Happy Pearl Jam release day, everyone. Or I should say Happy Pearl Jam Release Day to everyone who is old and wholly washed like I am.
I learned earlier this year that Pearl Jam is officially a geezer band. This means that dads of a certain age (geezers) torture their children, usually in overly practical automobiles, all over the American landscape with the entire catalog of Pearl Jam tunes. Generally, this torture exists on a channel on Sirius where they play nothing but Pearl Jam songs, including many many live and obscure versions of songs to play to the utmost Pearl Jam dorks in the universe. How do I know this? My buddy and I were having a “dads and kids night” (my wife calls it a girls night,) and while we were all hanging out with Pearl Jam on, our fourth-grade sons informed us just how lame they are. I believe the popular word “trash” was used to a maximum effect like a gutshot.
At first, I was horrified and dismayed. I wanted to redouble my efforts to show them how and why Pearl Jam was so important to me, once definitely cool, and maybe still mostly cool? I quickly did the math, ran a simulation in my mind of how that would have gone between my parents and me, and decided to let it go. It’s the musical equivalent to, “if you have to explain a joke, then it’s no longer funny.” If my kids ever decide to change their minds about Pearl Jam, it will happen because they picked up a guitar and want to play the lead to Alive. Or maybe they are trying to sing something at the top of their lungs with their arms out like a veritable front man god-like pose, and it reminds them of Given to Fly or Release.
The reason that I love Pearl Jam is that they were my first favorite band that I felt I had ownership. Nobody told me to like Pearl Jam. I “discovered” them on MTV or radio or wherever I heard them first, and I bought the cassette tape with my own money. I later also bought the CD after getting my first CD player. I needed that album in the latest format.
On October 19, 1993, I remember my mom driving me to the local CD store after school. I had been anticipating the band’s followup to Ten for a very long time. I had pre-ordered VS, and I felt special when the owner of the store grabbed my copy off the special shelf behind the counter. It literally had my name on it with masking tape and Sharpie.
Fast forward to April 1994. Pearl Jam was the musical guest on SNL about a week or so after Kurt Cobain died. They hadn’t released Vitalogy yet, but they blew their fans away by opening their set on one of the most popular shows in the world at the time with Not For You. As a 15-year-old with lots of hormones and feelings and desires to be someone or something bigger than myself, I felt like they were weirdly speaking for me. Maybe that’s just the hormones talking, but the experience was real. The relationship I created with that band was real.
There are plenty of other moments. Going to a midnight sale at Best Buy to buy No Code with my friends was memorable. Seeing them for the first time in Columbus with my brother as an adult was an unbelievable experience that we shared. We had a beer with Andrew before the show, too, by the way. I don’t need to bore you with every experience along the way. The point is that I had a very long history and path and expecting my kids to parachute in at the ages of nine and seven and just get it the way I do is crazy.
The way to get them to appreciate Pearl Jam is to wait and see if they do it somewhat on their own. That was a huge key to why I became a Pearl Jam fan. It was the first band that I liked before my older sister and much more than my older sister.
And that’s the lens with which I talk about their new album Gigaton. I think it’s great. I think it’s their best full album since Yield. I’ve liked some songs on some records since Yield, but this one is the most complete work – front to back – since then, at least for my money. I have no idea how this album plays to a more casual Pearl Jam fan. I have no idea how it plays to a non-Pearl Jam fan or a casual music fan that only knows their greatest hits. When you have a band that’s been around as long as Pearl Jam, reviews are impossible and maybe irrelevant.
What I do know is that it feels good to have new Pearl Jam right now. It’s comforting. It feels familiar. It’s a sign of normalcy for this washed geezer who used to rely on his mom for a ride to pick up Pearl Jam albums.