5 Against 1 – The Inevitable Pearl Jam Blog - The Music - Pt. 1
Growing up with Pearl Jam
I could be wrong, but I feel like everyone has a moment in their life where they are introduced to some band, some actor, some director, or some artist that will be with them for the rest of their life. Every person feels like they are growing up as the artist is growing up. Each new thing, be it music or art or movies, that the artist produces just seems to fit right in with the way you feel at that point in your life. For me, that just happens to be Pearl Jam.
I was introduced to Pearl Jam in 1992 by my old friend, Jeremy. We were in Boy Scouts together and he was one of the older guys in the troop. Jeremy was four years older than me bet we got along well and I looked towards him as an older brother. It was during one of our many camping trips together that Jeremy let me listen to Pearl Jam’s first album, Ten, and I was instantly hooked. I couldn’t get enough. Ever since I have consumed everything that Pearl Jam and the members of the band have produced.
With every new album I felt like I could find one song or one lyric of a song that would perfectly describe how I was feeling during that point in my life. It was eerie but also calming to have this musical diary that someone else was writing for me. With this section of the Pearl Jam worshipping I want to pick one song from each album and share how it influenced, inspired, or helped me cope with that time in my life.
Ten was released in 1991 and the single for Jeremy was a smash hit. Like many Pearl Jam fans I was drawn to the rocking guitar riffs of Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, the dark lyrics of Eddie Vedder, and the entrancing opening and closing pieces by bassist Jeff Ament.
Unlike the other songs in this list, I didn’t feel a personal connection to the lyrics. I wasn’t ignored by my parents. My parents did, and do, love me as much as I love them. I wasn’t bullied or made fun of in school. Not to say I was the most popular kid but I had a good group of friends and I wasn’t picked on. I wasn’t torn up. I wasn’t a tortured soul. I think I was a pretty good kid and I know I had a great childhood.
What I liked most about the song was how different it was from anything else I had been exposed to up until that point. Carrie, my sister, is six years older than me and was a child firmly of the 1980s. She had plenty of New Kids on the Block, Richard Marx, Madonna, and other pop hits of the 1980s in her collection. My parents, of course, had music from the 1960s to listen to and we always had on the “oldies” station in the car. There is nothing wrong with either of these genres of music but they weren’t for me; they weren’t my generation.
For some in the early 1990s it was Nirvana; others gravitated to the side of a Jewel; others still went towards a more R&B side of music with Mary J. Blige or a Boys 2 Men. For me, it was Pearl Jam and Jeremy was the song that got it all started. To this day I get pumped rocking out to Jeremy. The song tops my workout play list and every time I hear it I have to turn it up loud and sing at the top of my lungs. I’m sure I look like an idiot in my car, banging my head at a stoplight, and screaming “Jeremy spoke in class todayyyyyyyyy”. I don’t care. This is the song that roped me in to the world of Pearl Jam and it will always be one of my favorites.
Vs. was released in October 1993 and set the record for the most copies of an album sold in its first week, a record that the album held for five years. As a young teenager full of angst (I’m older now and not full of angst but some would say I’m full of something) I immediately purchased the CD and started playing it over and over again in order to memorize every word of every song. I’d bet that most people were drawn to the more powerful and rocking songs like Animal, Blood, and Leash. I was drawn to something else. I was drawn to the closing song, Indifference.
I was in the prime of my “quiet” years, feeling awkward around my friends and even more awkward around strangers. Sure, I’d go hang out with friends but I’d be the quiet one in the corner just observing. I fancied myself introspective and believed that I didn’t need to speak so much but if something came up I was strong enough to handle it.
The second verse of the song really made me feel strong during these awkward times.
I will hold the candle, till it burns up my arm
I'll keep takin' punches, until their will grows tired
Oh I will stare the sun down, until my eyes go blind
Hey I won't change direction, and I won't change my mind
I knew that I could take whatever the world would throw at me. Of course, I was a stupid teenager and none of these problems really mattered in the grand scheme of things but at the time it was really important to me. I wasn’t a fighter but I felt like I had the will to outlast those who were fighters. I remember taking a black permanent marker and writing the lyrics “I'll keep takin' punches, until their will grows tired” in the inside brim of my baseball hat. It was my mantra that I may not be the best at baseball, or football, or any other sport but that didn’t matter because my will was stronger than anyone else.
I’m an adult now and looking back this all seems sort of silly. It reminds me of an episode of Family Guy. Someone in the show is watching TV and an episode of Dawson’s Creek comes on the TV. The theme song is replaced by the great lyrics “High School is such a serious thing…These problems matter!” I laugh hysterically every time I think of this because I’m reminded of this song and of high school. I created drama in my head that didn’t exist and thought that if I kept taking the punches that life threw at me (there were no real punches being thrown, figuratively or literally) I would make it threw a stronger person. I still love this song but not for the same reasons. When I was a dumb teenager I loved this song because I thought it was helping me cope with issues in my life but now I love this song because it reminds me of those years when I was a dumb kid.
It was only a year between the release of Vs. and the release of Vitalogy. If you think that a year was enough time for me to get over my immature teenage angst from Vs. you would be terribly mistaken. All Vitalogy did was give me a song in Whipping that moved my angst anthem from a slow, melodic song like Indifference to a drum pounding, guitar shredding, head pounding song like Whipping.
The words were different, the music was different, but the sentiment was the same; I am stronger than the world around me and you can keep hitting me but I’ll take it all and then get up.
Don't need a helmet, got a hard, hard head
Don't need a raincoat, I'm already wet
Don't need a bandage, there's too much...blood...
After a while, seems to roll right off...hmm...
Not much to say about this song other than, just like Jeremy, it gets me pumped up when it is time to work out. I suppose the song has grown with me. When I was a kid the song would get me pumped to take the shit that a teenager takes, mostly in their own head. I could take it and I was strong. Now it gets me pumped up to work out and keep running. I may be tired, but my head is too hard to stop running. It may be raining but I’ll keep running because I’m sweating so much I’m already wet.
In My Tree (No Code)
I’m sure I’m remembering things through somewhat rose-colored glasses, but I feel like the time No Code was released in 1996 I’d grown up a ton. Sure, it has only been two years since my angst filled rage of Whipping but I remember being more calm and comfortable with who I was. Maybe I’m just using the song to create memories and feelings that weren’t really there but hey, that is how I remember it.
As a guy just starting my junior year of high school I remember thinking that this high school stuff was getting much easier and how surprising it was that I already had to start thinking about college. There is a saying that goes something like “never let learning get in the way of your education” or something like that. At this point I had gone on two major trips across the country for camping with the Boy Scouts that taught me a lot about myself and my friends. I remember feeling like there was much more to this life than school (but school was still very important) and I know that I don’t know everything but I want to learn everything. These specific lyrics stand out in my mind:
I remember when, yeah
I swore I knew everything, oh yeah
Let's say knowledge is a tree, yeah
It's growing up just like me, yeah
I think this was the point in my life I started trying to learn about every religion I could find. I was raised as a Baptist in Georgia but once we moved up to Virginia there wasn’t much going to church for the Clark’s. I actually appreciate that because my parents didn’t pressure me into learning one philosophy or dogma. I was reading the Bible, but also the Bhagavad Gita of Hinduism, the Epic of Gilgamesh, Siddhartha by Hermann Hess, and other philosophy. I was still in my own head, as most teenagers tend to be, but I was growing up and starting to learn on my own. I’m pretty sure I remained in my own head and basically full of shit until the time I met Rizzo but we will get to that.
Do The Evolution (Yield)
When Yield was released in 1998 I was a senior in high school and getting ready to graduate. I had already been accepted to James Madison University so I was on cruise control. I’m not the kind of guy that will completely give up just because I have a sure thing (like going to college) so I was still keeping up with my work but I had lost a lot of the pressure associated with school was off which helped in getting me out of my philosophical head space and into rocking a bit more.
That is where Do The Evolution comes into this little discussion of mine. I think the song has a great message about the belief that our culture has the right to do just about whatever we want because we have evolved.
I'm a thief, I'm a liar
There's my church, I sing in the choir.
Sure, this has meaning but I was more into rocking and rolling. The song was powerful, with face melting guitar riffs and drum smashing. I still run to this song and I still continue to grow, because, It’s Evolution, Baby!
Be on the lookout for part two of this blog where I continue to bore you with stories of what Pearl Jam songs mean to me.