.
Of course, it should be mentioned that there was a reason that I felt a need for some kind of "outlet", and that is that the atmosphere politically in the nation was stifling. For far too many people did not question George W. Bush's motives for going to war in Iraq, and accepted his premises unconditionally. I knew quite a few people (probably a good majority of people I knew, actually) who fit this description. But particularly disappointing to me were three people, intelligent people, who fit into this description. They each had shown a strong capacity for independent thinking prior to September 11th. But once that tragedy struck, they automatically assumed that Bush's militaristic crusade was more than justified, it was necessary.
One of those people, when lecturing me for ten minutes in a public restaurant in New York City about the virtues of George W. Bush and the war in Iraq (and mind you, this was a man who could not stand Bush prior to September 11th), calling "those people" (by which he meant, Muslims, or possibly Arabs, or, possibly, even both) savages, and claiming that "we need to civilize them". He must have noticed my silence at some point, because he stopped in mid-sentence and asked if I supported Bush. Now, I did not want to engage in some heated and pointless discussion with someone that was showing an undeniable strand of ignorance (and not a small amount of arrogance). But when a question is posed to me directly, I will usually make a point of answering as honestly as I can.
So I did. I said, simply one word.
I swear, that was the only word I said, although I had quite a few other words in mind that I wanted to say, but held back.
He spent the next ten minutes going off about how naive I was being, and how the war was necessary. He was drunk, and loud. He has somewhat of a hearing problem, so his voice tends to be a bit loud anyway. But by that point, the alcohol and the anger mixed to make sure that the conversation was clearly heard by all of the restaurant's patrons. Ten more minutes, with me silently sitting there, trying to politely listen, mentally taking notes when there was something that I felt he was clearly wrong about (there were quite a few of these). But I said nothing, and that was more or less the way it went until he ran out of steam. His wife had tried to stop him at some point, but he told her to shut up. Sometimes, people have to vent, and even if you do not feel they are right, you have to let them get it out.
Anyway, he was one of three people that I knew like this. Another was my friend, who was at the time the guy that I usually would go to concerts with. He and I must have gone to dozens of concerts together over the years. Hell, he even got me my first ever Pearl Jam tickets, to Randall's Island in 1996, which we went to together, with another friend of mine. In 1998, I paid him back for this by getting him tickets to the show at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, through the fan club. I did not know it then, but those seats were simply amazing! The best seats that I have ever had to see Pearl Jam (or almost any group, for that matter). Second row and just off center! The attendant took out tickets, and we just kept walking closer and closer to the stage. I grew very excited, and when she showed us our seats, it took my breath away! Speaking of "Breath", I still have the one makeshift poster from that show that someone had made, requesting the song "Breath", which is pictures in the book "Twenty". They did not play it at that show, although I would see them play it in the future.
But I digress. Majorly, actually, since this is a post about the Uniondale show, and I have hardly spoken of that at all yet, although I have been trying to set the background up. So, here goes:
My Own Little Ticket Controversy:
It seemed that this was the go to guy for tickets and concerts in general. So, once again, when I got fan club tickets in 2003, I offered these tickets to him. He accepted. And so, it seemed we would see Pearl Jam for what would have been the third time together (I had already seen Pearl Jam with other people).
But then something happened. Following April 1st, this friend (let's call him Glen) informed me that he would not be able to attend that show. His voice had an edge to it when he told me this, and so, wondering if I had done anything to offend him, asked why. He then expressed his anger at the "actions" of Pearl Jam at a recent concert in Denver. Following "Bushleaguer", many fans (varying accounts range from dozens to thousands) left after the song was played, supposedly as a protest against the anti-President Bush song. Glen was particularly incensed that Eddie Vedder had allegedly "impaled" a mask of Bush.
We talked about it, and I read the conflicting reports from the show, and the response by fans. But he wanted no part of them anymore. He mentioned that he intended to sell the albums that he owned of them, and wanted nothing more to do with the band, ever.
So, obviously, I had to find someone to go with me, and it wound up being my brother, who is likeminded about many things, including George W. Bush.
And as it turned out, it was a good thing that Glen didn't actually go with me to that particular show, because as it turns out, the negative response in this show would make the Denver show response look mild by way of comparison. I am absolutely certain he would have been one of the ones booing as they played "Bushleaguer", probably the loudest one booing. Possibly even one of those who were throwing things on stage in anger towards the band.
The thing is, up to that point, the crowd was hugely excited! I think it was one of the loudest Pearl Jam shows that I had seen, and the crowd was one of the wildest and most enthusiastic that I had seen (although Philadelphia ranks close by, too - I think that was an even more enthusiastic crowd, and most of us stayed on our feet literally through the whole show, without pause!). The fact of the matter is, Uniondale's show was highly intense and enjoyable.
They played some really cool tunes, and they just seemed on fire. Everything was clicking, and the crowd was responsive! It was just a very good concert. I recently listened to it again on the official bootleg, and found it apropos, given what was about to transpire, that they performed "Save You", which includes these lyrics:
And fuck me if I say something that you don't wanna hear
And fuck me if you only hear what you wanna hear
Fuck me if I care.....but I'm not leaving here
Well, actually, they did leave there that night, and earlier than expected. Of course, the lyrics obviously have a much wider reference than that, though. But it was the first time that I truly listened to the lyrics (which i was already familiar with from when Riot Act first was released) for that specific song, for that specific concert. Ten years later, and I just noticed the irony of that. Not too quick on the uptake all of the time, I guess.
However, back to the show. it really was fantastic, with terrific crowd response and participation. Everything about it was simply awesome. Everyone in the building was having a good time.
But the feeling all changed almost as soon as the first few chords of "Bushleaguer" were played. The atmosphere changed, radically. it was still highly charged, but now, it was for a different reason. There was anger, and a nervous atmosphere underneath. I'm not sure that anyone knew what to expect, and that probably includes the audience, the band themselves, and the security. It was just....well, it's hard to explain. It was probably the most unique, bizarre ending to a concert that I had ever seen.
Now, it is time for an admission that goes two-fold. I was glad that they played "Bushleaguer". After all, I was no fan of Bush, and will say this about their performance of the song that night: I have never been prouder to be a Pearl Jam fan. They took a stand, knowing there would be strong risks. It was not a popular thing to do, and of course, they could possible raise the ire of Ann Coulter, among others. But they took a stand for what they believed in, and challenged those booing to think. Plus, there is something to be said about being present for something memorable like that.
Yet, it's time to admit something else, as well. I really actually don't like that song that much. I like the lyrical content, and the protest value. But the song itself? Not really all that enjoyable to listen to, frankly. Since Bush left office, I have not made a point of putting that song on. Even worse, I usually find myself skipping that particular track.
That said, it meant a lot to me that night. A lot. Again, I was never so proud of the band as I was at that moment.
The weird thing is, it reminded me a lot of wrestling, back in the old days. You know, you have the bad guy, and he's trying to instigate the crowd, to rile them up against him? That's what it seemed like Eddie Vedder was doing. Hell, Mike McCready even waved his arms, gesturing for more response. It was kind of weird, admittedly. So, yes, it reminded me of watching wrestling as a little kid, and seeing the hated bad guys trying to elicit a reaction from the crowd.
There was energy after the song, but it was a different kind of energy. Whereas before, they were excited and enjoying a great show, now, all that anyone wanted to discuss, or seemed to remember, was the weird, unconventional ending.
Pearl Jam cut their set list short, and Vedder slammed the microphone stand to the ground as they walked off.
My brother and I walked out to the car and, like with everyone else who attended the show, there was only one topic of conversation. What had just happened was just highly unusual, and warranted discussion.
It had been a strange situation. Again, to reiterate, I had never before (or since) been to a concert that ended in a more bizarre manner.
Yet, it was not exactly what everyone thinks it was. Yes, the band was more or les booed offstage. True enough. But there were people there - and quite a few of them - who were applauding Pearl Jam's makeshift protest against Bush. True, they were drowned out, but there were some there (my brother and I being among them, of course).
I was glad that Glen did not go. From that point onward, he took a book out of Vedder's page, in trying to taunt me about how meaningless Pearl Jam was to him. I frankly did not care. Still don't, even though we have lost touch. I know what I like, and it has nothing to do with some sort of show of popularity or not. Certainly, I was not looking for his stamp of approval in order to listen to and enjoy whatever music that I liked, but he seemed to be under that impression. What I was disappointed with was his suddenly juvenile approach.
We had gotten in a few political discussions, and let me just preface this by saying that this guy was quite taken by a certain famous personality (who shall remain anonymous). He emulated this personality in every way, including the way that he looked, and even the way that he talked. The way he told stories, specifically.
Anyway, I noticed that his viewpoint about George W. Bush changed at about the same time as this famous personality began to change his viewpoints. Around the time of the Uniondale concert, he was lecturing me about how the country was better off with George W. Bush, and insisting that I had to admit that I felt "safer" with Bush in charge. (Oh, really?)
Maybe a year later, he had changed his tune, and was critical of Bush (once again, surely coincidentally, making the same arguments as this famous personality). Against my better judgment, I reminded him of his former unconditional support of Bush. He got angry, and apparently, did not remember nearly so much as I did. Perhaps that even included the reasons for why he refused to go to the Pearl Jam show. I laughed as he told me that he was getting angry. Such a convenient escape from an uncomfortable conversation. My main point was this: agree or disagree, I have my own value system, and judge things my own way. I try and be fair, and not jump the gun on conclusions, but will admit to having strong opinions. Agree or disagree, wrong or right, however, my opinions are my own.
Of course, he was far from the only one just going with the flow of popular, conventional, very unoriginal thinking. A lot of people suspended their doubts about Bush in the aftermath of September 11th. Glen certainly was not the only one. Nor was that other man that spent twenty minutes yelling about how "those people" were uncivilized barbarians, and that we needed to go over there to "control those people".
Obviously, he was in favor of official policy.
Pearl Jam received a lot of flack for their actions, but I always wondered why so many people, Bush supporters generally, were so critical of the actions of a band, yet suspended any critical thinking when it came to the actions of a President, who outright lied about the reasons for an unpopular invasion that most of the rest of the world strongly condemned. There were scandalous headlines about artists like Pearl Jam and the Dixie Chicks, as well as Michael Moore, among others. Everything and everyone was harshly scrutinized, it seemed - except the President.
Excuse my language, here, but what kind of shit is that, anyway?
In any case, I can go on and on about that particular line of reasoning, but this a post about ne particular show, from one particular band. They received a lot of criticism for that, and many people felt that they were wrong. But a large part of their identity from the earliest days was political, and it's hard for me to imagine people going to a Pearl Jam show, and then claiming to be shocked that they would express their political beliefs, and how strongly they differed than what most people tend to apparently believe - particularly in this country. They have opinions, and they were willing to express them in a very public manner, using their art to express these viewpoints. That was a large part of the reason that I became a fan of the group, and remain so to this day.
I remember after the first Pearl Jam show that I ever say, back in 1996 at Randall's Island, thinking that it was likely going to be the most memorable show of the band that I would ever see. But that proved untrue. Every time that I hear the opening chords to "Bushleaguer", a little part of that show lives on. Also, you can view the entire performance of that song on the extended "Twenty" DVD, which I would highly recommend watching. It's not exactly like being there, but it documents what happened, and much of the reaction.
Looking back, although it made me a bit mad at the time, I am glad that Glen canceled. I would have had to hear his bullshit support of Bush afterwards, and talking crap about Pearl Jam. Our views diverged, simple as that. But it was nice not to hear some neocon rantings against the band at precisely the moment when I felt more pride in them, and what they stood up to and for, than ever before.
That concert, whether you consider it one of their most famous, or infamous concerts, continues to stand out. Today marks the ten year anniversary of that show.