This is an in-depth look into my favourite band, how they have helped me, and why I am able to relate to their music and them as individuals.
For the majority of my adult life, my favourite band has always been Pearl Jam. I was working in a record shop, just before turning 18 and my still close friend introduced me to them one afternoon. He put the Rearviewmirror greatest hits CD on, and I was instantly drawn to them like a moth to a flame.
I couldn’t even tell you why back then. I had always listened to stuff like Iron Maiden and Guns N’ Roses. Queen was and still are another favourite. I guess I adopted what my parents listened to as my own, and tried to play along on guitar when I started at age 10. I never practised, and my lessons were probably a waste of my teacher’s time. Probably why he still won’t accept my facebook request.
I never really progressed, but looking back I would never say I was wasting my time even though I never got anywhere.
From those lessons, I did gather enough knowledge to continue self-teaching for 15 years thereon. I also garnered a music knowledge from him, starting with Metallica, Rush and Black Sabbath. As much as I really dug those bands, and still do, I had never felt so consumed by a group as I did with Pearl Jam.
As soon as Once began playing, I was instantly in love. The way the guitar winded around Eddie Vedder’s complex and emotional lyricism, the way it sounded so desperate and angry, I just had to listen to more.
I went home that night and downloaded every single album they had released, which to that point in 2003 was Riot Act. With such a mass of music, I didn’t have any idea where to start, but I thought I might as well listen to the Rearviewmirror album again.
One thing which surprised me was when I got to disc 2, and how massively different it was to the previous album. I later learned when I bought the physical copy that it was divided into the upside and downside.
I had no idea back then how much of an effect the diversity of music Pearl Jam had written would have on helping me through some difficult times. If I needed to pick myself up, there was a song for that. If I was feeling depressed, a song for that too. In fact, there is a Pearl Jam song for literally any situation.
I started to listen to their catalogue of music from the beginning, starting off with their debut Ten. I recognised a few tracks on it instantly. Once, Even Flow, Alive and the song which over the years has become my favourite song of all time, Black. I could write thousands of words about that song, and the thousands of reasons why it’s my favourite. It’s just relatable. And beautifully written. And perfectly summed up how I felt ten years ago when I lost the most crucial girlfriend I’ve ever had. No, she didn’t die or anything.
Just the standard story of boy meets the girl, happiness for a few years, the girl goes to university, and the girl breaks up with the boy.
I had another bout of depression this year when I found out she had gotten married. But, I like to feel I’ve grown as a person and all I ever wanted for her was to be happy, even if not with me.
But even so…
Can you guess which song I listened to?
Even tracks such as Porch and Deep helped me adjust the aim of any rage and sadness I was feeling at the time, into a more creative output, and I started picking up my guitar and played along. For the ten minutes those songs last, I felt better.
A “Fuck it” attitude filled my mind, and I managed to just about get by. Individual tracks on Ten helped me transfix my mind on something else. And I managed to realise all the things I felt inside, the confusion, the loss and depression had been felt by someone else. I took great comfort in that. When the final track, appropriately titled Release came on, I was transported to someplace else entirely. That song has a dreamlike flow to it and is a painful dedication to loss and wanting, and finding release from those agonising feelings.
“I’LL HOLD THE PAIN. RELEASE ME.”
I still listen to that song regularly. It is a great comfort, both musically and lyrically.
That song is a tribute in a way to Vedder’s father, and he got distraught during an early live performance of it. He even went off stage.
The one thing I think that immediately grabbed me about this band and their music is the realism it has. The kind of emotion Pearl Jam show in their music just cannot be faked or emulated. It can’t be falsified. I believe that is why it is so relatable and been able to help and give me some light during the dark times of my life. The vast array of musical styles are many, and it just shows how much music they collectively must have listened to growing up and taken inspiration from.
All of the members have had to deal with some hardship or problem. Sometimes even collectively.
- Mike McCready was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease
- Eddie Vedder lost his father before he found out he was his father and suffered heartbreak that messed him up emotionally.
- Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard lost Andrew Wood, singer of their previous band, Mother Love Bone to a Heroin overdose.
- The band collectively had to deal with the death of fans at the Roskilde festival, and how to continue on after that.
- Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994.
There are other events as well, even some relatively recent, but these are just some which will have no doubt shaped their music catalogue over the years, and made the band and their music even more relatable.
They even support a massive amount of causes and charities because as people, they care.
Very early on, after the loss of Andrew Wood to a Heroin overdose, the surviving members of Mother Love Bone, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, alongside Soundgarden made a tribute album. It was entitled Temple of the Dog. It even featured Eddie Vedder on the track Hunger Strike. I listened to this album a few years after I had been introduced to Pearl Jam, and it blew me away. It was also my introduction to Chris Cornell.
It just shows how much they care about each other. A kind of therapy, to help with the grief of losing Wood, as Cornell was also very good friends with him. Vedder’s was extremely timid on Hunger Strike. He hadn’t yet found the voice he would be known for. He was also very shy on stage early on. He was sent a demo cassette by Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, as an audition, and wrote and recorded lyrics to send back. He found the music brought up emotions he hadn’t touched on for a long time, the issues he had with his father, and I think this shows how perfect they are together as a unit.
Vedder became close friends with Cornell and was bought out of his timid and shy shell by him. Until that point Vedder was struggling being in a new place, in a scene he didn’t feel he belonged. It must have been hard for him moving from San Diego to Seattle. But anyone would find moving to a new place hard, so it’s completely understandable. Cornell would have also been dealing with the loss of his friend so they would have been helping each other. Something they must have both needed at the time.
It must have worked for Eddie Vedder though, who up until that point had been shy and reserved on stage. Pearl Jam was opening for Alice in Chains one night, and during the song Breath, a security guard was particularly aggressive with a fan. Vedder saw this, and with the adrenaline from the music, his whole attitude changed. His voice became dark and angry, and he screamed the song lyrics directly at the security guard.
History was made that night, just in time for them to record their first album.
I think what happened that night shows how much music can affect you. How much it can give you courage and strength when you need it. And how it can lift a negative or depressive mood. Recently, after the death of Cornell, Vedder played Black live as a tribute to his lost friend. He heartbreakingly broke down on stage while attempting to finish the song. Every single person in the history of humanity will have lost or will lose someone in their lifetime. It is inevitable. And he made it ok to find it hard to deal with something like that openly.
I’m lucky enough to have never had any friends pass away. I’ve lost many friends due to my condition and how I have always gone about things. But even though they are no longer with me, I take comfort in knowing they are still out there.
Vs. Came Next
When I listened to their second album, Vs, I was immediately shook with the vast array of music styles that littered that album. The track Go, was empowering and full of life and energy. Daughter delved into a child being misunderstood because of a learning disability. Probably the most relatable track was Rearviewmirror. Hugely anthemic, and a powerhouse with the ability to give someone the courage to say “Fuck You,” to someone better off left in the distance as you move onwards with your life. I still find that track helps me to this day. I always end up going back through past events, blaming myself even if something wasn’t entirely my fault. And it gives me the strength to carry on without them.
Indifference is equally as powerful. A slow drone, almost like the music was written on the spot, with guitar fills which feel improvised and give the song even more emotion. But then Vedder sings, and the passion starts to overflow. A highly relatable song talking about putting all your energy into something and wondering if it makes any difference.
I adore that album, and I went on the Internet and started ordering their CDs.
Early on, around the time of third album Vitalogy, Vedder was pretty angry at times. In interviews, he was seen drinking, and he was greatly struggling with the amount of fame he and his band had found. It had been thrust open them, and they were very unprepared for it.
Vedder would climb up the scaffolding on stage and onto the railings above, dangling precariously like a stuntman in some Hollywood blockbuster. The rest of the band found this extremely scary to watch, rightly so. After the death of Andrew Wood, they were probably anxious for his safety. Vedder said regarding this, “It’s the power of music. I could hold myself up with two fingers if the music was playing and the adrenaline was flowing. Without the music, I wouldn’t be able to hold myself up with both hands.”
I completely understand this ideology. Music for me has always given me a strength I wouldn’t typically have. Lifted me out of some sorrowful times and stopped me doing some stupid stuff when I have been alone at 2 am, and not wanted to wake up.
There is a dark side to their music at times too, dealing with uncomfortable themes and ideologies. Vedder once said during an interview,
“Maybe by talking about things that are darker and on the negative side of our existence, by dealing with that, maybe that’s where I find my happiness.”
He couldn’t be more accurate. For a long time, I hid behind a mask. Hiding my true feelings and how much I was struggling on a daily basis. I would go to work and put on a silly front and act like I didn’t care about anything. Where underneath, I cared more than people realised. It got to the point where it built up so much, and I couldn’t do it anymore. I had to take time off work, and I got my complete diagnosis of how severe my bipolar disorder was, and finally put on medications that would help. I still had to try and find a way of dealing with stupid stuff I had said or done when I had a hyper episode. I was continually battling extreme isolation and loneliness. As well as an anxiety disorder which pushed away certain significant friends. Friends I still miss to this day.
But there is a Pearl Jam song for every problem I have had to face. For that one, I would have to choose Come Back, from their Avocado release. That song is critical to me. Youll find out why further on.
Much like myself, Vedder seemed unsure of himself at times. When they played the MTV Unplugged set, an acoustic performance which has since gone on to become possibly one of the best acoustic sets of all time, he went on to say after in an interview, “I don’t trust anyone. Especially if they say something good.”
I’m remarkably like that. I second guess everything I do.
Constantly battling internally. “Is it good enough?” I always over analyse everything. Relationships, friendships, Music, even my writing.
As a band who came up playing small venues, to suddenly be thrust in the limelight and in a position of playing massive gigs, the entire group found it strange and difficult to comprehend and deal with. Vedder found it extremely hard early on.
I suffer from pretty severe social anxiety. Throw me in a room with people I don’t know, and I have a meltdown of panic. There would be no way in hell I’d be able to have dealt with the situation they were in.
Vedder looked particularly overwhelmed after a live show back in 1992. A reporter noticed this during an interview and said to him, “You look pretty mixed up.”
Vedder responded by pulling some polaroids of the massive crowd he had taken from the stage. He went on to say, “Look at these pictures. I’ll show you why I feel the way I do. It’s a little bit overwhelming to see this many people. I’m sure you’ve been looking at this all day, but it’s a lot of people. We’re used to playing small clubs, and we want to go back to playing small clubs.
Vedder always wanted Pearl Jam to be a band that tours in a van. That plays clubs and pays its dues. To be a band who have a slow natural life. He didn’t want overnight success.
Who honestly in their right mind would want overnight success? Perhaps someone with a huge ego, but certainly not me. I feel what he was going through completely.
When you sit in your room playing the guitar, you don’t have to worry about being successful, cause it’s just not going to happen.
Barely Getting By
When playing the song Daughter on the Letterman show, guitarist McCready blanked out. He had no memory of them playing the song, even though his guitar parts were amazingly played. He went on to say, “It’s how I dealt with how big we got. Partying a lot, drinking. It was new to us.”
Pearl Jam are and always have been a very hard working band. They were meant to have one day off but were asked to play a live show celebrating the release of a film called Singles. A lot of alcohol was consumed, and the entire band was extremely drunk on stage. Vedder especially.
During a performance of the song State of Love and Trust, Vedder got very angry, even pulling down part of the stage.
Even I have been in a situation like that. Unable to say no to a request from a previous employer. Afraid of the consequence of saying no. I was even using alcohol to self-medicate at one point, so I understand how easy it is to get in a situation like that.
After that night, Pearl Jam learnt it’s ok to say no.
I’m still learning.
I listened to the fourth album next. No Code.
On No Code is a track entitled Present Tense. I didn’t know it back then, but it would sum up most of my Adult life. Way after the breakup with my girlfriend I had yet to meet. It is a simple track, but beautiful in its simplicity. It speaks of lessons to be applied. “You can’t spend your time alone, re-digesting past regrets. Makes much more sense, to live in the present tense.”
I don’t even know why I find this track so comforting. But it’s almost like I’m being spoken to directly.
The track Red Mosquito talks about the issue a lot of people face. Hindsight.
“If I knew then what I know now.”
Another delightful track with some experimental guitar work. One of my favourites to listen to. It always picks up my mood, especially if I’m depressed and dwelling on the past.
One track in particular that always makes me think is I’m Open.
“A MAN LIES IN HIS BED IN A ROOM WITH NO DOOR.
HE WAITS HOPING FOR A PRESENCE, SOMETHING, ANYTHING TO ENTER.
AFTER SPENDING HALF HIS LIFE SEARCHING, HE STILL FELT AS BLANK AS THE CEILING AT WHICH HE STARED.
HE IS ALIVE BUT FEELS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
SO IS HE?
WHEN HE WAS SIX, HE BELIEVED THAT THE MOON OVERHEAD FOLLOWED HIM.
BY NINE HE HAD DECIPHERED THE ILLUSION TRADING MAGIC FOR FACT.
NO TRADE BACKS…
SO THIS IS WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE AN ADULT
IF HE ONLY KNEW NOW WHAT HE KNEW THEN…”
Around the time No Code came out, Vedder said during an interview,
“How are you going to survive and not do something wrong? Not piss someone off? Now you’ve sold too many records, but these people are so happy to hear your music. But these people, on the other hand, hate you now. And these people love you so much, they want to kill you. So how do you relate to any of these people?”
For No Code, Vedder got distant and hardly did any interviews. The band also did no music videos. It didn’t matter though. No publicity didn’t stop a fan driving his car through the wall outside his house at 50mph.
How is something like that going to affect one’s mental ability to deal with stuff? I wouldn’t have been able to deal with it.
Neil Young massively helped Vedder emotionally. He also tried to help Kurt Cobain. But in 1994, Cobain passed away from a self-induced gunshot to the head.
Vedder wanted the band to be faceless because of the amount of media attention they had gotten. He wanted them to be anonymous. But they were all too famous at this point and had no control over that anymore.
The only thing Vedder could control was his music.
I’m lucky enough to be faceless if I so chose to be. I don’t have many friends and certainly don’t speak to anyone I went to school with anymore. I don’t know why but I take comfort in that. But at the same time, feel incredibly lonely.
Pearl Jam wanted to be a Led Zeppelin style band. Chameleons, and ever-changing. Each album they have released proves they managed this. It’s also why they have a song for every situation I need to try and handle.
They are a band who have always done things exactly as they wanted, and I believe that is crucial to maintaining a positive mental state.
They also did what they wanted when it came to battling injustices.
Ticketmaster is a prime example of this.
Pearl Jam filed a complaint with the Justice Department even though it would draw attention to themselves at a time when they were trying to avoid it. They did this because of how much they love their fans. A lot of fans couldn’t afford to buy tickets for their shows due to Ticket Master continually raising prices to turn a profit. People have the choice of going from store to store to find the best deal on a CD. But Ticket Master was the only place to get concert tickets.
With the way I feel about music, and the importance it holds in its ability to help people, Fans should be able to see a live show without taking out a second mortgage.
So Pearl Jam put on their own shows at a lower price, funded the shows themselves and boycotted all Ticketmaster shows for an entire summer.
What other bands would do that for their fans?
“When art becomes successful, it unavoidably becomes a business. The question then is whether artists have an inherent right to control the limits of their business and how it relates to the growth of their art.”
One of my favourite albums in the whole of their catalogue is Yield. It is quite varied in musical style, with hard-hitting uplifting tracks like Brain Of J and Do the Evolution, and softer tracks like All Those Yesterdays and Low Light, to make you reflect on things or allow you to take a breath and try and stop worrying. I always found this album something I would put on if I just wanted to stop overthinking or worrying about something. It can make you ponder on the lyrics while still getting you moving at the same time.
Given to Fly is an exceptional track, and showcases Mike McCready and his chops at playing the guitar.
McCready is, in my opinion, is one of rocks best and most underrated guitarists. He plays spiritually while able to give you Jolts of electricity, like when you are drifting off to sleep and suddenly jump and wake yourself back up. Tracks like Nothing as it Seems are an example of this. Brilliant and soulful, and one of the reasons I am still a guitarist today.
Considering he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and became addicted to the medication he was taking for that, his ability as a guitarist never wavered. He refused to let a medical diagnosis slow him down or affect his livelihood.
This time period was difficult for the band. Pearl Jam was no longer as popular as they once were, and even though they had tried to shy away from popularity early on, they had now been doing things for a while and were used to it. It was also the era where they started to record every live show for fans to listen to. There are now hundreds of official live bootlegs available. I saw them in 2007, and it was just my luck they had equipment problems, and it wasn’t recorded.
This time period also saw tragedy for the band.
In 2000, while performing at the Roskilde festival, 50,000 fans surged forward during their live performance. Nine people were killed and three more seriously injured.
“I just wanted to get out of there,” Vedder said in an interview. “I didn’t want it to be true. It was happening right in front of us, but I didn’t want it to be true.”
The mental impact this had on the band was understandably huge.
Gossard added, “The impact of seeing people being pulled over the barrier who weren’t alive anymore will never go away.”
It made them rethink everything. The bands’ confusion was overwhelming, and it made bassist Jeff Ament think back to the grief of losing his friend Andrew Wood. He didn’t even know if he wanted to play music anymore.
On their follow up album, they dedicated Love Boat Captain to the fans who lost their lives.
Before the Roskilde tragedy, the band had the birth of “No.”
After the tragedy came the birth of “What.”
“What are we doing? What do we do to assist the families? What have we become? What do we do to survive?” All these questions rushed around Vedder’s head.
The tragedy gave the entire band a unique perspective on where they were as a unit, and how fragile life is.
Anyone who has ever lost anyone suddenly, be it from suicide or a sudden illness will no doubt understand this. It also made the band members appreciate each other more as friends and family.
Of The Girl
We are now at the point where I met my big ex. It was 2006, and aside from being an anxious person, I wouldn’t say I suffered from a mental issue of a concerning nature. It was a happy time in my life. Things were good. My relationship was a happy one, and I trusted her. It would be the last time I fully trusted anyone again in a relationship.
It was also the year Pearl Jam released their self-titled avocado album. It was a special one for me, as it was the first album I picked up from them at release. Certain tracks held a special bond with me. It was almost foreshadowing my future, strangely.
Parachutes was a track I have long since considered the musical equivalent of a hug. It just feels comforting. Come Back holds extra importance to me. I used to listen to it a lot with my ex and stated it was how I felt about her having to move away when going to university. It changed meaning after we broke up. Finally, Inside Job speaks to me on a deeply personal level. Clairvoyantly speaking about what I would soon be suffering from.
It talks about putting on a mask and hiding how you genuinely feel. I took this as talking about my depression, insecurity, and always trying to act ok. And how it always feels like my mind is working against me.
“UNDERNEATH THIS SMILE LIES EVERYTHING
ALL MY HOPES AND ANGER, PRIDE AND SHAME
MAKE MYSELF A PACT NOT TO SHUT DOORS ON THE PAST
JUST FOR TODAY, I AM FREE
I WILL NOT LOSE MY FAITH
IT’S AN INSIDE JOB TODAY
I KNOW THIS ONE THING WELL.
I USED TO TRY AND KILL LOVE, THE HIGHEST SIN
BREATHING INSECURITY OUT AND IN
SEARCHING HOPE, I’M SHOWN THE WAY TO RUN STRAIGHT
PURSUING THE GREATER WAY FOR ALL HUMAN LIGHT.
HOW I CHOOSE TO FEEL IS HOW I AM.”
I was noticing something happening to me. I was on edge more, especially leading up to her going to university. I was also angrier, and depressed, and then being happy and silly a few moments later.
I didn’t like who I was becoming.
Anyway, we broke up, and I started seeing a doctor, then a psychiatrist. It took years to get diagnosed with bipolar disorder finally. It took a massive downward spiral at work to finally be put on correct medications, but by that point, it was too late, and I ended up jobless.
I adore this band more than any other. They give everything to their fans, more than we probably deserve. Every single show is different as they mix up their setlists each night.
When you listen to their songs, you can sense so much gratitude in their music, to the fans that carried them through some dark and mentally draining times.
Their fan club is a fantastic community of people, friendly and welcoming. I’ve been a member for 12 years now.
The best band in the world
Their live shows are the best in the world and always different. And god they are long. You get your money’s worth, and they record them all so you can even listen to shows you couldn’t go to. Something truly amazing.
The fact that some fans have seen hundreds of their shows is a testament to how good they are, some even travelling from show to show. They continued to release two more studio albums, Backspacer and Lightning Bolt.
Both of which are full of music that has helped me further.
Their music has seen me through my entire adult life, always on my phone and always the first thing I download when I change to a new phone. I even have hundreds of live shows saved on my hard drive.
Their music has gotten me through times when my anxiety and depression has been terrible, and later during difficult times with my bipolar disorder.
I owe them everything.
There isn’t another art form which can have such a positive effect on one’s life. Making things even slightly better. It can take you back to a particular time in your life when things were better and able to distract you from the negative things you could be facing.
You will never see me without headphones on.
There honestly isn’t another band like them and in 2018, they are just getting started.