photo manipulation by nacrowe
filmed in SEATTLE after the initial wave of GRUNGE had crested and crashed, HYPE! (HELVEY-PRAY PRODUCTIONS, 1996) is very much a contemporaneous attempt to make sense of what turned out the be the last organic pre-internet mass cultural phenomenon in AMERICAN history.
utilizing interviews from participants from bands the likes of SKINYARD, THE MONOMEN, BEAT HAPPENING, THE MELVINS, SCREAMING TREES, SOUNDGARDEN, THE FASTBACKS, MUDHONEY, TAD, GAS HUFFER, COFFIN BREAK, THE SUPERSUCKERS, LOVE BATTERY, 7 YEAR BITCH, THE GITS, DEAD MOON, PEARL JAM and THE WALKABOUTS among others and scene producers like JACK ENDINO, STEVE FISK, FRANK HARLAN and photographer CHARLES PETERSON as well as local indie record label founders CALVIN JOHNSON (K RECORDS) and BRUCE PAVITT and JOHNATHAN PONEMAN (SUB POP RECORDS)
it has been repeatedly said that due to this scene's relative isolation from all but major touring acts in the 80s that a void was filled by local bands that had a fierce DIY ethic informed by HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK of the period. when this insular scene burst open nationally in the wake of the success of ALICE IN CHAINS, SOUNDGARDEN, PEARL JAM and, of course, NIRVANA, things became more unbalanced in the scene once a financial motive got involved. suddenly catwalks where filled with flannel and opportunistic bands moved to SEATTLE to be "discovered" and outright careerism polluted the once vibrant scene that house and nurtured misfits.
i found the crux of this film to be that intersection between art and commerce. that point at which expression is informed by winds of passing fad. once your scene is a fad, where do you go? what do you do?
the film never really answers that question but offers an amazing look at how such commercial interests affected that small intimate scene at a time it was wholly unprepared for it. and yet it seems inevitable that once you become en vogue, your season will ultimately fade and another thing will replace you. i think fortunately for SEATTLE, to this day that city name is synonymous with highly influential strains of ALTERNATIVE ROCK, INDIE ROCK and even SLUDGE METAL. it is still relevant to anyone who loves ROCK AND ROLL. there is still a purity to listeners to this day. of course, this idea of commerce affecting a scene's perceived purity makes no sense in today's climate. through technology there is no more isolated local scenes, the playing field is relatively horizontal in terms of means of exposure and music distribution. when nobody is making money anymore from music, those lines that existed during the filming of this documentary seem rather quaint by comparison.
interestingly, director DOUG PRAY 20 years later revisIted the scene and talked to some of the same participants again (video embedded below) about the impact of that initial wave. for most of them they just kept on their same path and nurtured upcoming artists. for band that came about long after GRUNGE came and went, the true legacy is that commercial viable artistry that is vibrant can come from anywhere, even SEATTLE.
photo & text by nacrowe
it was either christmas or my birthday (both are around the same time) back in the mid 1990s when i first got two albums at the same time, SOUNDGARDEN's SUPERUNKNOWN (A&M, 1994) and PEARL JAM's VITALOGY (EPIC, 1993). both were huge records for me understandably. i cant remember if i got these before LIVING COLOUR's VIVID (EPIC, 1988), but essentially those three are the first records i ever got.
without doubt "TREMOR CHRIST" to date is my favorite PEARL JAM song ever. it has a haunting quality that really struck me as a child. there is a definite vibe to this record that probably comes from the odd instrumentation and experimentation with textures and song structures that separates it from the the previous two releases. obviously i didnt know this at the time. for me this record brings back memories of summers spent with friends at KNOTT'S BERRY FARM and sports camps and this sense of a future adult world and existence. of experiences yet to come. i remember listening to this record and being confounded by what was being said, especially songs like "CORDUROY," "BETTER MAN" and "NOTHING MAN," but enjoying everything on a purely melodic level. it wasnt until the onset of puberty that the record resonated on less of a visceral and more of an intellectual level.
after moving to NIGERIA my family took a trip during a school break to SPAIN, the country of my birth. we stayed with friends on the outskirts of MADRID and i have vivid memories of listening to VITALOGY as well as NIRVANA's IN UTERO (DGC, 1993) while driving through the countryside to places like SEGOVIA and AVILA. especially the longer and less traditionally structured cuts like "IMMORTALITY," "BUGS" and "AYE DAVANITA." listening to this record is always a trip back to that time in the 1990s when the world opened up and the world was different. listening to music now is different, where a listener is over-encumbered by information and historical context. i dont normally get nostalgic but for me early PEARL JAM and especially VITALOGY is a purely sentimental listening experience and a reminder of the power and grace of music.
photo manipulations by nacrowe
edited and directed by famed director CAMERON CROWE from a career's worth of footage culled from the archives of countless videographers and filmmakers, PJ20 (VINYL FIILMS, 2011) is the story of PEARL JAM a in essence a celebration of their then 20-year career.
in essence the story of PEARL JAM is the story of the independent music scene in SEATTLE, which grew from a small, intimate community of like-minded supportive musicians to absolute world dominance and probably the last major ROCK AND ROLL scene ever as well as the last cultural movement of the pre-internet age.
commentary from the likes of CHRIS CORNELL really brings into perspective the uncompetitive nature of the scene, as he gained much from sharing a place with ANDY WOOD, lead singer of MOTHER LOVE BONE. his death from a heroin overdose was a turning point in the scene as he was a vibrant source of energy and projected his enthusiasm for music and art on all those that came in his path. years later speaking about his passing still evokes sorrow and empathy from his former bandmates and friends.
it was his passing and the sudden demise of MOTHER LOVE BONE that marked the beginning of PEARL JAM as its members STONE GOSSARD and JEFF AMENT, also formerly of GREEN RIVER, created a demo that ultimately landed in the hands of EDDIE VEDDER.
much of this film gets into the challenge of maintaining an identity when the world around you changes their perception of you, as happened with VEDDER when PEARL JAM, along with other members of the SEATTLE scene (NIRVANA, SOUNDGARDEN, ALICE IN CHAINS, etc) became famous. dealing with stalkers as well as "punk rock guilt" for having success definitely affected the band up until they toured with NEIL YOUNG around the time of VITALOGY (EPIC, 1994).
in what i consider the most poignant part of the film, there is a taped message from YOUNG stating that when he read KURT COBAIN in a magazine state that he was having difficulty maintaining his authenticity and "keeping it real" in this circus-like environment, he wanted to tell COBAIN that he owed nothing to anybody and should cancel shows. after touring with YOUNG, PEARL JAM were affected by his mentorship and especially his opinions on fame. essentially YOUNG stays true to his muse and enjoys the ride, which sometimes finds him playing arenas and sometimes mid-sized or small theaters. but his integrity is intact.
there is also mention of the influence of COBAIN on PEARL JAM, which was essentially consider your choices (political, business, artistic) and own them. they took such in earnest moving forward after his passing and you can definitely see this influence in their stance against TICKETMASTER as well as VEDDER stating during the telecast that the GRAMMY his band just won had no meaning. they definitely kept it real. it also helped them in the wake of the ROSKILDE disaster, when they learned to say no. i can't imagine how heartbreaking that tragedy was for them, just horrific to think about.
like any retelling of an event or scene pre-internet and pre-SOCIAL MEDIA, many of these concepts related to "punk rock guilt" seem both antiquated and highly relevant in our digital age. antiquated because there is no more record industry, no more corporate ogre to sell out to anymore. yet absolutely relevant because the eye of digital media never sleeps and has probably only become more intense to musicians and pop stars in the age of TMZ and the modern security state. i would not wish to be famous these days, as the invasion of privacy quotient has gone up exponentially. fans are ever more obsessed and everyone is a self-appointed expert and has a blog(!) spouting their opinion into the ether.
PJ20 came out in 2011 but was filmed up until the touring behind the 2009 release of the BACKSPACER (MONKEYWRENCH, 2009) LP, which included jabs in concert at the outgoing BUSH ADMINISTRATION. i can't wait to see if they make PJ30 and what that portends about our current fall from grace. if anything, the past 10 years of AMERICAN history has dwarfed the corruption and lawlessness of the previous 200. interested in seeing how their past informs their longstanding advocacy of ENVIRONMENTAL concerns and REPRODUCTIVE rights, especially now in our collective doomed era of TRUMP.
can't wait for that sequel.