They’re still alive – Washington Free Beacon

In 1996, Chicago rock band Local H asked, “If I were Eddie Vedder / Would you like me better?” It was a rhetorical question. For most of the 1990s, the charismatic singer and his bandmates in Pearl Jam were one of rock’s most popular and acclaimed bands, releasing five hit albums and spawning countless imitators. Although their cultural relevance faded with the 20th century, they still thrived as a touring band, becoming grunge’s answer to the Grateful Dead. In Long Road: Pearl Jam and the Soundtrack of a Generationrock critic Steven Hyden provides a deep and engaging analysis of Pearl Jam’s remarkable career, and in particular what he considers his definitive identity as a live performer.

Pearl Jam’s story begins with the demise of Mother Love Bone, a Seattle band whose lead singer died of a heroin overdose shortly before the release of their debut album. MLB bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard connected with Stevie Ray Vaughan sidekick Mike McCready to record a demo tape that made its way to Vedder, then a gas station attendant in San Diego. Vedder returned the favor with his own demo, including two songs that would appear on the band’s 1991 debut album. Ten. Album sales took off in 1992, thanks to the heavy rotation of “Jeremy” on MTV.

With this, Pearl Jam joined Nirvana as the most popular cast in the grunge scene. Kurt Cobain’s band is still considered the coolest band, but Pearl Jam’s songs are more interesting and varied, and Vedder’s voice more versatile and powerful than Cobain’s, even though it contained the seeds of the destruction of rock by inspiring people like Scott Stapp of Creed. and Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger. Hyden says it well when he explains that Nirvana “were the underdog band” while Pearl Jam “offered… the community”. Again, Nirvana’s video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” shows high school kids partying in a gym, while “Jeremy” shows a student committing suicide in front of his classmates.

Pearl Jam’s second record, Versus.set a record for first-week sales, but Cobain’s suicide in April 1994 disrupted the group’s momentum and sense of purpose. Vitology was released later that year, and Vedder’s unease with popularity and commercial success is evident. That same year, the band began their battle against Ticketmaster’s allegedly monopolistic practices but ended up having to cancel their 1995 tour. the undeniable end of the grunge era by demonstrating that Pearl Jam fans preferred “performative opposing “to”real opposition.” In our defense, President Clinton’s Justice Department also didn’t see much merit in Pearl Jam’s argument. Pearl Jam continued to release solid albums into the latter half of the 1990s, but they would soon signal a change of direction.

In 2000-01, the band highlighted their prowess as a live performer by releasing bootlegs of 72 shows performed in support of their sixth album. (That tour was marred by tragedy when nine festival-goers were killed in a stampede during a performance in Denmark.) Hyden argues that these live recordings, not the studio albums that brought them fame and cultural relevance , are the key to understanding the greatness of Pearl Jam. While I’m not convinced by the argument, I admire Hyden’s description of the bootlegs: “With careful listening, everything becomes charged with meaning. A bit of stage noise or a seemingly tiny change in a guitar solo sounds special, like it’s your own.” And Pearl Jam’s evolution from a studio band to a live band is undeniable. They released more albums between 1991 and 2000 than in the 22 years since.

The intelligent structure of Long road mimics a mixtape of bootleg recordings, with chapters named after live performances of Pearl Jam songs and two sections called Side A and Side B. At the heart of the book is a question: “How did they survive and thrive into middle age so many of their peers got crushed and burned?” One clue, according to Hyden, is the relationship Pearl Jam formed with mentors like Neil Young and Pete Townshend, and it offers remarkable insight into these relationships, as well as comparisons to the group’s peers and successors.Unlike too many of these peers, Pearl Jam was willing to sacrifice “short-term gain for long-term sanity”.

Hyden’s engaging style combines personal experience with insightful cultural analysis to advance thought-provoking arguments. Unfortunately, his efforts to establish Pearl Jam’s uniqueness sometimes led him astray. To establish the selfishness of other mid-’90s bands, Hyden argues that the Live song “White, Discussion” rejects political engagement; in fact, the song expresses the frustration of using the spoken word as an excuse to avoid action. When singer Ed Kowalczyk repeats “Look where this has gotten us, baby!” a dozen times, he’s no more dismissive than Vedder in 1998’s “No Way,” who repeats, “I ain’t tryna make a difference / I’ll quit trying to make a difference.”

Additionally, the sophistication Hyden exhibits when discussing Pearl Jam’s music and career disappears when he ventures into politics. His discussion of Gen X’s understanding of the Vietnam War is particularly odd: “When I was growing up, all I really knew about Vietnam was that the people who fought there were abused by hippies. when they were coming home. And I learned that from Vietnam. movies. My whole generation did it. It’s not convincing. Not only Hyden probably heard about 1,000,000 anti-war songs when he was as a child, but in virtually every Vietnam War movie, the central sympathetic characters are surrounded by psychopaths and murderers.In the movies and elsewhere, the fact was that the war was pointless, had no heroes, and showed the America at its worst.

One of Hyden’s most compelling concerns is the band’s strange relationship with its core fans, the Gen Xers. (Full disclosure: I’m one of them and we’re the best.) He presents the group as a reflection of Generation X’s “conflicting impulses”, such as a desire for attention and a fear of overexposure, a desire for success and a disdain for selling. Our worst tendencies include “hat[ing] ourselves and everything in which we see ourselves. And few things about the 90s seem more universal we than Pearl Jam.” This is one of the many ironies of this serious band.

Another is the frequent tension between the group’s ideals and those of its audience. In addition to the Ticketmaster fight, think of a 2003 concert when the audience responded to the band’s protest song “Bu$hleaguer” by chanting “USA! USA!” (Here’s another irony: Shortly after the chant was popularized at the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament, Pearl Jam’s mentor Neil Young used it in what the Voice of the village‘s Robert Christgau called the “unambiguously jingoistic chorus” of “Hawks & Doves”.) I thought about this disparity between artist and audience last month, when the New York Times found that Gen Xers are most likely to vote for the GOP.

In the spirit of Gen X, let’s end with more irony. Pearl Jam’s biggest mainstream hit, “Last Kiss,” is a cover of a tragic 1961 teenage ballad they recorded during a soundcheck, and its lyrics (“Oh, where oh where can be my baby? / The Lord took her away from me…”) are unlike any other recorded by the band. The huge success of this atypical song validates Hyden’s decision to call Pearl Jam’s music “the soundtrack of a generation” rather than its “voice”.

Long Road: Pearl Jam and the Soundtrack of a Generation
by Steven Hyde
Hachette books, 272 pages, $29

Christopher J. Scalia is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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