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Issue 105 • February 27 – March 12, 2012

A few months ago, I interviewed Eddie Breckenridge of Thrice for Submerge. Among other things, we talked about the recent documentary Pearl Jam 20, an in-depth look into the venerable grunge band as it prepared to celebrate its 20th birthday. I’d heard about it but hadn’t seen it, and he wholeheartedly suggested I check it out. My first exposure to Pearl Jam was just over 20 years ago now when I saw the video for “Alive” on MTV. I remember then-host Riki Rachtman introducing the clip to close out that week’s Headbangers Ball. The song was performed live, the video was chaotic and grainy, and the band’s lead singer dove out into the crowd. They didn’t look like the demagogical rock stars in the metal I normally listened to. They seemed like an extension of the audience in their ratty clothes and scruffy countenances. I bought the album Ten on cassette shortly thereafter, and for the first time in my life, I was asking people, “Hey, have you heard this?” Pearl Jam 20 was written and directed by Cameron Crowe, who first brought members of the band to the big screen in his 1992 grungeera rom-com Singles. It was a movie I’d seen many times. As an impressionable 16-year-old, it made me think that I should probably start a band and move to Seattle, even though the time to actually do that and have it mean something, by that point, had long since passed. A lot of these sorts of memories came flooding back as I watched Pearl Jam 20. The documentary presents the band warts and all, giving a sweeping view behind the scenes of their long career—from Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament’s early friendship to their eventual formation of the bands Green River and Mother Love Bone, to the death of the latter’s frontman Andy Wood, to Pearl Jam’s meteoric, and reluctant, rise to superstardom. While it’s clear that Crowe has a strong affinity for Pearl Jam, he doesn’t gloss over their rocky times: the tragedy where people were killed mobbing close to the stage when the band played the 2000 Roskilde Festival in Denmark; the band’s well-meaning but nonetheless futile battle against Ticketmaster; the disparaging remarks Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain made against Pearl Jam, saying that they just weren’t very good; and even their internal strife dealing

with their rising fame—particularly that of lead singer Eddie Vedder—are all put on the table. The best part, though, is the plethora of live performances strewn throughout the documentary. Pearl Jam is one of those bands I’ve always wanted to see live but haven’t gotten around to yet. It’s sort of inexplicable since they had such a big impact on me during my formative years. Also, they seem to play all the time. In some of the clips from Pearl Jam’s earlier days, we see them as scruffy youths, unmarred by fame. They thrashed around on stage, Vedder threw himself into crowds with reckless abandon, they wrestled one another on stage. Immediately after, I was compelled to see when the band would be touring next. I thought the next time I had the chance, I’d be sure to buy tickets and experience it for myself. But then I realized that I didn’t really want to see them live, not now. I mean, I would. I would certainly not turn down that opportunity. Good concerts seem to come around so rarely now. But what I really wanted was to be there then, when they were starting out. Being one in the throngs of fans completely losing their minds in unison. I’ve had that before. Lollapalooza in 1994. It rained all day, but even though I was soaked, with my clothes covered in mud, I’ll always look back at Smashing Pumpkins’ headlining set as an important moment in my life. But I was just 17 then. This wouldn’t happen now. Not for me. As Vedder intones in one of their songs, “All that’s sacred comes from youth.” I’m not an old man, but I do have some life behind me now. I’ve graduated college. I’ve been fired from jobs. I’ve moved around the country. I’ve been lucky enough to write for a living. I’ve struggled to pay bills. I’ve been in love. A rock concert no longer seems like a defining moment. Newer live concert footage is just as good, though far more sedentary. One clip shows Vedder alone on stage strumming the chords to “Better Man” while the crowd— apparently tens of thousands—sings along without missing a single word. They’ve grown older as their audience has; and, as the documentary shows, have been through quite a lot in their own right. They still rock, though, and that’s nothing if not encouraging.

Dive Into Sacramento & Its Surrounding Areas

Submerge Magazine: Issue 105 (February 27-March 12, 2012)  

Interviews w/ World Hood, John Lee Hooker Jr., founders and organizers of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, Blitzen Trapper and Tera...

Submerge Magazine: Issue 105 (February 27-March 12, 2012)  

Interviews w/ World Hood, John Lee Hooker Jr., founders and organizers of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, Blitzen Trapper and Tera...