I want to put out there prior to those reading this that I just started on some meds, and they’ve got me a little loopy. This has affected me in that my head cloudy all the time, causing me not to feel in fighting shape. Hopefully I can get back to normalcy relatively soon.
Often bands last a few years and then they’re gone. Pop and rap artists these days feel like they’re a flash in the pan, and then poof! They disappear into the ether. The bands that do stick around for long periods of time seem to end like a messy divorce. Rarely is there an applicable split. Staying together for the kids just isn’t enough to keep all parties satisfied so, their break up leaves countless millions on the table, and all of their loyal fans wanting more, and wondering of what could have been. Every once in a while though, a band comes a long and they seems to defy the odds. Pearl Jam is one of those bands.
After rocketing to immediate stardom in the early 90’s, twenty years later they are still at it. I realize that more than enough has been written about Pearl Jam, but for this legends piece I wanted to simple take a quick look at the very first Pearl Jam record Ten.
To start, Pearl Jam was not always Pearl Jam. F not for one horrible tragedy, Pearl Jam may have never been. Prior to Eddie Vedder ever coming into the picture; PJ’s Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament had been playing in the Seattle rock band Mother Love Bone. MLB was fronted by lead Singer Andrew Wood. In 1989, Wood had turned Mother Love Bone into the Seattle band. Wood treated every show as if it were a sold out Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Woods had talent, showmanship, and most importantly, the “it” factor. Woods and the band were at the precipice of fame.
My favorite song of theirs has got to be Crown of Thorns
But there is no happiness for Woods. We’ve see this play story played out a thousand times over in all walks of life. Individual seem to have it all, get side tracked by life one way or another. For Andrew it was heroin. On March 16th, despite having recently completed rehab, Andrew overdosed and went into a coma. He suffered massive brain damage and his family decided to pull him off of life support three days later. Just like that, he was gone. Mother Love Bone was no more. Stone and Jeff had not only lost one of their closest friends, but they had lost their band. That may have been their only shot. Most people don’t even get one shot, let alone two. After Andrew’s death, Jeff and Stone didn’t play together for nearly a year. Eventually, they did what all musicians do and got back to playing. It was an outlet for them. The guys had pieced together a demo of three instrumental tracks that then got passed around by fellow local musicians.
This is the amazing part of the story to me. Nowadays if you want to find anyone or anything, you can post a classified on craigslist or Facebook and next thing you know, you’ve got more responses than you know what to do with. These guys literally made copies of the tape, sent it out, crossed their fingers and hoped someone somewhere would get a hold of it. It reminds of that crappy Costner movie Message In A Bottle. I think someone from heroin in that story too. Jeff and Stone were basically banking on luck and the goodwill of others. This is a faith in people that I’m lacking. If I put something in the hands of someone else, I generally prepare to be disappointed. It may be a sad way to go about things, but to be honest I’m right at least 90% of the time.
Through their net of friends Eddie Vedder, a singer song/ writer/ surfer from San Diego, received the demo. After an afternoon of paddling around in the waves, Eddie scrawled out some lyrics, recorded them and shipped the tape off to Stone and Jeff. When they received the tape, they were ecstatic; Vedder’s voice was like nothing they had ever heard before. His low yodeling growl would become the voice of an entire movement. Little did these guys know that the demo tape they had been listening to contained what would become two of Pearl Jam’s biggest hits, Once and Alive.
Eddie flew up to Seattle and the band got to work. Generally bands that have just started working together are like boxers in the first round of a fight. There’s a lot of feeling each other out, no real damage is done, but It seemed Stone and Jeff knew exactly what they wanted so a mere weeks after first meeting in person, the guys were playing shows. The documentary PJ20 shows early footage from either their second or third show, where a shy Eddie Vedder, does his best to belt out the very painful and extremely personal lyrics. If you are a Peal Jam fan in any way, I highly suggest watching this film.
Soon after the band got to recording their first record Ten. The album had been aptly named after the number worn by NBA play Mookie Blaylock . It was this first record that would push Pearl Jam to the forefront of the grunge wave that was now engulfing the America. Pearl Jam much like Alice In Chains, Sound Garden, and Nirvana, had changed music forever.
Ten produced three different billboard singles, Alive, Evenflow, and Jeremey. Jeremy became extremely controversial after the music Video hit MTV in which acts of youth violence in the classroom are directly addressed. As a kid I found the video to be one of the most interesting on TV. Unlike most videos at the time, there was so much going on. Rather than simple watching the band walk around looking cool, this video had some real art to it. Anytime it came on I was hypnotized. The smash cuts, the jarring zooms, flashes of news stories, all narrated by the haunting voice of Vedder, the viewer only seeing flashes of him somewhere in the shadows. It sticks with me even to this day.
Not that I want to take anything away from the song, because it is a great damn song, but Jeremy has been my go to Karaoke jam for the past 8 years.
Ten marked the career beginning for one of the most prolific rock bands of the past 50 years. It has gone platinum 13 times and counting. Pearl Jam’s career is sprawling and continues to sprawl. To cover it in something as small as this would be silly. Go back and smell the roses. You can better appreciate the end game if you know how it all began. Lucky for us it’s still not over and hopefully it won’t be for quite sometime.