Pearl Jam Twenty is the 2011 documentary film on a Seattle band that, for some people, came out of/from nowhere, figuratively and literally. Directed by Cameron Crowe. the movie is an in-depth look at Pearl Jam’s roots, along with the roots of each member, plus what they had to get through in order to get from way over there to becoming the Seattle band naysayers didn’t think would last more than two years. Through a mix of newly shot interviews and archival footage, one is able to watch the growth of the band, their music, along with how each member managed to stick together despite initial mental obstacles. In terms of rock documentaries, this is one of the best because the band allowed complete access to their lives. Die hard fans will love this, as it offers a chance to see not only early nightclub shows when they were known as Mookie Blaylock, but also some of the promotional duties they had to do during the first album, all of which lead to what guitarist Stone Gossard calls “the birth of no”: no videos, no interviews, no Ticketmaster. It seemed so revolutionary and out of the norm, and years later, we have people like comedian Louis C.K. who is able to sell concert tickets directly to fans and have it be celebrated rather than criticized. There are so many highlights to this, but I liked it when Eddie Vedder said that the innocence of Seattle did not die when Kurt Cobain killed himself, but when Mother Love Bone vocalist Andrew Wood died after being taken off of life support following a heroin overdose. Then years later, have Vedder and the rest of the band sing a Mother Love Bone song. There are a number of touching moments here, but it has to be watched to be truly felt. It feels like a concert film even though it’s not. I have seen many music documentary films, but along with the Fishbone doc Everyday Sunshine, this is one of the best docs I’ve seen in a long time. While the film does touch on the hype and mystique, you also hear them talk about why they shunned it, and how they managed to beat the odds after taken the route most bands would never do, especially not today.
Now, my sidebar story. I remember when Mookie Blaylock was getting a lot of attention in the Seattle bi-weekly magazine, The Rocket. It was a magazine that pretty much covered anyone and everyone, and they championed some of the best bands in their existence. At the time, Europe and Japan were enjoying the superhype of the Seattle music scene. Alternative fans in the U.S. loved it, and it was far from being pop. People talked about how Soundgarden were on A&M, and people were wondering who would be the next to get a major label offering. Everyone was hoping for Mudhoney. But these Mookie Blaylock guys… it seemed like every issue had a status report on shows, demos, and how they might be getting a buzz. They then talked about the name change. Soon, there was a bit of mystery about a secret project from Nirvana, and something was very much in the air. I lived 200 miles away from Seattle, but if you were in touch with their music scene, you wanted to show support. I, on the other hand, felt like this Pearl Jam stuff was crap, and I hadn’t heard a note of their music. I was a long time Green River fan, ordered their “Together We’ll Never” green vinyl 7″ after reading a review from Bruce Pavitt in his Sub Pop column in The Rocket. It arrived with a letter from vocalist Mark Arm, who was nice enough to introduce me to a new band. He threw in a free record by some band called Melvins. I ended up enjoying Melvins much more than Green River, but I loved how sarcastic Green River were in their approach. When they split up, there was news on what the members would do next. The bassist from Melvins decided to join up with some members from Green River, ended up creating Mudhoney. Two other members of Green River would create Mother Love Bone. I knew Mother Love Bone received a lot of praise due to vocalist Andrew Wood. Loved when Mother Love Bone got signed to a Polygram deal. Then Wood died. I went to the New Music Seminar in 1990, and as I walked around in New York City, there were loads of posters of the forthcoming Mother Love Bone debut. It was meant to be a promotional push not only for them, but of Seattle. I wanted that to be their moment, but it didn’t happen, so the posters were just there and MTV played “Stardog Champion” as much as they could.
This is why I hated Pearl Jam. I honestly felt that Eddie Vedder was nothing more than a random surfer stoner from San Diego who was trying to cash in on the Seattle thing, and they just snapped him up for attention. Keep in mind that I was in punk rock mode, and being overly protective for a music scene 200 miles away. I didn’t care too much about Vedder’s singing, his songs, I didn’t want to listen to it. They didn’t sound like what “grunge” sounded like, but then again, compared to everyone else, neither did Nirvana. Hell, every band sounded completely different one another. It would be too easy to say “Melvins is the sound of grunge”, but they loved Flipper as much as they loved Black Sabbath. Their influences were as diverse as everyone else. I thought Pearl Jam sucked, but they were always on MTV so they were hard to miss. I had to admit, even though they sucked, I found the sounds oddly catchy. I didn’t want to admit it. “Jeremy” got all the hype, “Alive” was their grand opening song, but I liked “Evenflo”, especially the video since it was shot at the Moore Theater, one of my favorite concert venues. To me, Vedder came off like a pompous poseur and that’s because I did not understand what he was about. He didn’t seem like the sarcastic fuckers of Seattle, and that’s because he wasn’t from Seattle. I’d read his interviews and thought “wow, who in the fuck is this guy?” I always heard the “hits” on the radio, but being in Washington State, the few rock stations in my area also played the album cuts. I happened to have a liking to the one “hit” that didn’t have a video: “Black”.
After the buzz from the “Jeremy” video died down and they were getting ready to put together album number two, I still didn’t like them, but then they started doing things that I did like. I liked the fact that they chose to not too any more music videos, at a time when videos were meant to be “all or nothing” for artists. I liked that they would battle Ticketmaster when most major label/mainstream artists never had the balls to do the same. At a time when the compact disc was finally the preferred format of choice, I liked that they were pro-vinyl, often releasing albums two weeks before the CD release. (Today, if an album has a vinyl counterpart, it is usually released two weeks after the digital and CD releases are out). They also had a fan club where they would release Christmas records, just like The Beatles did. As serious and as “poseur” as I felt they came off as, there was a sense of something else that perhaps I had always wanted in a band. There was humor, there was fun, and there was a true love for music. What convinced me was when they started collaborating with Neil Young. I’ve been a Young fan since a kid, had an uncle who adored After The Gold Rush, which remains my all time favorite NY LP. It sounded great, and I realized wow, have I been wrong in assuming this band was crap? It sounds good to me.
The weird thing about is that, Epic Records would send me promos of their albums and I didn’t bother listening to them. That hate was strong. Yet I found myself traveling 45 miles to the only record store in the area (Hot Poop in Walla Walla, Washington) to buy a vinyl pressing of Yield. The early reviews seemed good, and I thought “okay, this is album number five. I need to put my unrealstic hatred away. Maybe this album will change me.” It did.
In between this hate, I became a huge fan of Gossard’s other band, Brad. I played the Shame album religiously and felt that this was the sound of Seattle, and it still is.
I then realized wait: I’m from Hawai’i, where surfing originated. I was born in California, and there’s still a small bit of that boho California vibe in me. Why should I feel hatred for a guy who loves the ocean? I’m that guy who is always writing about how the lure of the ocean is strong and a beach tends to bring to me a bit of inner peace, even if just by thinking about it.
I’ve been a Pearl Jam fan longer than the seven years I chose to hate them. It was more Vedder-hate than Pearl Jam, and as I began listening to his songs with the band and his solo work, I felt much of what he was going through. He can pick up an ‘ukulele and make it heartfelt. I could relate to that. No more hate.
There is little chance they will read this but: to Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Eddie Vedder, and Mike McCready: I apologize for being ignorant to your music from 1991-1998. Call it Pacific Northwest pride, call it support for the Seattle music scene from a distance, call it dumb. It will not happen again.