The World's Oldest Pearl Jam Fan
Updated: Dec 3, 2022
I've been called the world's oldest Pearl Jam fan.
But it isn't true. Neil Young is a fan and he's 3 years older than I am.
Friends my age don't get it. They roll their eyes and shake their heads.
Why do I love the band? As the 30th anniversary of the release of their first album, "Ten," approaches, I want to tell you.
It started with my son, Mike, who introduced me to the band. When "Ten" came out in 1991, Mike was in the Navy, stationed in Alameda, California. I went down to visit him. We drove all over the East Bay in his little blue pickup truck, playing that CD full blast. It was a good time, and a memorable send-off as he prepared for the first deployment of his career.
Soon after, Mike left for the Persian Gulf, and made me promise to send him new releases of Pearl Jam CDs as soon as they came out. And I did. I went to Easy Street Records the day of each release and bought two CDs each time. One for him and one for me. Mike served for 24 years, so I have a pretty good collection.
Today, when I hear "Even Flow," it takes me back to that trip to California and hanging out with my son. There is a visceral energy in this song that, even in my 70s, I find compelling.
I became a Pearl Jam fan for the energy. But I stayed for the lyrics. (Most of the videos I'm posting here include lyrics, so you can hear for yourself.)
Listen to the items on this "Wish List." I wish my imagination was that good.
Then there are the relationship songs. "Nothing Man" is a song of lost love and regret. It isn't a victim song. It is more of an introspection. "Caught a bolt of lightning. Cursed the day he let it go."
"Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" is the poignant story of a woman who has aged in place in a small town. "I changed by not changing at all, small town predicts my fate." When a long ago boyfriend walks into the store, she doesn't recognize him right away. Then she realizes who he is. After all this time, the distance between them feels impossible to bridge - and she can't find the courage to say, "hello."
"Better Man" tells an all-too-familiar story - and fans know every word of the song. Listen to their performance at Madison Square Garden. "She dreams in color. She dreams in red."
Pearl Jam has never shied away from difficult subjects. "Jeremy" was inspired by the true story of a boy who shot himself to death in front of his classmates. "Daughter" is about the abuse of a child with a learning disability.
"Indifference" is mysterious. Is this a song about determination, or just plain stubbornness? Is it a song about utter disillusionment? Is it about being ready to give up and let go? If so, of what? Is it dawning on him that fighting the good fight doesn't fix anything - it just signs you up for the next fight? Or is this a song that means something different at different times, depending on where you are in the moment? Then again,"How much difference does it make?"
"Alive"exposes the impact of family secrets, drawn from another true story. As a teenager, front man Eddie Vedder found out that the man he thought was his father was, in fact, his step-dad. His biological father had died some years earlier. The song is about his struggle to come to terms with that loss, a loss that he considered a curse.
The chorus from "Alive" has become an anthem for fans who have triumphed over their own personal challenges. At concerts, fans sing it as a celebration. Vedder has said that their response to the song surprised him, helped him reinterpret his experience, and lifted the curse for him.
Pearl Jam band members use their platform to support a variety of good works through their Vitalogy Foundation. This includes organizations devoted to improving health, preserving the environment and indigenous culture, and promoting the arts and education.
In August of 2018, Pearl Jam performed two sold-out "Home Shows," at Safeco Field, to raise money to fight homelessness in Seattle. They "banded together" with over 170 businesses, charitable organizations, and fans to come up with more than $11.5 million, which was distributed among agencies and organizations with a good track record for bringing people inside. Now, as we slowly recover from the pandemic, the need is even greater. I hope Pearl Jam's example of coalition-building will inspire a renewed effort to find ways to make homelessness a thing of the past in Seattle.
I'll close with "Around the Bend,"a lullaby. It's a reminder that the boys who recorded "Ten" thirty years ago are now men in mid-life. Eddie Vedder, the baby-faced fellow singing his heart out in the Even Flow video at the top of this post, finally looks old enough to own that deep baritone voice of his. My son, now retired from the Navy, will be 50 next year. These days, I'm more inclined to listen to Ukulele Songs than hard rock. We're all a little mellower now.
This old fan is grateful to Pearl Jam for 30 years of great music, heartfelt performances, and community service.
The world is a better place for having them in it.