I was ready to give up on Pearl Jam back in 2002 when they released Riot Act. Thinking back on it, I really don't remember much from that particular disc. Sure, there was that one song that took a jab at George W. Bush, but that felt more like a novelty than anything else. The album before that, Binaural only had a few decent tracks on it as well, so it looked like things were going downhill. (Although I must admit that the song "Thin Air" was so good that Kirsti and I had it played at our wedding.)
So, I figured that was it. They had gone the way of so many other bands, and their moment of glory was long past them. Imagine my surprise when "World Wide Suicide" came out off of their eponymous album. That had everything that I liked in a good Pearl Jam song - loud guitars, feedback, Eddie Vedder snarling out the lyrics, and good lyrics.
I recently picked up their latest, Backspacer, and I have to say that it's a pretty good disc with a lot of solid songs on it. It's good to hear, as Pearl Jam has been one of my favorite bands for some time now.
I first discovered them late one night after coming home from an eight to midnight shift at Safeway back when I was in high school. It usually would take me a couple of hours to unwind so I could go to bed, so I'd often just watch TV until I started to feel sleepy. Back then, MTV had a show called "Headbanger's Ball", and I'd sometimes watch it.
I have to say that from the late 80s to the early 90s was not a very good time for rock and roll. Basically, hair metal dominated the scene. Now that I'm older, I'll admit that some of them definitely have their merits (Bon Jovi) but I believe that many of them sucked just as much as I insisted that they sucked even back then (Poison). Basically, I just didn't feel like there was a lot out there for me. I found myself listening to a lot of older, classic rock, and I liked bands like Metallica and Faith No More as well. When Nirvana came along, I dug them as well, but in all honesty, I don't think that I fully appreciated them until somewhat recently.
So there I was, up late at night, and I caught the video for "Alive".
And thus was born an instant fan. I loved the sound of the guitar, and I had a man-crush on the guy who was singing. (That's a bit of a retcon, of course, as I had no concept of a man-crush back then.) He didn't look like he spent hours doing his hair before he played, and dammit, he sang like a MAN, and yet he was singing about things that were obviously emotional. It was the perfect band for the angry young man that I was. (Okay, I was more frustrated and annoyed than angry back then, but it all comes out as anger when you're in your teens.)
It was probably just a few days afterward when I bought the CD, having not heard a single other song. I pretty much fell in love with it on the first listen, and it got played quite a bit. I also remember trying to turn people on to the band, but I wasn't having much luck. I remember playing them for one girl who just shrugged her shoulders and said, "They're okay." Fast forward a year, and I saw Ten in her CD collection. I told her that I was surprised that she had it, and she claimed that she always liked Pearl Jam. (And no, I'm not one of those people who feels superior when I learn about a band before they get popular. I just get frustrated at people who obviously will only like something that is already popular. If you like music, you should like it for the music and no other reason.)
I continued to be a fan through college, even though pretty much everybody I met didn't like them. I don't know what it was, but I really took a lot of flack for liking them. I never really heard a good reason why one shouldn't like them, but I have a feeling that much of it had to do with the fact that they were so popular - which is ironic, I know. Whatever, it didn't matter to me, and I kept on being a fan even after I got out of college and worked all sorts of lame-ass jobs until I finally found my career.
It's difficult for me to explain just what Pearl Jam means to me. There have been a lot of times when their music has brought my spirits up. I remember having a crappy day at Safeway when I was a teenager and singing "Porch" in the car as loud as I could afterward. Of course, that song has nothing to do with a crappy job at a grocery store, but it sure felt good to get out all those frustrations.
A song that really holds a lot of meaning for me is "In Hiding", which is off of their Yield album. Now, I've never really analyzed the lyrics, mainly in fear of the fact that I'll discover what they're really about. For me, there are a few phrases that really resonate like "I swallowed my words just to keep from lying." Also, being somebody who tends to be a bit introverted, the chorus "I'm in hiding" is something that I often feel like I'm doing. After hearing a lot of interviews with Eddie Vedder, I get the feeling that he would be pretty cool with me making my own meaning out of his song. (Crap, I'm listening to it right now, and I'm getting all verklempt!)
I remember thinking back in 1992 that Pearl Jam was a band with some legs and that their music wouldn't just fade into obscurity. Even though I was probably wrong about a lot of things back then, I always felt that their music had a certain timeless quality to it. Turns out I was right on that one.
This "Stan Lee Challenge" was inspired by the Captain America half of Tales of Suspense #90: "...And Men Shall Call Him Traitor!"