A Life in Pearl Jam

I am, and will always be, a child of the 90s, a member of Generation X, an unrepentant bore who still believes that Nirvana’s Nevermind was, just short of the fall of the Berlin Wall, about the most important socio-cultural event this side of Sergeant Pepper.

I say this aware that the kool kids will — clutching their vinyl copies of old Mudhoney records  — no doubt sigh at such ‘MTV’ sensibilities.

Rubbish. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ changed the world. But Kurt is dead and so we look to others to help us reconnect with those splendid days when Mariah Carey and her evil minions were dumped from the charts. Enter Pearl Jam, whose biographer in the new movie Pearl Jam 20 seems to have benefited from the Mormon injunction that we record everything for posterity. Cameron Crowe’s film gives us amazing and encyclopaedic  glimpses of Seattle circa 1991 when out of the ashes of Mother Love Bone, Eddie Vedder and co. arose.

It will sound melodramatic to call Pearl Jam’s music the soundtrack to my life, but watching the film follow Pearl Jam over the last two decades I kept being reminded of who I was at the time of each song. Here are a few highlights:

‘Black’ (Ten), MTV Unplugged, 1992 (RJH is 16)

There is a restrained manliness to Vedder in this video which really appealed to me as a kid. Here was a man who climbed stage rigging and growled his anger at the world but who was also a welcome un-jock, comfortably in touch with the feminine. Several of the songs on Ten are written from the female view and whilst ‘Black’ tells the tale of a man lamenting lost love, it remains gruffly  romantic and decidedly un-Poison. In a relationship with a girl but with a mission and life standing between us and a happy ending, I really understood Vedder’s lament that ‘I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life / I’ll know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky / but why can’t it be mine?’ Slightly cringeworthy, I know, but I was a teenager.

‘Faithfull’ (sic) (Yield), SVT Sessions, 1998 (RJH is 22)

Pearl Jam’s deliberate withdrawal from the spotlight post-Vs. means that most of you probably do not know this song nor much else since ‘Jeremy’ enjoyed (endured?) constant play on MTV. This is a shame as Yield is probably their best record. ‘Faithfull’ expresses the kind of sad frustration I felt during a crisis of faith when I, somewhat reluctantly, still found myself going through the religious motions: ‘We’re faithful / We all believe, we all believe / So faithful’. Though that crisis is long since passed, it was not a pleasant feeling.

‘Bushleager’ (Riot Act), Uniondale, NY, 2003 (RJH is 27)

‘Bushleager’ is a venomous screed against George W. Bush. We moved to the US in 2002, just in time for the Iraq War and the particularly nasty bitterness which seemed to descend on American politics (and from which America has not yet recovered). Vedder sings/chants his hatred of a President — ‘not a leader / he’s a Texas leaguer — who was ‘born on third [and] thinks he got a triple’. Wearing and then mocking a Bush mask, Vedder is booed by the crowd who chant ‘USA, USA’. The reaction is surprising given the Deadhead-like loyalty PJ fans have for the band, but this was 2003 and things were weird. Vedder’s discussion with the crowd after the song is a telling reminder of a difficult time. I thought then, and still think now, that the Bush-Blair march to war was criminal and this song captures that sour mood.

‘Amongst the Waves’ (Backspacer), 2009 (RJH is 33)

Life is good: ‘Riding high amongst the waves / I can feel like I have a soul that has been saved’.

The band are feeling mellow and content . . . and so am I.

Kurt Cobain wrote (chanelling Neil Young), that ‘it’s better to burn out than to fade away’. Not so. Stick around, ride the wave, enjoy the sunset. We’re all still alive . . . yeah!


  1. Glass Ceiling says:

    This is really good. Thank you. I am a not a huge fan, but still a fan…and a big fan of the Seattle scene for sure. It was the last great thing to happen in rock n roll. In my early 20s, I was at McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma when it all went down. I have to see the movie. It should take me back.

    Anyway, and more importantly, I like the way you track your life through music. I do the same. In fact, the best thing I have resembling a journal is a photo album full of my old concert ticket stubs.

    When I was in Tacoma, a friend of mine got me into Bob Dylan. It was like a new language and it changed everything for me. I wonder if you might like him, or maybe you already do. If all you know is radio-Dylan, then you’d be cheating yourself not to know more. But never fear. You could very well have a wonderful journey ahead of you in this musicly dead era we now live in. If you are interested, here are a few of many albums I would suggest…and possibly in this order. But no worries either way :

    -Bringing it all Back Home
    -Highway 61 Revisited
    -The Freewheeling Bob Dylan
    -Blonde on Blonde

    No pressure though . But he changed my life, and the way I see almost everything. And I also grew as a more independent thinker, speaker and songwriter. And like everyone else, I hated his voice a first too. But that soon changed. Btw, he was also a major influence on several artists in the Seattle Scene, including Vedder, as I have heard.

    Anywat, thanks again. And happy listening.

  2. lots of fun — thanks for this post.

  3. Every good boy deserves fudge.

  4. I remember being warned specifically about Pearl Jam and Nirvana in young womens. When I went to college at USU (how dare they get rid of the toaster) my musical world was expanded immensely. I discovered Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan, The White Album, and a while world of wonderful and meaningful music I had been taught to fear because it is weirdly.

    Thank goodness my horizons were opened. I am now the mini van driving mom listening to awesome music as I pick up my kids.

    instead of teaching our children to fear current music, we need to teach them to discern what is useful and, what is not. There is a huge difference between Blackbird and Why Don’t We do it in the road.

    The other day in Primary sharing time Eminem was mentioned as an artist to avoid. Little did she know that his Not Afraid is on my top 25 played and that it, was my theme song when I had to take a very risky and dangerous stand against something.

  5. Errors courtesy of auto correct.

  6. Wonderful idea for a post, Ronan, and beautifully executed. I ought to do something like this, though I can’t think of a single artist that could so effectively encapsulate my life. Your line about being “a child of the 90s, a member of Generation X” kind of threw me initially though, as I’ve always figured Generation X mostly describes folks like me, born in the late 60s, the children of not Baby Boomers but rather the Boomers older brothers and sisters, and defined by 80s pop culture, rather than the 90s. But I suppose such everyone can fight for whichever generational label they prefer. (I never really got into the whole Subpop and grunge scene; I was still mourning the break up of The Thompson Twins in the early 90s.)

  7. I’m not big on Pearl Jam. Any group whose main star kills himself and leaves the rest of the world to deal with Courtney Love on our own does not get my vote. ;)

  8. Er, Eddie Vedder is still alive.

    The wikigods tell me that Gen X went up until the late 70s.

  9. proud daughter of eve says:

    Rameumpton; you’re thinking of Kurt Cobain, whose group was Nirvana.

  10. Nice post. I’ve never seen Pearl Jam live–but (growing up in Seattle during the early grunge years) I did see Mother Love Bone play in a roller rink, and Malfunkshun in an even smaller venue. The world would have been different if Andrew Wood hadn’t died.

    I’m one of those kool kids clutching my copies of Mudhoney vinyl. And Skin Yard, and Tad, and Soundgarden, and the Melvins, and the U-Men–that’s who grunge was for me.

  11. Wendy, I think music is the kosher rebellion for Mormon youth. See:

    PJ’s rendition of Masters of War first introduced me to Dylan.

  12. Yo Susan, I suspected that Andy Wood had crossed your path.

    Pearl Jam were never ‘grunge’, more The Who born in America. The film shows how stupid the media handled and labelled the ‘Seattle sound’ post-Nevermind/Ten.

  13. It’s posts like this that remind me that I’m older than dirt.

  14. I think a lot of people in the scene were bothered by the way the media handled it after it blew up, but all I knew or cared about was that my local music scene was no more. Suddenly Olympic figure skaters were warming up to Nirvana in their discmans.

    I mentioned those other bands because I’m not sure a lot of people know there were other Seattle bands that didn’t get big. There was also a whole pop music scene going on, which never gets mentioned, with bands like the Squirrels, the Young Fresh Fellows, Pure Joy, and others.

  15. RJH:

    Thanks for this post. Pearl Jam really is the soundtrack to my adult life. To say they are my favorite band is an understatement, so I really loved your thoughts on them.

    I am 40 about the same age as Eddie and the boys and many of their songs are perfect for the phases of my life. What I have really appreciated about the band is that they have evolved and grown with their age. They aren’t trying to recreate Ten with every album, but rather trying to explore the world as it currently is. Also, they will re-interpret their old songs.

    For example, “Alive.” The original meaning was kind of twisted (I won’t go into the details, but it hinted at an incestuous relationship). Now, however, the song is one of hope and triumph, because the fans identify with the song as an celebration to overcoming the awfulness that the world sometimes throws at us, and Eddie and his bandmates now perform it that way.

    One of the greatest spiritual experiences I’ve had in my life is standing with 30,000 people and singing at the top of my lungs: “I’m still Alive!”

    When I lost my father, I immediately identified with the lyrics to “Release.”

    When I was struggling as an early father trying to understand my role as a parent and husband, “Daughter,” served as a very cautionary tell and inspired me to be a “Betterman.”

    And, growing up in a small town, I did know an “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.”

    “Off He Goes,” reminds me of my father and how sometimes he will come into my dreams and how he’s now never there when I wake up.

    “Given to Fly,” reminds me of the sacrifices Christ made for us, because “He still gives his love, just gives it away.”

    “I am Mine,” helps me understand that no matter what happens in the world, I am responsible for my own reactions.

    “Just Breathe,” may be their most beautiful song. It helps me to realize how much I love my family and my wife and how I want to be with them forever.

    I’m so happy that I never listened to people who told me that Pearl Jam is “The Devil’s Music.” It is anything but. My relationship with Pearl Jam has made me a better person, made me want to be more kind to others and has even made me a better follower of Christ.

    Oh, and just one minor correction to your quote from “Black.”

    The lyric is: I hope you’ll be a SUN in somebody else’s sky.

  16. Ronan,

    Well, the wikigods are always right, I suppose. I assume this means that Generation X can claim the glory of/must endure the shame of both Spandau Ballet and TLC.

  17. Thomas Parkin says:

    I moved to Seattle in 1991, at the ripe old age of 25. That is a time and place that is gone and never coming back.

    Reminds me of a commercial for California Cheese. This old hippie is reminiscing about San Francisco during the Summer of Love. “The be-ins, the love-ins …. it’s all gone now, man.” And then he stops to consider for a moment and says, “Only the cheese is at it was …”


  18. Quick story: a few months back during a game of Trivial Pursuit my baby-boomer mom blurted out the answer to a question about the lead singer of Nirvana thus: CHRIS COBURN!!!

    Baby boomer team: Fist pumps, high-fives, w00t w00ts.

    Baby-boomers’ kids’ team: face-palms, silence, explosion of laughter.

    She was so close.

  19. I’m one of those Pearl Jam drop-outs that mention. I was a huge fan in high school, had the CDs, several boot-legs (at one point I had 5 different versions of Alive), posters, T-shirts, in the fan club. We poured over Eddie’s lyrics like they were scripture. I was first in line for Vitology. I was rather depressed at the time and Eddie really spoke to my soul. I had front row tickets to the Vitology concert in Salt Lake but got food poisoning the night before. That didn’t stop me; I threw up the whole way there (sorry for that detail). We then stood there in the rain (it was freezing) until Eddie came out and told us to go home and to not get sick. Our tickets were refunded for a concert they did a few months later, but by then I was on my mission.

    My friend said it best about how I felt after my mission” “I’m just not that angry anymore.” I don’t know any of their songs after Yield. I do want to see the documentary.

    Thanks for this.

  20. Loving these PJ stories . . .

  21. Steve:
    They’re not that angry either.

  22. Cheers, brother.

  23. Yield came out while on my mission and I never did get around to listening to the whole thing. I have fond memories of listening to Vitalogy while on my daily afternoon paper route though I am partial to No Code as being their best album with Off He Goes as among my favorite songs.

    I saw PJ for the first time two summers ago in KC. They played an exhausting 2 1/2 hour set that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Just fantastic. Singing along with Yellow Ledbetter (well, you know what I mean) and Black, Daughter, etc. was incredible.

  24. Aaaaaahhhhhh yeah! God bless Pearl Jam! One of the few highlights of the 90’s music scene which I otherwise consider quite possibly the worst decade of music in the last 60 years.

  25. Glass Ceiling says:

    Sorry, but I need to confess that I saw them with Neil Young in ’93. Actually I didn’t, because I left the concert. They were drunk. And me having driven me and my my girlfriend from Tacoma to Portland to see them and knowing we had a long drive back, we left like 20 minutes in.

    But that was common in those days with many bands. And PJ and a select others were responsible for killing off, literally vaporizing bands like Warrant, Ugly Kid Joe, Extreme, and an unholy host of others. And I gladly owe them for that. And obviously, I like them. I bought tickets didn’t I?

  26. I was in law school in Seattle during the early nineties so I watched the whole thing unfold, but dimly, through the fog of classes and exams. I remember hearing Cobain say that he thought Pearl Jam was riding his coattails. I remember liking Pearl Jam much better than Nirvana and wishing he would shut up.

  27. RJH, the grunge scene (with the exception of Nevermind) pretty much passed me by. Our proximity to Manchester meant that most of my mates were heavily into the Madchester/baggy scene. I seem to remember spending most of my teenage years waiting for The Stone Roses to release their second album. My best friend had a copy of TOTP when The Happy Mondays and TSR both played ‘live’. We watched it over and over until the tape wore out. Definitely Maybe/Morning Glory was probably the last time music was a constant soundtrack in the background of my life. But even now Manchester probably defines my music tastes (Doves, Elbow, etc).

  28. MCQ, Cobain really said that? How funny. It was Soundgarden and Mother Love Bone who brought attention from major labels to Seattle. If Soundgarden hadn’t done an album on SST before going to a major, and Andrew Wood hadn’t died, Nirvana wouldn’t have been the first to break nationally. At least that’s how I remember it, but my memory isn’t exactly reliable.

    My son recently asked my husband what the best concert he ever saw was. My husband told him about the time we saw Soundgarden open for Jane’s Addiction (1988 I think). Chris Cornell read from a music review that called Soundgarden a lame Led Zeppelin rip off, then they launched into “Kingdom of Come.” It was the raddest thing–and then came Jane’s Addiction! Still one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

    I love how music can move you in so many different ways.

  29. Interesting that arguably Vedder’s best album wasn’t with Pearl Jam but his soundtrack for Into the Wild.

  30. Oh, and I can’t wait to see PJ-20.
    Too bad I live 150 miles from the nearest theater playing it.
    Please put a review on here if and when any of you guys see it.

  31. Review: it’s great.

    Crowe follows a simple pattern. You get old footage of the band narrated through interviews and interspersed with recent concert footage. We saw it on a giant screen with great sound. It was a re-baptism by immersion. I think it shows on PBS next month.

  32. While Nirvana expresses my angst, Pearl Jam has always gotten me through it.

    Thanks, Ronan.

  33. I remember my first introduction to “alternative rock.”
    I was a Metallica, Guns and Roses guy growing up in the 80s.
    I couldn’t stand Poison, Warrant and that barf.
    I wanted something more to my music, but I grew up in a small central Washington town and was poor. My only sources of music was the Top-40 radio station and MTV.
    Well, I get on my mission in London and one P-Day we hit up this modern bowling alley as a district and they are playing music videos and we see “Been Caught Stealin'” by Jane’s Addiction and my mind is completely blown. This is what I’ve been wanting. I come home from my mission and suddenly the radio is playing this incredible music and many of the bands are from my own state. It was like heaven.

    I was living in the Seattle area when Cobain killed himself. Although it wasn’t a surprise it was still a very sad time for many in the area. Something really did die when he died.

  34. Before 9/11, the only “where were you when” question my generation could ask each other was “where were you when you found out Kurt Cobain killed himself.” I was driving in my car when the news was breaking on the radio. At first it was just said that a body was found in his house. I figured it if was him they’d have said so, since everyone knows what he looks like. Didn’t consider that maybe he’d shot himself in the face.

  35. I was at a BYU dance when the DJ announced that cobain had died. The crowd erupted in cheers. I left, never to attend another BYU dance.

    Got off my mission in 93 and immediately was introduced to PJ and nirvana. It took me a few years to appreciate them. Personally I prefer the melvins from that scene, but PJ and nirvana clearly changed the popular musical landscape in ways we’ll never see again.

    The 90s had plenty of great music. Pavement, fugazi, sebadoh, yo la tengo, built to spill, modest mouse, etc…

  36. Cheers!
    Are you kidding me?
    Who the hell are these inhumane people?
    That makes me sick.

  37. I love that I can come to BCC and find a post about Pearl Jam (anyone planning on a post about Radiohead in the near future because that would really make my day). I was still in Primary when PJ hit the national scene so I was a bit oblivious at the time, but by Junior High I was fan. Once I was of concert-going age (and I went to plenty of concerts) PJ wasn’t playing SLC. I can’t remember the reasons, but I want to say it was something about them coming on a Sunday…maybe someone can clarify that because I was still young. Anyway, the closest stop on their tour when I was an adult and could travel to see concerts was in Boise. I had a friend planning a trip up there to see them and he invited me to come along. I almost went, but didn’t. It’s one of my biggest concert-going regrets. Another friend of mine who did go said it was the best concert he’d ever been to. Now that I am in the throes of mommyhood with young ones concert aren’t a real priority, so who knows if I’ll ever get to see them live. However, I do look forward to seeing this documentary.

  38. Sabrina,
    Whilst Pearl Jam’s music means more to me, I think Radiohead are the greatest band of the modern era.

  39. Pearl Jam came to Salt Lake on a Sunday for Yield (I think). It was right after my mission and I thought I give it another try but didn’t because of Sunday. That was sort of the end for me.

  40. Nobody has mentioned Wierd Al’s take on Eddie Vedder. (and I understand why) Pearl Jam was great, and Weird Al’s song is hilarious.

  41. I met Stone Gossard once and completely blew my chances of reminiscing about the old days. I went to see a Brad instore in Seattle (a side project band of Stone’s). I brought one of my old Green River vinyl records for him to sign (GR were an early Seattle grunge band he was in along with Jeff Ament and Mark Arm–later of Mudhoney). When I finally got up to him, I completely froze. Could not say a word. I’m a dork that way. I should have considered beforehand what I would want to say to him but I didn’t.

    Stone looked at the record like he’d never seen it before and then said, “This is the real deal–this is old school.” Some woman standing nearby said, “Wow, Green River vinyl–good find!” Like I’d bought it off of ebay or something. I wanted to say, “I’M OLD SCHOOL!” But I didn’t. Just said “yeah” and after he signed it, left.

    I’m pathetic.

  42. Steve Evans says:

    Ronan, I’m with you. Thom Yorke is a genius of the highest order.

  43. observer fka eric s says:

    I met Thom Yorke at a Sweet and Tender Hooligans show at the HOB Hollywood. Super random dood and place to see him, but what a privilege. It wasn’t totally random that he was there, though, as he is apparently also a fan of the greatest band there ever was: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=radiohead+covers+the+smiths&mid=F20D8CE304C711BD6D2DF20D8CE304C711BD6D2D&view=detail&FORM=VIRE5

  44. S.P. Bailey says:

    I never cared for Pearl Jam. I think of them as artless and pointlessly angry. I imagine I missed a great deal of their later work. Maybe I should give them another shot. Incidentally, I would have booed too (referring to the third video). Sure, the Iraq war is tragic. But I despise show people who overestimate my interest in their politics. And Vedder’s rationalization for stoking the anger and nastiness is incoherent/ahistorical. The decision to go to war, tragic as it was, had broad bipartisan support. Nobody was denied a voice.

  45. I despise blog commenters who overestimate my interest in their opinions about my heroes.

  46. S.P. Bailey says:

    Fair enough, Chris. In my defense, I have never taken your money in exchange for live entertainment and then browbeat you with my politics.

  47. Glass Ceiling says:

    Amen Chris.


    The Smiths trump them all. Except for the Beatles and Stones, who need no mention.

    Anyone like Lyle Lovett?

  48. Except for me, right Chris? You’re deeply worried about my views on Pearl Jam. Tell me it’s so…

  49. Glass Ceiling says:


    The thing is, in retrospect, they were right about Bush and his ilk.

    Or are you one of THOSE people?

  50. Clark, I love you eventhough you dissed RATM as phony a few years back.

    SP, sorry for being overly snarky. My music is all I have got. I am Mormon and I live in Wyoming. Pearl Jam and others are my culture away from my culture.

  51. Glass Ceiling says:

    Well, one turn deserves another. Bailey, my political angst exceeded my common courtesy for a moment. Sorry. Kinda.

  52. S.P. Bailey says:

    No. 49: I don’t understand what you mean by “THOSE people.” If you mean people who don’t enjoy being subjected to political screeds from mere celebrities like Vedder, then the answer is yes. I don’t know you, and I don’t feel compelled to elaborate on my political opinions here. Doing so would distract from Ronan’s fine post. While I don’t love Pearl Jam, I can appreciate finding meaning in music in this manner. In closing, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that Thom York is a pop genius. That knowledge, however, does not make me any more interested in his politics.

  53. Glass Ceiling says:

    Rock and Roll has been politics at least since the Kingston Trio recorded Pete Seeger’s “Where Have all the Flowers Gone” in 1961. But if that is too offensive, there is always, I dunno, Beiber.

  54. Eric Chambers says:

    I’m the oldest (47) in a family of Gen-Xers. I appreciate Pearl Jam but to be honest I never really connected with the Seattle Scene. The soundtrack of my early teenage years was laid down by the Ramones, The Clash, Madness, The Specials and perhaps most importantly The Jam.

    Post mission in the mid-80’s was something of a musical wasteland. Luckily the decade was saved by the debut album of the Stone Roses–epic music-best album of the 80’s in my opinion.

    I will admit that growing up and listening to music that was definitely not in the mainstream in the pre-MTV days did make me feel like I was one if the elite..the enlightened. In retrospect the music was cool but I was definitely not so cool. I do have great memories though of attending non-BYU sanctioned dances at the old Women’s Gym on University avenue prior to my mission while a freshmen at BYU–even if I was wearing jeans with loafers and a cardigan sweater.

    In any case I love this post–I still mark my life by the music I listen to.

  55. Chris, I think you must have me confused with someone else. I love Rage. In fact I have everything they’ve done including Snoop Bounce. (Which ironically I was just listening to) I even have all the Audioslave stuff (although I think the first album is vastly superior to the second)

  56. This OP completes me.

    My start with music outside of the oldies my dad beat into me was from my cousins: Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, Dinosaur Jr., Meat Puppets, The Pixies, and last but certainly not least, Tom Waits – All before the age of 12.

  57. On my mission my senior companion would always get mad at me for singing the hymns “like Pearl Jam.” He never understood that was a compliment to me..

  58. The PJ shirt I took on my mission was the only article of clothing that I made sure I had by the end. I remember lingering on a front porch after a door had been slammed because I heard Yellow Ledbetter playing inside.

    I’m really looking forward to the documentary.

  59. I was baptized for Kurt Cobain (by my hometeacher, a surgeon who listened to Nirvana in the operating room). Neither of us submitted the name.

    It gave my entire life meaning when I was in high school. A couple years later, my BYU roommate had a Nirvana poster, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever that a picture of a guy I was baptized for was hanging on my dorm wall.

    Only later did I begin to suspect that lots of people were likely baptized for Kurt Cobain.

  60. S.P.Bailey,

    You would have been wrong to have booed that performance. That is not the same as saying all Pearl Jam fans should support Vedder’s politics, but to boo was stupid. That was the Riot Act tour, a record which was pointedly anti-war. PJ were also playing Dylan’s Masters of War at every public opportunity. Those buying tickets can reasonably have expected the band to play songs from their most recent album; Bushleager was on that album and everyone knew what it was about and that PJ was anti-war; thus booing was ridiculous. Also, to chant ‘USA, USA’ when someone disagrees with the sitting President is to conflate patriotism with support for a particular political action, a sinister turn which characterised that poisonous time.

  61. Glass Ceiling says:


    Well put. The thing is, sometimes, every once in a while, this country is still free. Why squash it…even if you disagree? Start your own pro-fascist band.synergy you’ll outdo PJ.

  62. Glass Ceiling says:

    That last part was for Bailey. And the last part should read “Maybe you’ll out-do PJ.”

  63. S.P. Bailey says:

    Hi Ronan,
    Nice post and everything. Sorry to distract from the fun. And thanks for the additional context. Perhaps the people booing were fans of PJ’s earlier work. I think I saw PJ on Austin City Limits in this period. I was expecting to enjoy some 90s nostalgia, and instead I was subjected to Vedder’s inane ranting. You seem to lament the nasty turn in American discourse over the past ten years or so. And yet Vedder’s vilification of Bush is part of the problem! I am no Bush lover, and I can articulate why without foaming at the mouth. Or accusing anyone that disagrees with me of being a Justin Beiber-loving fascist (Hi Glass Ceiling! You are a troll!). Vedder isn’t making a thoughtful argument. He is not merely “disagreeing” as you put it. There is nothing very clever about his take on Bush. Instead, Vedder is simply ridiculing and dehumanizing Bush.

    Pop musicians, celebrities, and the like have no special political insight or expertise. On the contrary, they seem to live in a fantasy world that prevents them from understanding the way the world works. I wish they would just shut up and sing/act/whatever. Unless their stuff is overtly, artlessly political, and then I wish they would just shut up.

  64. Thanks for this post. I think I rotated Ten and Temple of the Dog (the tribute album to Andrew Wood) through my Walkman nonstop for about a year. It really was the perfect album somehow for its moment.

    I sympathize to a degree with what S.P. Bailey (a good friend of mine-hey there!) is saying. The bit with the mask is pretty grotesque. On the other hand, so is the chanting of the crowd.

    But what good does it do to generalize about all artists or celebrities? It might be that musicians and celebrities have no “special” political insight, but that doesn’t mean they have no insight at all. Surely this is best taken on a case-by-case basis. I find Matt Damon to be pretty articulate, for example, but my eyes glaze over whenever Gwynneth Paltrow opens her mouth. Still, musicians, actors, etc have at least the potential be just as educated or insightful as anyone else about “the way the world works.”

    I think that criticism strikes a nerve with me because as an academic I catch a lot of flak from friends at church about being in an ivory tower. But I have a mortgage, kids, and a (dwindling) retirement account just like anyone else. I read the same news, pay the same taxes, and vote in the same elections. It might be the case that really wealthy celebrities don’t have these same concerns, but surely there are just as many out-of-touch CEOs, bankers, and lawyers as there are celebrities. Evaluate the ideas and presentation, by all means, but there’s no need to dismiss an entire group of people to do it.

  65. Glass Ceiling says:


    Pulling out the word “troll” is cute and all, but maybe you could just broaden a bit for a moment.

    Consider this :

    As I have heard and read, some 500,000 people were outright killed who happened to have had the misfortune of being born in Iraq. Most were children . Another quarter-million were made refugees without a pot to piss in, in a war zoned desert. That’s saying nothing about their economy, future, upheaval of families and communities.

    For what? So we can own the place, to include the Mosul oil fields (the second largest such collection of oil in the planet? ) Saddam was small fry. And we have had the technology to track WMD from space for decades.

    Here is a thought. Spread your news beyond Glenn Limbaugh and Fox. Go on line. Risk a new wider world view. Politics and foreign policy is not a football game. Consider why this country’s government insists that there are only two choices of anything.

    Regarding PJ, they may have been hard-living rock stars at the time of that video, but they were also world travelers, and reluctant ambassadors. They probably knew more than you or I just by virtue of who they knew. Perhaps not. But people are free to speak in this country, including you. But rock n roll is just one more medium like any periodical. But it is art as well.

    Why hate artist who vocalize their opinions, while while blindly worshipping men in high places just because we are told to? These guys are supposed to work for us.

    All I can say is, if you hate Obama ( and I assume you do), you can thank GW Bush for him. There would have been no Obama without Bush.

  66. Glass Ceiling,

    Having just made what might be perceived as a similar criticism of Bailey’s comments, I have to say that I find your rhetoric way over the top. Bailey wasn’t making any comment evaluating the rightness or wrongness of the Iraq war, and the idea that he needs to “risk a new wider world view” is incredibly condescending, as if only your view of the world was sufficiently broad. (As an aside, it seems ridiculous to respond to a blog comment, of all things, by telling the person to go online.)

    Bailey’s original comment was about the appropriateness and effectiveness of PJ’s political statement in a comment. He has displayed no blind worship of anyone in his posts, and certainly not Bush, of whom he has declared he is not a fan. I know it feels good to decide that other people are narrow- where we are broad-minded, but really, get over yourself.

  67. OK, people, that will do.

  68. What a great post! I’ve loved Pearl Jam for most of my life. I remember driving to kindergarten with my dad and begging to listen to Ten again. I’ve seen them on almost every tour and have a ridiculous number of concert shirts and posters to prove it. In fact, once I unpack them, I’m planning to decorate my 3 yr olds room with them. They’ve never disappointed at a live show and they still sound amazing. As an elementary school student I created a fanpage, back when there were only a half-dozen out there. When it loaded, Alive played on MIDI. Oh technology. :) Can you tell I’m a giddy fan? So giddy. Seriously, Pearl Jam is one of my very favorite things in life.
    re #15- He often changes “sun” to “star” when singing it live. I have it on a couple of bootlegs.

  69. S.P. Bailey says:

    GC: You seem to struggle with reading comprehension. I have already acknowledged that the Iraq war is a terrible tragedy. I have said nothing—absolutely nothing—that would support your odd assertion that I am sympathetic to cable news demagogues like Beck/Limbaugh. I am not. I get the feeling that you are trying to cram me into a pigeon hole you have dreamed up for everyone in America except true-believer lefties. You should stop. You are embarrassing yourself. You don’t know me, and your assumptions about me are uniformly wrong. I get it that the political commentary of Vedder and other cultural “cool kids” confirms your view of the world. Congratulations.

  70. S.P. Bailey says:

    John: Good to hear from you! I agree with your point about evaluating the ideas/presentation. I understand that not all celebrities are blinded by their wealth, drug addictions, promiscuity, apparent ignorance of basic economics, and so forth. I even understand that pop music can have political content in a positive way. Does anyone deny that the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” or the Beatles “Taxman” are great protest anthems? LIkewise, I understand that rock and roll inspired many Eastern Europeans who resisted soviet communism. All that being said, I am skeptical of celebrities’ political commentary because they so frequently seem to think that their access to microphones/captive audiences/other media somehow validates the content of their opinions.

    Simply put: I like spaces where all Americans, regardless of politics, religion, etc., can get together, be entertained, sing, dance, etc. I go to my share of concerts. I want to be entertained. I want to escape for a few hours. Bringing politics into these spaces drives people apart, and it ruins what is supposed to be a good time for at least half of the audience. Entertainers who do that are obnoxious bores who fundamentally misunderstand their role in society.

  71. See #67.

  72. Glass Ceiling says:


    I admit I was too strong on that last one. I just feel that the word “troll ” was pulled out a wee bit vigorously and prematurely. And I reacted. Granted, I wasn’t being an angel from the start. Nor Bailey. But, in my opinion, a political discussion/debate was an approved possibly given the fact that the song “Bushleager” was spotlighted in the OP. My mistake.
    So, I will take the blame for this one. Carry on….

  73. Glass Ceiling says:

    But it does trouble me that while entire nations are being torched, we have the luxury of complaining about about rock stars who complain about entire nations being torched.

    But that has nothing to do with Bailey.

    My problem.

  74. Glass Ceiling says:

    Actually, I am glad about it. Glad we are that blessed.

  75. Glass Ceiling says:

    OK. Upon reading this thread this evening, it has become painfully obvious to me that I flatout blew it today. Bailey, I am sorry, sincerely. I really have no good explanation, other than I’m very opinionated at times, and once in a blue moon I think way too much while simultaneously not enough. It is far from a constant affliction.

    Ronon, I am sorry that I single-handedly cut off your thread. It was a really good piece too. It won’t happen again.

  76. Romney / Huntsman 2012 says:

    I find it a little suspicious that when the subject of grunge music comes up, half of the Bloggernacle says that they were “in Seattle” in the early 90s.

  77. I was out of it by the early 90s. Married with babies in the worst gang neighborhood in the state at the time (yeah Tacoma!).

  78. I was in Provo in the early 90’s. It seemed there the two big albums were Pearl Jam’s and Soundgarden’s. I remember Cobain being on MTV non-stop but don’t remember folks being quite as excited for his album. Honestly I didn’t really “discover” Nirvana until the late 90’s – well after it’s heyday. Most of my friends in the early 90’s were more into classic rock than grunge.

  79. it's a series of tubes says:

    I find it a little suspicious that when the subject of grunge music comes up, half of the Bloggernacle says that they were “in Seattle” in the early 90s.

    This comment is a perfect example of why this site really, really needs a “like” button.

    Me? I was in Sandy in the early 90s. It was happenin’.

  80. Melissa: Right you are. I heard that version while listening to a bootleg yesterday, Now, if you know all the versions of “Yellow Ledbetter” I’ll be extremely impressed.

  81. Interesting article on CNN:


    My favorite part:
    “But if you want a deeper understanding of where grunge came from, investigate some music by the Melvins (those Nirvana biographers be damned!) or Mudhoney or any number of other grunge bands not fronted by someone with the surname Cobain, Vedder or Cornell.”

  82. Thomas Parkin says:

    Best Seattle band of the year was the Gits. More or less straight forward punk.

  83. The Melvins were the most important band to the entire scene. They influenced those kids long before Mudhoney or Mother Love Bone ever formed, and they invented the “grunge” sound by playing slow punk dirges on down-tuned guitars on albums like Gluey Porch Treatments back in 1987. They gave that scene the darkness and angst that would enable Nevermind to annihilate glam metal’s stranglehold on rock, and thereby paved the way for pop bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains to reap.

  84. I love the Melvins. Used to see them play in the late 80s with bands like Mudhoney and Nirvana. I still go see them these days–they’re recent material is every bit as good as their early stuff.

    But I don’t think they were really the pioneers of the Seattle scene. Not like the U-Men, Bundle of Hiss and Green River were.

  85. Susan,
    One thing the documentary suggested was that the Seattle scene was friendly and not really competitive, with bands really rooting for each other (e.g. people willing Stone and Jeff to have success with Pearl Jam because of Andy’s death). True?

  86. Susan, yes and no. I can certainly see the influence of the bands you mentioned, but the U-Men, Green River & most of their cohort were far too saturated in a tradition of simply posturing their postpunk against the new wave & hair metal of the day to take credit for what Nevermind did. The sound of that scene certainly informed what we hear from Mother Love Bone, PJ and Soundgarden, but the ferocity & feigned joviality of Cobain’s lyrical and musical approach has King Buzzo written all over it.

    That cartoonish, infant-homicidal snark simply didn’t exist the same way with those other bands the way it did with the Melvins. Most of the bands in question were concerned with songs that were really just about relationships. The Melvins were concerned with how bodily deformities and horrific knick knacks smiling from the top of your bookshelf affected relationships, and that sensibility permeates Cobain’s infant/uterine approach to metaphor. It’s like the difference between the violence of Saving Private Ryan and the metaviolence of A Clockwork Orange.

    I think Nirvana’s sound/presentation is completely separate from that scene, though, so we’re probably talking about two separate things when discussing the Seattle scene. “Grunge” is such an inadequate term for discussing these bands.

    I just have to say that I am refreshed to engage with another Melvins fan who is also LDS. I meet so few that it is worthy note ;) Hopefully you’ve scoped what Joe Preston has done with their sound in his Thrones project.

  87. I saw the Thrones live once and it was awesome. Just Joe Preston, surrounded by a ton of effects pedals. He came out and said, “Hi, we’re the Thrones.” I also saw him a couple times when he was playing bass for High on Fire.

    I still disagree with you about the Melvins though. They were definitely an influence on Nirvana, but Green River and the U-Men both had lots of angst and darkness and didn’t just (or even mainly) write about relationships.

    I remember when I was about 14 reading about shows the U-Men had that errupted into violence and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. I was a little too young to see them–I did finally see them play with the Butthole Surfers just before they broke up. But the U-Men are the band I consider to really have kick-started the Seattle scene. They drew some rowdy crowds, and shortly after that Seattle became known for having crazy audiences at shows.

    Ronan, yeah the Seattle bands supported each other a lot. It’s one of my favorite aspects of that scene. I saw Mother Love Bone and Alice in Chains play at a suburban roller rink once, and members of Soundgarden were in the audience.

    Of course most of the bands had overlapping members. Mark Arm of Mudhoney was originally in Green River with Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard of Mother Love Bone/Pearl Jam. If I remember correctly, Andrew Wood and Chris Cornell were roommates. And Matt Cameron, drummer of Soundgarden (and later Pearl Jam) was in Skin Yard (with Jack Endino on guitar). It’s a small city.

  88. Susan, fair enough ;)

    I am so glad that you’ve seen the Thrones. He is a personal favorite.

  89. I’ve seen hundreds of bands play live, and the Thrones were one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

    Oh and I’d like to add to your comment about the bands having a sense of (infantile) humor. The Melvins definitely did–and do. But most of the Seattle bands did. I mean, Soundgarden named one of their albums “Ultramega OK.” Plus check out these songs:

    Soundgarden – “Full on Kevin’s Mom”
    Green River – “Swallow My Pride” (a song it was quite popular for other Seattle bands to cover)
    Mudhoney – “(Sliding) In’n’out of Grace”

    It’s a very PNW thing. My very favorite local band from back then, the Young Fresh Fellows, were hilarious. They were all about being funny. The singer ended up joining REM in recent years on guitar.

    That may be one reason I’ve never been too into Pearl Jam–they seem to take themselves very seriously. Maybe I’m just not familiar with their catalog. I know they’ve covered “Swallow My Pride,” too.

    I feel badly that I haven’t mentioned Grunt Truck yet. The singer used to be in Skin Yard. Great vocalist. They reunited a few years back, but just before their big reunion show, the singer passed away–diabetes.

    Too many people from the Seattle scene have died.

  90. Observer fka eric s says:

    I forgot to mention that a friend in my ward designed the Nevermindalbum cover. He has the quardruple (or whatevs) platinum case on his walk. He did Alice in Chains and a few others as well.

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