(above pictures taken by me during PJ's Philly show on 10/22/13 - their 23rd anniversary show)
Yes, it's official!
Pearl Jam is now officially in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. I have long been a pretty huge fan of this particular band, this was definitely a milestone in their history that I wanted to honor here on this blog, although in the interest of time, I did so not by writing something original, but by republishing some blog entries in the past which seemed to cover some of the band's history, as well as what they came to mean to me, personally, as a fan. Included is a review of the movie Twenty, a remembrance of the first PJ show that I ever attended at Randall's Island over twenty years ago now, another remembrance of a very different show that I attended when they got booed off the stage, a review of the book about the band by Mick Wall, and another blog entry from early in 2015, in which I discuss the trend of some prominent musicians in taking swipes at this band. This trend seemed to start with Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, although over the years, there have been plenty of others who have done so, including the Smashing Pumpkin's Billy Corgan (along with Howard Stern, who also has fairly regularly criticized the band), Thom Yorke of Radiohead, PJ Harvey, members of Creed, the lead singer from Jet, Marilyn Manson, and Nickelback, among probably others that I am either forgetting, or not even aware of.
Now, it should be noted that I mentioned how I needed to borrow from previous blog entries in the interest of time. This is partially true, although in part, it is also because I am not coming up with any thoughts about the band that have not already been expressed in previous blog entries. That is why it seemed a good idea to republish them here, as there is a good selection of thoughts and experiences among these republished entries. That includes the history, as well as how much it meant to me to see them for the first time. There is a review of a show in which they actually were booed off the stage for taking a stand against George W. Bush and the Iraq invasion, and speaking their mind. Despite that show leaving a strange and bitter aftertaste, I actually never have been prouder of the band. There are other entries, as well, regarding how they are perceived by others, and a review of a book.
That said, I will take just a few moments to reflect on how I got into them, and why this band, more than any other contemporary bands, made me stick with them, and remain a loyal fan to this day.
It started in and around late 1992 or early 1993, when a friend told me about a song that she knew, but was not sure of the title. She said it was something like "Jeremy spoke in class today" or something like that. We had been talking about feeling suicidal, and I had been recovering from a suicidal phase at that point, as 1992 had been a very dark year for me. That song interested me, but this was before the internet, and there seemed no way to really find out who performed that song, or to learn more about it.
Then, in the spring of 1993, that song came on the radio. Perhaps I had heard it before, but never paid attention, or perhaps flicked it off. But when I heard the words, I sat up in the car a bit and turned it up. Hell, I even remember where I was - on Route 17 in New Jersey, right next to Route 80 and approaching Hackensack, and approaching Route 46. That was when the discovery of who performed the song came, and very quickly thereafter, I picked up Pearl Jam's first album.
It was the lyrical content of Jeremy that first attracted me to the band, but the lyrics for every song on that album were very impressive, and the music was different, but sounded awesome! I was hooked!
Now, the band was enjoying a rise in popularity at that time, which was also something that helped to solidify me as a fan. I remember one guy who I looked up to a bit claiming that Pearl Jam was the new sound. There was a buzz about the band, and it did feel like they had a bright future. Everyone seemed to be into them, and their popularity was unlike anything that I had ever seen before. They had live shows broadcast on the radio. The video for "Jeremy" was controversial, yet often viewed as brilliant. They shunned their popularity and battled Ticketmaster, which also meant that they did not seem to tour, spiking the demand to see them. Their second album was highly anticipated, as was their third album. Everything that the band did seemed to turn to gold, and they remain the only band that I know of that re-released singles. Later on, after the peak of their popularity had long passed, they made still new records by releasing live albums, so that officially, they had several new releases on the Billboard top 100 albums simultaneously. They always seemed to do some innovative things that made them stand out like that, which, of course, is rewarding as a fan.
Yet, their popularity is one thing. Other bands are very popular, as well. I did not like, nor was as impressed with Guns 'N Roses or Van Halen, both of whom were comparably popular. Nor was I as taken by Michael Jackson, who was probably more popular than Pearl Jam, although he was a different style of music, and his popularity was of a different kind entirely. For that matter, I was not taken in by some other hugely popular musical acts, such as the Spice Girls.
Now, don't get me wrong: I liked many of those other hugely popular musicians. But they just did not have quite the same appeal as Pearl Jam did. This was, in large part, because I felt that I could relate to this band far more than many others. They were a part of the largely idealistic alternative music scene of the early nineties, when I myself was young and idealistic. They seemed to embody a different, and deceptively sophisticated kind of image and way of thinking. Lyrics have always been extremely important for me, and this band's lyrics were intelligent, poetic, and piercing. They maintained their integrity throughout, including the explosion of popularity, and the years after, as they changed their image and unplugged a bit from those highly charged days. And they remained true to their principles, popular or not. They spoke out loudly against hypocrisy as they saw it on both ends of the political spectrum. I have heard them criticize both major parties, and call out both George W. Bush and Joe Biden by name, and this was well before Biden became Vice-President.
Ultimately, I feel that the band grew up, grew older, while I simultaneously was growing up, growing older. Indeed, they changed their image, changed their style, and many former fans fell away. I heard the criticisms. At first, it was typically immature, as some suggested that they had become "pussies" with softer music. Many suggested that their popularity was undeserved, and some were cynical about everything that they did, believing that it was all a ploy to generate still more popularity, feeding off of Cobain's theory of this being a corporate band (I even heard that criticism from a Van Halen fan). Since then, most of the criticisms leveled at the band have been based on their political stance, which I generally have supported. As mentioned earlier, I was never as proud of them as after that Uniondale show, but the next year, I attended some of their Vote for Change shows, including the Washington, DC finale. Their stance meant a lot to me at a time when it seemed many were afraid to speak out against a popular president and his popular war.
In any case, here is a compilation of some of my personal favorite blog entries to one of my favorite bands of all-time, at a time when they are being rightly recognized for their great contributions to rock music, and the tremendous influence that they had on tons of other bands since:
From my review of Twenty, originally published on December 30, 2012:
Mike McCready gets together with Stone Gossard, and convinces him to bring along Jeff Ament (although Stone was, surprisingly, reluctant at first). Eventually, they get drummer Matt Cameron to work with them on some stuff. But the band still needs a singer. Eventually, someone has an idea to try a guy who lives all the way in Los Angeles, a singer in a relatively unknown band, and works a security job to pay the bills.
They send this singer a tape, and he sends a tape back, which will acquire the now legendary name, the Mamasan tape. The man's name is Eddie Vedder, now legendary front man for the group that came to be known as Pearl Jam. But that was before the name "Pearl Jam" was yet known, even to the band that would take that name. This was 1990, and once Eddie Vedder received confirmation of the band's interest, he went off to Seattle. The group that formed in October of that year first went under the banner "The Mookie Blaylock Band". They had only rehearsed together as a band for five days when they played their first ever show at The Off Ramp, in Seattle. They show a clip of that in this movie, although, having been obsessed with Pearl Jam for many years like I was, I managed to get my hands on a couple of copies of the show, and had seen it a few times. I will admit that, over the years, I have acquired a fairly extensive collection of bootlegs of shows and video clips and such from the band's past, distant and otherwise. Again, I was obsessed with them, on some level, for quite some time.
They worked quickly, and within a few weeks, had enough material for an album, what was to become "Ten", a record smashing release that contributed greatly to the explosive success of the "Seattle sound", when everyone suddenly wanted to be grunge. For anyone wondering about the reason why the album was named "Ten" specifically (there are eleven songs on the album, so that's not the reason, if you were wondering), you should see this movie to find out.
It did not take long before the band was huge. They worked hard, toured often, and did a lot of shows and public appearances to promote themselves, and all of this really did pay off, as they made quite a name for themselves. However, they would be criticized by many later on over the years, when they would seem to show signs of being uncomfortable with their own success, given how hard they had worked to obtain it in the first place. Also, some felt that their actions (some cynics might use the word tactics) amounted to publicity stunts, such as their sudden lack of concert appearances and touring, and then, only using secondary ticketing agencies, as they battled Ticketmaster, which they claimed to be a monopoly. Quite a few people seemed to express skepticism about the band, and felt that they were merely playing the part of rejecting their own big name and big status, while secretly doing everything that they can, underneath the radar, to make sure that they remained as huge as ever.
The band toured all over the place in those earliest days, which helped the band to make it big, to make a name for themselves. They played all over the North American continent, including iin New York City, at some places that I have since been to, like the Limelight and the Wetlands. They also went to Europe and did quite a few shows, and increasingly, the anticipation by the ever larger crowds grew and grew. But it was really the Lollapalooza tour of 1992 really helped to put them on the map in a big way, as did Edddie Vedder's legendary acrobatics and antics during these shows, when he would climb all over the place, up in the lighting and stage setting, up to thirty to fifty feet high, and often allowed himself to drop, placing his faith that the crowd assembled below would catch him, would break his fall. This was just one part of the enormous energy that the band in general, and Eddie Vedder in particular, brought to fans, and which proved so attractive (a big part of the mass appeal that the band enjoyed in the early nineties). There was a feeling that anything could happen, and there was an intensity to everything that they did, from these acrobatics of Vedder's, to the music (which always has been very tight, and the reason that the band is best known for being a great live band in particular), to the lyrics that were often angry and pregnant with meaning.
I have been a Pearl Jam fan since 1993. For many years, my two favorite bands had been the Dead Kennedys and Metallica. One was an ultra political punk band that also possessed meaningful, protesting lyrics and a tremendous amount of energy, but they had ceased to exist in 1987, and there was little to no hope of them ever getting back together. The other was a metal scene icon who, at least I felt, had sold out (and in the process, become a whole lot less metal) with their black album. It seemed that Metallica's focus went from being heavier than thou, and with potent and meaningful lyrics, to a group that focused almost exclusively on just how big they could be, and how many millions of dollars more they could make. In other words, they had become businessmen, dressed in all black rock clothing, and posing as some sort of rebellious and heavy music act. There were other bands that I liked as well, but those two had so long been my favorites, that no one had even challenged them as my favorites. But it was time to move on, and Pearl Jam came along and became a new and exciting young band that I felt I could follow. There have been other bands, for that matter, that have come since, and many have had some appeal. But few had the full package that Pearl Jam possessed, or at least seemed to possess. So, I stuck with Pearl Jam especially, more than any other band. Eventually, I have come to feel that I grew up with them.
I'll admit, that early on, when I was a fan of Nirvana, I actively avoided Pearl Jam. That probably seems silly in retrospect, but there you have it. The name just sounded stupid, and besides, Nirvana was the shit. But eventually, someone spoke to me about a song, she was not sure what it was called, but it had the lyrics "Jeremy spoke in class today". It did not take too long before I heard it on the radio, and then, it took even less time to learn who had done the song. Little by little, I began to listen to them more, and they seemed to offer all that I was looking for in a band. They had meaningful lyrics, they were young and exciting and intense. They seemed to have before them a long and promising career to follow. I became a Pearl Jam fan.
Maybe this sounds naive, but I felt I could identify with them. I wanted desperately to feel like I could make some sort of difference towards improving the world, and it seemed like that was what they were striving for, as well. Most fans (if they could be called fans) that I knew just enjoyed their music, the intensity, the energy of it. Perhaps, on many levels, many simply liked the image. On many levels, Pearl Jam became the "in" thing in the early to mid-nineties. They achieved levels of popularity that I had never seen before, and still think have not been reached since. Yet, far too many of these fans of theirs were fair weather fans. They liked Pearl Jam, but for superficial reasons.
But ask them to scratch beneath the surface just a little bit, and almost all of the fans I knew did not bother. Pearl Jam was the cool band of the moment, the big thing. Eddie Vedder, to my understanding, was a sex symbol for women. The band rocked, was an outlet for youthful energy, undeniably. I could identify with this, having a lot more youthful energy back then, as well. What amazed me most was that people, including young, but quite conservative people at heart, would not be offended by Pearl Jam, and their protesting message, their critique of the nation that they were citizens of, and of the American Way, in general.
How could people not see? There it was, for all to see, in the very popular video, Jeremy. Right while everyone in the classroom has placed their hands on their heart while doing the pledge of allegiance, they suddenly, very briefly, are holding their arms up in a straight arm, fascist salute. It was in their lyrics, as well. Almost all of it had a very different message than what was out there, and what had been out there before Pearl Jam, and so-called "grunge" as a whole, broke out.
Of course, fashion by it's very nature is superficial. So it should not have been surprising that most people liked Pearl Jam for superficial reasons. For whatever reason, I had been amazed that people would so easily and readily accept a group like Pearl Jam, when that very group was so critical of the lifestyles of so many of their very own fans. It was worked into their lyrics, often quite cleverly. It showed in their overall approach, as well.
I wanted to believe that I could make a difference, and saw what I wanted to see with the fans of Pearl Jam. It seemed like the dawning of something new, some new age of skepticism towards big power. Of perhaps even some new enlightenment.
Obviously, that was not the case. But I wanted to believe. I wanted to believe in Pearl Jam, the group, itself, as well. To believe that they were having an impact, and making a difference. Yes, it was naive, but there you have it. I sided with them in their battle with Ticketmaster, and hoped that they might be making a difference. I studied the lyrics, watched the videos, and kept listening to their music as the years wore on. They eventually lost a lot of popularity (particularly beginning with the release of the No Code album). I heard some other "fans" dismiss them as having lost their edge, some outright saying that they were now "pussies". Obviously, such "fans" really never had been fans, and had simply liked the group because it was the cool thing to do, or to get their anger out. Ask them to actually take an intelligent approach, to think about any messages or lyrics or what have you, and that is too much, even far too much, for most people. America can be a cocoon of laziness when it comes to thinking, and such was largely the case with young people of my generation, I am ashamed to say.
And so, I stayed on as a fan. Saw plenty of shows, and rushed out to get every album on the day that it was released. One time, I even went to New York for a midnight opening of a store, in order to get one of the free lithographs that were being offered, but only for those who actually showed up for the midnight store opening. I read articles and followed the band, long after they had lost much of their former popularity. And I was proud of their anti-war stance when the Iraq war came. I was in attendance in the infamous Long Island show in the spring of 2003, at Nassau Coliseum, when they were effectively booed off the stage for playing "Bushleaguer". I cheered, while most of the arena jeered them the rest of the way.
I was a fan club member, and had a decent number that allowed me to obtain some incredible seats to their shows. I've also traveled quite a bit to get to their shows. Two different countries (the United States and Canada), having seen them in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa. Almost two dozen shows in all over the years, and sometimes, the seats were incredible.
My own enthusiasm did die down...eventually. Not entirely, mind you. I still like them, and still would love to see them again. When a new album comes out, surely I'll buy it and give it more than one listen. If I encounter an article, surely I'll read it, if the opportunity arises. When they come on the radio, I almost always turn up the volume.
Yet, I am not obsessed with them like I was in the past. Part of it was a bit of a feeling of betrayal, admittedly. There came a point when it felt to me like they had become more muted in their desire to make a difference, and more interested in the business aspect of being Pearl Jam. I heard Jeff Ament once mention that he was glad that Metallica had take the action that they did over piracy of their music, and that was precisely the kind of thing that had turned me off to them (Metallica used to be one of my favorite groups, prior to Pearl Jam). Also, at least this was true for the New York area shows, the ticket prices were the same for front row as they were for the nose bleeds. That might sound decent on some level, but the thing is, the experience is nowhere near the same if you're in the upper decks, as opposed to the floor. I know, because I have been in both. So, if it's not the same, why charge the same? My suspicions of greed began to kick in, especially when, after allowing my membership to remain inactive for a year or so, I lost my good number, and was given a very bad number. I went from being in the 1's of a six digit number, to 1's in the seven digit number. So, when I ordered tickets, they were systematically nosebleeds, and paying as much as those who got front row tickets. That did not sit well with me, admittedly. This might not bother me as much if it was the uniform policy. But since the New York area seemed to be the only one where this was practiced, it began to seem a little strange, and not in a good way.
There were also times when I questioned their intentions. Yes, they protested things, and tried to go their own way, touring out of the way places in the mid-nineties, presumably in an attempt to keep ticket prices a bit lower. Was it just a stunt, as so many believed? I read a few books on them, and one in particular, "Five Against One" by Kim Neely, was very good. It was fascinating, but she also addressed some of these suspicions that many people seemed to hold of Pearl Jam, that they seemed to be a paradox on so many levels. How was it that they worked so hard to become popular, then acted like they hated that very popularity, and shirked the responsibilities over being hugely popular, only to work towards gaining some of that back and expressing worries of becoming obsolete?
Still, there really are not tons of other bands that have as much to offer, and I guess that is what keeps me going back to Pearl Jam.
This movie is certainly worth watching for any fan of Pearl Jam, grunge, or Seattle music overall. Hell, it is a must see if you are a fan of good music, in general, or if you've ever wondered what it might be like to be in a band, particularly one that suddenly explodes with success.
Pearl Jam at Randall's Island, NYC, September 29, 1996 - 20th Anniversary of a Great Concert!
(Originally published on 9/29/96)
Okay, so I wrote the following a few years ago, when I turned around and realized, on September 29, 2012, that it had been exactly 16 years since one of the most memorable concert experiences that I ever had. That would be seeing Pearl Jam for the first time at Randall's Island in New York City back in 1996, when they were finally touring in support of the "No Code" album.
There are a lot of things that immediately come to mind when I think about that concert. First of all, it happened to fall on my then girlfriend (now ex-wife) and my first anniversary. Secondly, although I was beginning to go to a lot of concerts by that point, this concert felt somehow like a turning point. Pearl Jam was a huge band, and they were my favorites. Up to that point, despite having seen a growing number of concerts, there always was that one band, my favorites, whom I had yet to see. Then, suddenly, my friend managed to obtain tickets shortly after I returned from a trip to Chicago with another friend (who also happened to be a Pearl Jam fan and wound up going with us). This was the one band that I really, at the time, felt ready to drop everything to go and see, if the opportunity presented itself, and it finally did. I came somewhat close a couple of times in 1994, but ultimately failed. So, the next time that they came around, I was determined to see them come what may. When that friend managed to snag these tickets, it felt like pure elation, and I felt like a little kid eagerly anticipating the Christmas holiday to come, knowing in my head that the date was approaching, but feeling that, somehow, it could not come soon enough.
Even today, I remember how glad that concert made me feel, and just how huge it was for me. Since then, I have been to 24 Pearl Jam concerts, and have seen almost every song that meant something special to me, and then some! Some of the shows were amazing, and for some of them, I had amazing seats, including the second time that I saw them, making a point of reciprocating my friend's purchase of these tickets back in 1996 by bringing him to Pearl Jam's concert at East Rutherford in 1998, where we had second row center.
Yet, despite having some better seats (well, Randall's Island was standing room only, so there technically were no seats) at some other concerts, this particular Pearl Jam concert really stands out for me even to this day. Rarely has any concert mad me feel this good. There have been other concerts, and I have seen some amazing bands and performances. Very few of them made me feel anywhere near what the Pearl Jam concert in 1996 made me feel.I discussed some of these a few years ago, and shared my thoughts in past blogs, and will add those to this particular blog entry below. But seeing Pearl Jam finally take the stage, after years and years of waiting for that opportunity, felt just amazing! It wound up being the longest concert to that point that the band had ever done, and attained a certain legendary status among PJ fans. I remember how crowded it was, people body surfing, and how some of the staff started spraying grateful fans with water to help cool us off. For that matter, simply arriving at Randall's Island, where just a couple of months and change before, that same friend and I had seen Lollapalooza, was an amazing experience. We were discussing the Fastbacks, and he mentioned how Eddie Vedder "creams over them."
Hard to believe that it has been twenty years since then!
So, here are some thoughts that I had four years ago on that concert, which took place on this day, two decades ago:
I have seen a lot of concerts in my own time. It's approaching two hundred since 1992, when my brother and I went to see Metallica and Guns 'n Roses, with Faith No More as the opening act, at Giants Stadium in the summer of 1992. That concert was intense, particularly Metallica's set. It was so loud, so long, so energetic, and it left a lasting impression. It was quite memorable. More recently, there have been other concerts that were quite memorable, as well. Seeing Pink Floyd at Yankees Stadium in 1994. Seeing the Vote for Change Finale in 2004, with incredible acts like Pearl Jam, REM, the Dave Matthews Band, John Fogerty, John Mellencamp, Jackson Brown, James Taylor, the Dixie Chicks, and with Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band as the closers. That was incredible. I have seen Paul McCartney give a free concert in Quebec on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of that city. Sir Paul was also involved in another incredible concert memory: joining Ringo Starr on stage a couple of years ago on Ringo's 70th Birthday and playing "Birthday". It was as close to a Beatles reunion, or a Beatles show, that I'll have ever seen, most likely, and as a big Beatles fan (could you guess?), that was very memorable! And since that article that I wrote about this Pearl Jam concert, I was at the 12/12/12 Sandy Benefit concert, which included some huge names that included Eddie Vedder, who accompanied Roger Waters on "Comfortably Numb," Bruce Sprinsteen and the E-Street Band, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Kanye West (not a big fan of his, admittedly), Chris Martin of Coldplay with guest star Michael Stipes of R.E.M., Alicia Keys, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and Paul McCartney, who at one point brought out the remaining members of Nirvana to perform a song, and this wound up being the first public performance of "Sirvana." Some at the time were suggesting that this was the greatest concert ever. Nowadays, some are suggesting that the Iheart concerts in the desert, also with huge names, are the greatest. For my part, I still think that Woodstock tops all of these in terms of sheer brilliance and cultural influence, and I think that Roger Waters performance of "The Wall" live in Berlin back ni 1990 deserves honorable mention, but I digress.
I started going to see a lot of concerts particularly starting in 1992, and especially gaining momentum in 1994. But at that point, there was one major act that I really wanted to see, probably more than all others, but which it sometimes felt I would never see: Pearl Jam. The thing about Pearl Jam was that, at the time, they were phenomenally popular, probably at the height of their power, if you will. Granted, much of that was the cult of personality surrounding lead vocalist Eddie Vedder. He was the iconic leader of the group, if you will. The type of guy that, as cliche as this sounds, women wanted to be with, and men wanted to be. They had an incredible, raw energy to them in those days. They have retained some of that over the years, but at that time, it was their defining trait. Their music was intense, and charged with powerful and meaningful lyrics, with more than a touch of poetry to them. They really were a band that seemed almost to offer at least a little something to everyone. I desperately wanted to see them, and felt, on many levels, that no matter how many concerts and acts I saw, it would not be or feel complete or impressive until I saw Pearl Jam.
But they rarely ever toured, and never seemed to come to my area, the New York greater metropolitan area, at the time. True, they came around for several shows in their earliest days in the early nineties, playing some very memorable, even legendary shows, at places like the Limelight, but I really started getting into Pearl jam early in 1993, and by then, they were becoming a rare act to see in New York. They had actually come in the area and done a show at the Paramount, in Madison Square Garden (but not outright MSG), and I had desperately tried to get tickets, but was unsuccessful. I waited outside on the side of a road in New York City with a group of equally determined friends to try and get stand by tickets to Saturday Night Live, and actually managed to get one of these tickets. But there was literally not one opening that night, and so all stand by tickets were sent home. I even tried to see them at the Boston Gardens, and came somewhat close, but no cigar. I collected bootlegs of their shows by then, and that 1994 tour still looms large in my memory, although the pleasure of actually going to one of those shows was not mine.
Eventually, however, the opportunity did come. I was friends with someone who had a penchant for obtaining rare tickets, and he managed to get tickets to one of the two Randall's Island shows that the band scheduled for September of 1996, to support their latest album, No Code. This came around a month after the release of that album, which I remember having gotten while on a trip to Chicago, in late August. So, knowing that I would finally get to see them, I was incredibly excited. I just couldn't wait to finally see this group in concert.
There were three of us who went to the concert together. We got there early, and I remember kind of just taking in the atmosphere. The Fastbacks finally came out to open the show, and then it was Ben Harper, who I was not familiar with at the time, but was tremendously impressed with. Still, the group that I wanted to see was in the waits, and the excitement grew. It seemed to take forever for them to take the stage, and it was so hot that night, I remember. Maybe it was just because we were all so tightly packed in. There were a lot of people there.
Finally, the lights went out, and I saw candles on the stage that Pearl Jam was about to take. I don't remember having seen candles at a concert before like that, so it seemed like a new touch. The band came on stage, and it was a thrill to see the immediately identifiable locks of Vedder's then still long hair, and knowing that they were finally there, that the concert had finally begun.
But the music waited, as Eddie Vedder spoke first. He assured us that while the previous night (they had played Randall's Island the night before, as I understand it, in heavy rain) had been highly charged, tonight, they were going to take it a bit easier. But he had the feeling, he told us, that the music would be better sharper, than it had ever been, and that the concert would be longer, maybe, than any other that they had ever performed.
He was right. It wound up being, at that time, the longest show that the band had ever played (it had since been overtaken, and the longest concert that they have played to date now, to my knowledge, was the third Mansfield show in 2004, when they tried to play mostly all different songs in the three shows combined, and opened that third and final show in the Boston area with an acoustic set prior to their main set).
They opened up with "Sometimes", which is also the opening song of their then new album, No Code. It was a strange choice, I thought. It was followed by an intense version of "Go", and the intensity was on. The crowd was really fired up, and seemed as excited as I was in just seeing the band, finally. The next few songs were also highly charged, despite Vedder's previous prediction. During "Animal", Vedder stopped the song and warned the crowd that people were acting crazy, and given the overly crowded circumstances, he did not want something to happen. He even mentioned that they did not think they could keep playing music if someone was to lose their life at one of their shows, something that a friend of mine mentioned some years later, following the tragic incident at Roskilde during the Pearl Jam set.
In any case, that show indeed was legendary, and just as Vedder had forecast, they did in fact play more sings, and played a longer show, than they had ever done before. Everyone went home satisfied, and that certainly included me. I was flying high for maybe a week or so after, feeling so privileged to have felt like that. Since then, only the shows that I mentioned earlier have really allowed me to feel that way, as far as concerts are concerned. Most recently, it was Ringo's 70th birthday show that made me feel that concert magic. It's a nice feeling, and I remember just feeling so content following that legendary 1996 show. Even the massive traffic jam following the show's end did not bother me. Nothing bothered me after that for a while.
That show was on this date, September 29th, exactly 20 years ago, and I was there! I was sure that it would forever be the greatest Pearl Jam show that I would ever see, but I have seen them over twenty times since then. One of the other very memorable shows that I saw of theirs also occurred on this date, back in 2004. It was also part of the Vote for Change tour, about two weeks before that Washington DC finale that I mentioned earlier in this blog. That also had an incredible set list, and was one of the most intense shows of Pearl Jam's that I had ever seen. Even that was now eight years ago. They were both a long time ago, but, ah, what memories!
Here's a link to Pearl Jam's website with the setlist of this 1996 show (as well as an illustration of the poster from the show, now a real colector's item):
And here's a link to the other September 29th show, eight years later in 2004, and eight years ago on this date:
Pearl Jam at Uniondale Anniversary-on This Day in 2003
(Originally published on 4/30/16)
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.
Book Review: Pearl Jam by Mick Wall
(Originally published on 1/25/13)
Yes, I know. I already had a review concerning Pearl Jam recently, when reviewing the Cameron Crowe movie about Pearl Jam. Still, watching "Pearl Jam Twenty" recently got me in the mood to listen to Pearl Jam, and relive those earlier days, when the energy and angst that the group was best known for was still present. It also got me in the mood to read this book, which I had meant to read ten years ago, around the same time that I had read a couple of other books on the group.
The thing is, Pearl Jam's popularity was unlike anything that I had ever witnessed before. Given that many artists are popular, often times flavor of the moment kind of musicians, perhaps this level of popularity that Pearl jam in particular reached needs some clarification.
When I started really getting into Pearl Jam, their popularity was already very strong, and growing very rapidly. Think I mentioned already that it was finding out about the song "Jeremy" that really got me into the band. Well, it seems that that song in particular is what allowed the group to explode into almost unprecedented popularity. What I mean by that is that they were different, hard to pin down or define, exactly. And that was part of their allure.
Case in point, let me share a story. I was hardly the only one who was into Pearl Jam, and I had a close friend who also was really into them. This guy tends to focus on numbers, and he really seemed to know what was most popular in terms of sales, as well as monetary value. I am not saying that he was right in focusing in on that, but it was just a skill that he had, I guess.
In any case, this guy obtained a copy of the suddenly very hard to find cd single, "Jeremy". I mean, I went to the store where he picked up his copy, and there was nothing left. All copies were gone. I checked in other places in hopes of getting my hands on it, but it was nowhere to be found. In passing, I mentioned to him the possibility that Pearl Jam might re-release the single.
He asked me if I was stupid. "Nobody re-releases singles!" I think he might have added a colorful insult or two, just for added emphasis. What was worse, was that he was right! I couldn't think of any examples of any band re-releasing singles.
Still, I responded, saying that "they" (whoever "they" are) would re-release them if it made money. Whatever makes money, right? But I said that with only half conviction, because mostly, it seemed like he was right. What were the chances?
The thing is, they did re-release the Jeremy cd single. Not just Jeremy, for that matter, but all of their cd singles from the "Ten" album. I have copies of some of them, for that matter. I should also note, that on a trip to the city, I was able to get a bootleg of the band that had all of the cd singles on the one disk, and so was able to enjoy the music. Later on, I found a place that had the "Jeremy" cd single specifically, the one with the little girl and the gun. I got it, and the sense of urgency to obtain a copy was done. But still, to see these singles re-released seemed a clear indicator of the phenomenal level of popularity of the band. At least it did to me. That was what seemed the clearest indicator that they had reached a new level of popularity that nobody could really contend with at the time, and few have ever been able to contend with at any point. The Beatles, surely. The Stones, or Elvis, maybe. Led Zeppelin, perhaps. But very few others could even be mentioned in the same breath, at least in terms of the level of popularity at their very peak.
There are other indicators of the phenomenal success that the band reached (I was about to say, enjoyed, but given the history of the band, whether or not they "enjoyed" the popularity that they reached is open to debate, with the band and many others claiming that they did not in fact enjoy it at all, and other, more skeptical people claiming that the band enjoyed it far more than they let on). In the first week of the release of their second album, "Versus" (which originally was untitled for the first million copies or so, before the title was given, and allowed the first batch of untitled releases to be labeled at least relatively rare, and thus, a collector's item for fans). That album had almost one million sales in it's first week, easily reaching the top spot on Billboards, and in fact, outperformed all the other albums on the Billboard combined that week. How many bands do you know that were that popular?
Whether or not the band actually enjoyed this popularity, it is impossible to separate them from it. Given how much it was indirectly mentioned in some of their lyrics (repeatedly, in numerous songs), and the band's own response and problems stemming from it (Eddie Vedder's house was targeted by one mad driver at some point), the popularity of the band was part of it's identity, whether or not it was embraced. Much like the screaming throngs of fans during the sixties for groups like the Beatles or Stones, the Beach Boys or the Doors, the signs of extraordinary popularity for the band were everywhere.
Yet, that has pretty much always been the main behind this band. They exploded into fame in 1992, essentially reaching the status as the world's most popular and trendy band. They were the next big thing, so to speak. And although the band itself seemed to purposely distance itself from the fame, it could not be forgotten that they had worked very hard to acquire it in the first place. As Mick Wall quite correctly points out, the question of credibility always seemed to weight the band down, and mostly, it was the result of the accusations from the front man of another huge Seattle band, Nirvana that had no issues whatsoever with their own credibility. Indeed, if you watch "Twenty", you will see that these accusations by Kurt Cobain were not taken lightly by the members of Pearl Jam themselves and, in fact, they felt that they had to watch everything that they did. In a manner of speaking, Cobain's criticism of Pearl Jam kept the band honest, since they felt like they were walking on egg shells.
To that end, Pearl Jam seemed almost to rebel against their own popularity. Eddie Vedder alluded to it in lyrics to numerous songs. The band stopped doing videos, and suddenly, limited their touring. They shied away from interviews and any kind of promotion. Still, they seemed to be as popular as ever with the release of their second, and then their third album, and even their two-track release of Merkinball. It is not even impossible that their popularity actually continued to grow as a result of their protesting against it in their own way, made them unique as well, and perhaps some cynics of the band who observed all of this were skeptical that it was not all a very clever ploy of some sort. Whatever way you interpret it, the fact is the band continues to have strong detractors, as well as a very strong and loyal base of fans. Kurt Cobain made some amends, at least towards Eddie Vedder personally, but many others did not. Courtney Love once suggested, in reference to her husband's taking his own life, that it should have been Eddie. Shortly after his suicide, there were t-shirts being sold that read "Eddie's Next". As for criticism of the band, I remember personally hearing about PJ Harvey essentially dismissing Pearl Jam.
It seemed, paradoxically, that while the band had struggled (only very briefly) to make a name for itself and gain acceptance, once it got that and then some, they struggled to get the acceptance from others as their popularity grew, and this has strongly defined their identity. The more popular they became, the more they at least publicly shirked their own popularity in order to gain the approval of those who remained skeptical precisely because of their popularity. Many other bands would have simply enjoyed the popularity and milked it outright for all that it was worth, for as long as humanly possible. But that was never an option for Pearl Jam, since much of their fan base (particularly early on) was predicated precisely on that audience that tended to reject "popular" music. It was quite a conundrum, on many levels.
In the meantime, Pearl Jam continued to grow, to evolve. Their music changed, and so did the levels of their popularity. It became undeniable following the release of No Code, their fourth album. That is actually a beautiful and well done work, and truly a great album that the band should be proud of. Initially, the first few days that it went public, it sold very nicely. But the numbers died off very quickly, and that marked the beginning of the end of the phenomenal level of popularity and success (at least in terms of numbers) for Pearl Jam. It could be argued that they briefly enjoyed considerable success with Yield, yet even that was muted, at least in comparison to the phenomenal, staggering levels of popularity that Pearl Jam had in the early nineties. Their musical style changed and, following the rise of George W. Bush and the "global war on terror" that he ushered in, Pearl Jam became more overtly political - something that, quite inexplicably, shocked people. I'm not entirely sure why even to this day, since the band had always been political. To me, it was a part of what attracted me to them in the first place. It drove some others away, however.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Mick Wall's "Pearl Jam" book was written at the time of the peak of their commercial success, when they were, as Time magazine suggested, "all the rage". It only delves into their early history, before they began to lose so much of their popularity.
This book reminded me at times so much of another book that I read (admittedly, around ten years or so ago), that I kept having to look at the cover, to make sure that I was reading the right book. I'm thinking specifically of Kim Neely's "Five Against One", which is not only an excellent read, but still the standard bearer for books about Pearl Jam, if you are so interested. There were points when I felt that I had read the material before, and I mean word for word. I know that it is on the same subject, but it was more than that. Perhaps they share some of the same quotes, or something.
Ultimately, if you are a fan of Pearl Jam, this is a good book, always keeping in mind that it is outdated (at least, the version that I have of it is, although there may be some updated version of it floating around somewhere). It is well-written and insightful, and delves into some of the more complex issues surrounding the band, particularly in relation to their reaction and struggles with their own popularity.
As I think I have mentioned before, I seem to grow in and out of the mood for bands, often times. Pearl Jam is among them. I had not really listened to them for quite a few months prior to the 12/12/12 concert. But then, after that concert, I finally saw the Crowe movie about them, and have been in the mood ever since. So, in that spirit, I will write a review on the accompanying book sometime in the fairly near future, when I finish reading it.
Some News on the Pearl Jam Front
(Originally published on 2/13/15)
As a longtime fan of Pearl Jam, it always kind of struck me how strong the reactions regarding the band are. They seem to be the kind of band that you either really love, or you really hate.
Their popularity is easy enough to understand. They were a part of the Seattle scene when that became "all of the rage", as was suggested on the cover of Time magazine once. Their was an intensity and energy to their music and shows that was hard to rival. Anybody who watches clips of their early live performances from the early nineties and sees Eddie Vedder climbing all over the stage (literally) and the other ban members jumping and rocking to the music would surely have to attest to that. It was exciting! Their lyrics appealed to many who were tired of the party music of the eighties, most of which lacked substance when it came to real issues, which either meant that this was a sign of the times that they came from, or perhaps that these bands were a product of their times (and that they did not transcend the limitations of their times). By contrast, Pearl Jam helped to define their times. For a few sweet years, Pearl Jam was the biggest band in the world. Some have suggested that they took over the world.
Yet, they seemed almost uncomfortable with their own success, particularly Vedder. This was a band that rose from an anti-establishment, anti-commercial music scene, yet stood on the precipice of the pitfalls of success. As much as the band rejected it, their success continued, and so many felt that their criticisms of the excesses of huge publicity and following was disingenuous. Also, there was the not insignificant matter of the harsh judgments of the band from Kurt Cobain, which has remained as a kind of dark shadow that has, at least to some extent, hovered over the band since. Many others have latched onto these criticisms, and they have continued to plague the band right to the present day. Just a few months ago, Howard Stern and Billy Corgan discussed Pearl Jam, with both men agreeing that they were "derivative" (lacking originality), and with neither man seeming to understand or "get" the sustained success that Pearl Jam has enjoyed. Ironically, many bands that came shortly after Pearl Jam exploded on the scene were accused of being "derivative" of Pearl Jam, including Stone Temple Pilots, The Nixons, Seven Mary Three, Creed, and a few others.
I have suspicions as to why that is. In fact, it's probably for a variety of reasons, not least of which would be Corbain's famous shots at the band, but the main one would surely be that they have enjoyed the kind of success that most bands can only dream of, and there is some unstated measure of jealousy attached to criticism of the band. Moreover, they have found a way to make it last, on top of it. Seriously, this is a band that will be celebrating a quarter of a century together later this year! That's phenomenal!
Still, detractors always seem to have their say. I already mentioned Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and The Smashing Pumpkin's Billy Corgan, but they are certainly not alone. Over the course of the years, I have heard criticism of Pearl Jam from various members of other bands, including Creed, Jet, Nickleback, PJ Harvey, as well as some others that are not immediately coming to mind. Most recently, Marilyn Manson took a pot shot at Pearl Jam's credibility, indirectly calling their image, and their battle with Ticketmaster "horseshit".
Pearl Jam, to their credit, usually have not gotten directly involved with trying to answer such criticism, or even really let it bother them too much. They have focused on continuing to do their own thing, and to their credit, they have become one of the pillars of rock bands out there now. They are almost an institution, with few major acts really rivaling the level of success that they enjoy. While most of the other bands from that Seattle era have fallen by the wayside, or broken up at some point before getting back together again (such as Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Rage Against the Machine, and Corgan's Smashing Pumpkins), this is one band that has remained together through it all. They have collaborated on some level or other with numerous other bands over the years, including R.E.M., Soundgarden, Bruce Springsteen, U2, and a few others.
Over the years, they have redefined themselves considerably, changing their sound and image, but staying true, for the most part, to their anti-commercial roots. Still, they have managed to remain popular, and their live shows have almost become the stuff of legend, even though they still have their detractors.
But while many have been highly critical of the band, there are certainly some that have defended them and their integrity. Ben Harper claimed that Pearl Jam was the best band in the world, during a 2003 show n New York. Dave Groehl, formerly of Nirvana and presently of the Foo Fighters, has remained a vocal supporter. Chris Novoselic of Nirvana has also lent his support and defended the band at times, as has Courtney Love (although what her precise sentiments about Pearl Jam are have been fairly inconsistent). But the most consistent supporters from the Seattle scene that I know have undeniably been Soundgarden. Makes sense, since the drummer is in both bands.
It's more than just that, however. Chris Cornell was an early supporter of Pearl Jam, and genuinely seems to get along with the band members, and enjoy their music scene. Kim Thayil is now also stepping up in defense of Pearl Jam, turning much of the conventional criticism of Pearl Jam on it's head by suggesting that they are the only grunge band that did not borrow from Soundgarden, suggesting a level of originality and legitimacy that many of Pearl Jam's detractors would never credit the band with. Since Soundgarden themselves have really not been accused of lacking originality or having their own distinct style, that lends a measure of credibility to Pearl Jam from a major outside source that has been relatively rare.
But you can bet that it will not take long before someone else takes a swipe at Pearl Jam, since it seems to be the accepted thing to do for many bands that want to claim a certain measure of credibility and originality, as if these bands had no influences and came up with their music and values and such entirely on their own. Let it be so.
For Pearl Jam fans, we take pleasure in having picked a band that has given so much back to their fans. That includes, but is not limited to, numerous tours (they used to be a lot more affordable than they are now, although they still are not nearly as expensive as some other major acts), some great music albums, DVD's, posters, and bootleg albums, to name just a few. That they have lasted this long is, frankly, both a bit of a surprise (since it came so fast), yet also not really a surprise at all. There is something special about these guys, what they do, and their belief in each other and themselves.
Now, here it is, 2015 already. Pearl Jam will celebrate their 25th anniversary later this year, and they are planning another major tour, evidently. I know I'm looking forward to it, and thinking about taking my son to a show, as he has now become quite a big Pearl Jam fan in his own right.
So, I thought that the proper thing to do would be to share a few links related to Pearl Jam that have been floating around lately. One on Kim Thayil's suggestion that Pearl Jam was the only grunge act that did not "borrow" from Soundgarden, another on Marilyn Manson, where you can find his comments on Pearl Jam (I still like him, though), and then another on Stone Gossard discussing the musical difference within the members of the band. Finally, one last one that provides a bit of information on the band's future plans.
Kim Thayil Says Pearl Jam Were Only Grunge Band That Didn’t ‘Borrow’ From Soundgarden Rock MusicAlternativeGrungeHard RockTop Storiesby Brett Buchanan - Feb 12, 2015
Stone Gossard Discusses Pearl Jam’s Creative Differences Rock MusicAlternativeGrungeHard RockTop Storiesby Brett Buchanan - Feb 11, 2015
Marilyn Manson Claims He Invented Grunge, Talks Nirvana and Pearl Jam Rock MusicAlternativeGrungeHard RockRock FeaturesHeadlinesTop Storiesby Mike Mazzarone - Jan 12, 2015
Pearl Jam Reportedly Planning To Tour Later This Year Pearl Jam Reportedly Planning To Tour Later This Year Rock MusicAlternativeGrungeHard RockRock FeaturesHeadlinesTop Storiesby Brett Buchanan - Jan 8, 2015