I’m in a rut for new music for at least little while, and I refuse to give the time of day to Passion Pit, so (in a radical change) this is going to be longwinded, sentimental, and old. Part 1.
I’ve had two favorite bands since I started listening to music. The first was Pearl Jam. That lasted from 2nd grade until a morning in sophomore year of college, and since then it’s been the Weakerthans.
It’s easy to forget now, but Pearl Jam used to be a skyscraper. Regardless of what you thought of them, they were 200 stories tall. So there’s a chance that it was more convenience that made Pearl Jam the first band that stuck for me. I was young and really impressionable and my brother, 4 years my senior, really liked them, so it was Pearl Jam instead of Green Day or Smashing Pumpkins or Nirvana. I remember being 8 and waiting outside coconuts music at 8 in the morning the day Vitalogy came out, and asking my dad for what must have been 3 or 4 months worth of allowance to go buy a cassette copy of that album. I would listen to the song “Bugs” because I knew what was going on: Eddie Vedder had some trouble with roaches in his apartment. I would stick it into the walkman I inherited from my brother when he got a CD player and play it and then rewind, and then play it, and then rewind. That accordion sounds like rubbing stones, Eddie’s voice is deadpan and hilarious, at least for an 8 year old it was. The album revolves around that for me. Even when I go back now, and see that “Last Exit” is about as powerful a song as the band ever wrote, i still sometimes skip ahead to “Bugs”
By fourth grade I was a bit more cognizant of life, and No Code came out. I think for the first time, I really loved an album. Part of this was probably stubbornness; I had told myself that pearl jam were my favorite band, and I had to stick by that. Another part of it was the spectacle surrounding it, I remember talking to Adam Murphy (the only punk rock fourth grader, perhaps, in the history of humankind) about all the rumors, that they had recorded three seperate albums, that it was only going to be released on vinyl, that it was going to be a double album. I didn’t live through the Beatles, who were at least playful about the rumors surrounding them. The band I loved shut themselves off in a cabin and taped cardboard boxes over the windows and wrote songs because they were developing a vitamin b deficiency, even though they were huddled around the sun lamp.
Vitalogy screams. Its message is perfectly clear: leave me the fuck alone. No Code, on the other hand mumbles. Despite it’s title, the album find pearl jam following every tangent they can think of, pulling handkerchiefs that don’t end out of their pockets to distract you from what may or may not be coming out of their mouths. I think this is the main reason No Code worked, because it was, shockingly enough, quite fun. Every Pearl Jam album feels labored, because that’s who pearl jam are; they’re a band who are in pain and catharsis, who are angry and then silent, who are absolutely certain there is blood coming out somewhere.
But No Code is different enough from a Pearl Jam album, in that the word “fun” isn’t entirely inappropriate. Who You Are is a sing with me song, Lukin had the feel of racing shopping carts (good thing the
lyrics were a blur to me initially). It feels like a first album for the band, an introductory statement for a band who lost all its keys and so they decided to sell the house instead. Here’s 2 pieces of proof:
The Stone Gossard sung “Mankind.” it is one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs of all time. The song is a race car. Not that it’s fast like one, but that it has a lot of fun doing something simple exceptionally well. And it’s a ludicrously simple song, by Pearl Jam standards, 2:4 drum beat, Ramones chord progression, a big camera flash of a chorus, one of those guitar solos that feels more about wattage than it does notes, all that. Angst that almost feels fake: “what’s got the whole world faking?” Is he talking about seven mary three? Is he talking about Clinton? Is he talking about Eddie Vedder? I don’t know; I like considering the possibilities, but part of the nice thing about this song for me is that not understanding it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it.
Also, “In My Tree.” This is a song that is conquered by its drum beat, and it was the first song where that ever happened for me.Pearl Jam had almost a spinal-tap level of drummers over the years, but Jack Irons who played on some of Vitalogy, No Code, and Yield, is my favorite of the bunch. And this song is probably my favorite Jack Irons pummel. The song is a paranoid whisper that throws itself out of the back of an unmarked van where it was tied up. It hits the ground at :38 and the drums let it know that it’s just falled onto the express lane of I-5. it starts running, but it’s hands are still tethered. By 3:18 the song has made it to the comedy showcase where it was set to perform that night, before it got kidnapped, but whenever it tried to tell a joke (it mostly deals in Steven Wright wordplay), the microphone feedsback. The drums do that to. It was the first time i saw the emotional pull that drums can add to a song.
I like Yield just fine, but the next Pearl Jam songs i can say i loved came from the band’s 2000 album Binaural. It was freshman year of highschool and i made my dad promise that he would get a copy of Binaural on his lunchbreak; I was petrified that the CD would sell out by the time the schoolday had let out. Turns out, i had nothing to worry about; Binaural stands as Pearl Jam’s least known and worst-selling album. It’s two radio singles, the mudchoking “Nothing As It Seems” and “Light Years,” the loveletter written to one person and one person only were the songs the band wanted to make, but not the songs that people wanted to hear. By this point, Pearl Jam weren’t even big enough to warrant a backlash. Personally, I don’t think the band cared; they sound entirely self-countained and self sustaining on this album. It has some of their weakest songs (the Gossard penned “Rival” about school shootings, the mediocre midtempo “Evacuation,”), but it also sounds really comfortable. Binaural was not an especially exciting album, but it felt like a 5 year anniversary. It isn’t offering perpetual thrills. It’s giving you unexpected and unsolicited reminders of exactly who you fell in love with. Only Pearl Jam at this stage could deliver a love song that feels as pressed to the heart as “Light Years” does, and only Pearl Jam could let eddie sit down with a ukulele in “Soon Forget” and tell you something as ridiculous as “money, man, it hurts.” and have you smile and respect him, if also realizing the absurdity of the situation.
The band’s next album was released right in the middle of highschool, when i would sometimes go weeks without listening to the band. Riot Act wasn’t a good enough album to reaffirm the greatness band for me, but its opening track was stupendous and rambunctious enough to summarize exactly what made this band so important to me. Defiance in bold tidal statements, a musical core that grows like interconnected weeds, and a climax that rattles chandeliers, makes dust fall on your head, makes you feel like running.
“Can’t Keep” is from Pearl Jam’s 2002 album Riot Act. (NOTE: I don’t have my DC copy of Riot Act with me in michigan. i’ll upload this song at some point after wednesday night)
and this is from the first pearl jam concert i ever went to. i was fourteen and went with my mom. sonic youth opened up with the most raucious set i’ve ever seen them play. when the band began to play “it’s ok,” I started crying. when i say i loved this band, it’s about fifty times deeper than you would think.
So that’s part one. Or, at least, part 1 of part 1. When I’m really feeling up to it, some day I will give the Weakerthans their due.
And hey anyone in New Jerz/New York, i’m going home pretty unexpectedly because of some family stuff family related issues. One of the few postives of this trip will be going to the Phosphorescent record release show this Saturday at The Bell House. I’d recommend it like a hallucinogenic flu shot.
And, look at that! The Handsome Family are releasing a new album this year! As is Elvis Perkins! and Superchunk! so there’s some more things to get excited about. And Comet Gain! And Tyvek (i mean, i hope)!