Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer School of Rock - Pearl Jam

There would be no way to talk about rock music in the 90's without mentioning Pearl Jam.  While it's impossible to say what might have happened had Nirvana's front man survived the decade, the fact of the matter is that he didn't.  Nirvana dissolved and Pearl Jam emerged as the ultimate grunge band of the 90's.


As with most bands, it took a few years for the band to take shape, adding front man Eddie Vedder in 1990.  They were actually named Mookie Blaylock initially, after the basketball player, but changed it after legal naming concerns arose.


Ten was recorded in Seattle the following year, and would become their most commercially successful album.  Full of songs about depression and suicide, anger and loneliness, it spoke to the youth of the time.  Vedder's soulful voice combined with anthem style rock made a recipe for fame.  Rock without the flash.  You were just there for the music.

Flannel.  As far as the eye could see.

At the time, some accused Pearl Jam of being the sell-outs of the grunge movement, including Kurt Cobain, primarily because Pearl Jam's music was played more in the mainstream market than other Seattle based bands at the time.  Alice and Chains and Soundgarden were heavier and Nirvana was just...well, Nirvana.

Ironic, considering Pearl Jam has basically spent the rest of their career trying to prove they are anything but sell-outs.

By 1992, they were touring with Lollapalooza and playing SNL.


The fame got to the band quickly, and they started to pull back from what was expected of them.  After winning awards at the MTV music awards, they refused to make videos.  Vedder explained that videos, though wildly popular at the time, stripped some of the meaning from the songs and took away the listeners ability to interpret them.

They started refusing interviews and television performances.  They set a cap on ticket prices to concerts, then got to the point where they boycotted Ticketmaster.  Refusing to play any arena where Ticketmaster controlled tickets and assessed their fees, Pearl Jam finally canceled their 1994 summer tour.

The band never fully recovered from the fight with Ticketmaster.  They stood their ground, but quickly realized how hard it is to book venues without the ticketing giant.  In the late 90's, they recorded a few more albums and changed drummers several times.

Pearl Jam contemplated quitting altogether after 9 fans were crushed during a concert in 2000 in Denmark.  The band was initially blamed because they didn't heed the promoters requests to stop playing when the crowd swelled, but was later found innocent of blame.  Between that incident and 9/11, the band took some time off to contemplate their own (and everyone else's) mortality.


Just Breathe is one of my favorites, and shows the depth of their experiences, speaks to the power of lyrics and shows why they never needed videos in the first place.

2009's album Backspacer yielded their first music video in years.  Since then, they have been back on SNL and other television shows.  They are currently on tour in Europe.

Pearl Jam will forever be known as much for their music as for their refusal to comply with the rules.  They are loud and opinionated, often speaking out on everything from the environment to abortion to the war.  They have played a great many charity concerts, and will most certainly continue to do so.

The only reason they aren't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?  They aren't eligible yet.

1 comment:

  1. If you haven't seen the recent documentary Twenty, I greatly encourage it. Brilliant look at the band through the years. Oh, Eddie...how I love thee.

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