i heard PEARL JAM's early catalogue haphazardly and completely and out of order. it makes sense because i was very young when those first few releases came out and wasn't conscious of music or CULTURE in general at the time. in fact, i was seven when their debut TEN (EPIC, 1991) came out, although i didnt obtain that album until late 1995. i received PEARL JAM's third album VITALOGY (EPIC, 1994) as a gift from my parents, along with SOUNDGARDEN's SUPERUNKNOWN (A&M, 1994), for either christmas or my birthday in late 1994 or early 1995. both of those two records were the first i ever owned and are still PRECIOUS to me. it wasnt until i moved to NIGERIA in and learned in early 1996 from an AMERICAN classmate that there was, in fact, another in-between album called VS. (EPIC, 1993) that i should check out. so my order went VITALOGY, TEN, and the VS. with PEARL JAM.
irrespective of my own IDIOSYNCRATIC exposure to their material, VITALOGY was a pivotal record in their discography as it marked the effective CREATIVE takeover of the band by vocalist EDDIE VEDDER. in comparison, on TEN the outlines of songs were mostly written by the time of his arrival, so his input was purely lyrical. on VS. the band was still very much effectively helmed by guitarist STONE GOSSARD and bassist JEFF AMENT, who started PEARL JAM in the wake the dissolution of MOTHER LOVE BONE due to the TRAGIC passing of frontman ANDEW WOOD from a heroin overdose. what transpired and altered between VS. and VITALOGY was a massive wave of unmitigated commercial success. surreally, VEDDER in october 1993 was even put on the cover of TIME magazine as the poster boy of sorts for his GENERATION, getting the BOB DYLAN / BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN treatment. by the time of production for VITALOGY there was a power shift where VEDDER asserted his songwriting and AESTHETIC INFLUENCES on the product, figuring that if he was going to be selling his likeness to the public he should at least not be PASSIVE in creating the product itself. VITALOGY is sonically and thematically EXPANSIVE and an ARTISTIC departure from the previous two releases. VITALOGY is OBSCURE, SELF-EFFACING and even HUMOROUS whereas the first two albums are more EARNEST, TRANSPARENT and somewhat DOWN-THE-MIDDLE ROCK AND ROLL. there is a through-line though with songs like "CORDUROY" and "BETTER MAN" off of VITALOGY seeming to come from a similar sonic and lyrical place as "DAUGHTER" and "ELDERLY WOMAN BEHIND THE COUNTER IN A SMALL TOWN" off VS. or "BLACK" and "OCEANS" off of TEN.
this is all incredibly long prologue to bring up how CONTROVERSIAL PEARL JAM's fourth album NO CODE (EPIC, 1996) was upon release. the record came in the wake of a DISASTROUS tour in support of VITALOGY in which the band boycotted TICKETMASTER for financially exploiting its FANBASE. at this point also the band had long since stop making promotional music videos in the wake of "JEREMY" off of TEN. my impression of it was that it was meant as a palette cleanser a la NIRVANA's IN UTERO (DGC, 1993) or more drastically LOU REED's METAL MACHINE MUSIC (RCA VICTOR, 1975). it felt like a NONCOMMERCIAL album that was purposely OPAQUE to try to wean off the more FICKLE elements of its rabid FANBASE and create something more INSULAR, ARTFUL and entirely SELF-AWARE. its almost as if they made a CHALLENGING album for another fictional band that didnt have this OVERWHELMING corporate apparatus on its back chomping at the bit for more product to satisfy their INSATIABLE shareholders. i remember the only tracks i really took to were the UPTEMPO, HARD-CHARGING "HAIL, HAIL" and the decidedly SUBDUED "THERE HE GOES" both of which were SOLID songs but not ICONIC singles like those from the first three records.
my opinion now is that this type of relative retreat from the spotlight was INEVITABLE given the PERSONALITY and ETHOS of VEDDER and his bandmates. there was also this palpable sense with the passing of KURT COBAIN years before that having control over your product and putting out into the public something that is AUTHENTIC is really all that matters. COBAIN years earlier commented on their early work being DERIVATIVE of CLASSIC ROCK cliches, which was somewhat ACCURATE and completely BITING. PEARL JAM took such to heart and their career trajectory since has been a conscious attempt at staying true to themselves and their COMMUNITY come what may. this even means reversing course, as PEARL JAM did with the CELEBRATED follow-up to NO CODE, titled YIELD (EPIC, 1998) which was heralded as largely a return to form (even complete with an AWARD-WINNING TODD MCFARLANE-directed animated music video).
but NO CODE lived up to its title, its not really meant to be understood. its an INTERESTING curiosity in their catalogue, but NOT ESSENTIAL in my opinion. i would recommend first-time listeners check any of their first three records with a slight preference to VITALOGY, which is undoubtedly one of my FAVORITE albums from my childhood.
as one-off collaborations go, ABOVE (COLUMBIA, 1995) by the ALTERNATIVE ROCK band MAD SEASON, made up of members of PEARL JAM, SCREAMING TREES and ALICE IN CHAINS, is one of the most COHESIVE, POTENT and EMOTIONALLY RAW creative efforts from the RENOWNED SEATTLE scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. in the wake of getting SOBER around the time of the making of VITALOGY (EPIC, 1994), PEARL JAM guitarist MIKE MCREADY wrote some loose outside material with bassist JOHN BAKER SAUNDERS (THE WALKABOUTS) and drummer BARRETT MARTIN (SCREAMING TREES) as a means of therapy as much as anything else. eventually he recruited the generationally TALENTED but profoundly addicted LAYNE STALEY (ALICE IN CHAINS) to the fold in hopes of providing a SOBER ENVIRONMENT for him on his road to recovery. at that point in the wake of JAR OF FLIES (COLUMBIA, 1994), STALEY had been something of a recluse in that ALICE IN CHAINS were FAMOUS for not touring due to his SPIRALING HEROIN ADDICTION.
STALEY is arguably in top form throughout ABOVE, providing absolutely WRENCHINGLY AFFECTING performances on STANDOUT tracks like "WAKE UP," "LONG GONE DAY," "I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING" and "RIVER OF DECEIT." sonically this record is sparsely constructed with a sound-bed that is almost JAZZ-like in its sparseness and use of space. it provides the perfect accompanying and unimposing support for a DELIBERATE focus on the weight of STALEY's VISCERAL and emotionally WROUGHT vocals. STALEY for his part never sounded so EXPOSED and VULNERABLE, even in his more ACCOMPLISHED compositions with ALICE IN CHAINS. even the artwork, an illustration also provided by STALEY, seems to showcase a couple deep in the throes of CODEPENDENCE which feels like another metaphor for his DOOMED relationship with NARCOTICS.
ABOVE very much is a gift to music fans as many of is collaborators sadly lost their battle with HEROIN over the next few years, including that of STALEY (in 2002) and SAUNDERS (in 1999). for STALEY, the tragic passing of his fiance from a HEROIN OVERDOSE in 1996 is something he never recovered from. in recent years, the project was resurrected for various benefit concerts with SEATTLE luminaries like MARK LANEGAN (who originally guested on two ABOVE tracks) and CHRIS CORNELL (SOUNDGARDEN) filling in for STALEY and DUFF MCKAGAN (GUNS N ROSES, THE FASTBACKS, 10 MINUTE WARNING) in for SAUNDERS, but nothing permanent came of it. especially in the wake of the CORNELL and LANEGAN's recent passings the door seems finally closed on such. to me ABOVE and this project is not CURSED or DOOMED as some in the press of morbidly attested, in fact i feel the opposite. DRUG ADDICTION is a powerful force and the MAD SEASON project was an attempt, however futile in retrospect, to fight the good fight through art, COMMUNICATION and EMPATHY. that deep well of COURAGE and VULNERABILITY that shines through in the material is something that is uniquely human despite its ultimate FRAGILITY. its like a DYLAN THOMAS poem attempting to give voice to DESPAIR and EXISTENTIAL PLIGHT and to find BEAUTY in spite of itself.
to me that is enduring legacy of ABOVE and why it is a SINGULAR achievement even among the CELEBRATED catalogues of its participating members. this record is required listening in my opinion.
back in the day as a pre-teen i heard the first few PEARL JAM releases completely out of order. as i mentioned before, their third album VITALOGY (review linked HERE) along with SOUNDGARDEN's SUPERUNKNOWN (review linked HERE) were the first two record i ever owned as they were [very cool] christmas gifts from my parents back in 1994. i was in fourth grade.
my initial impression of PEARL JAM's LEGENDARY debut TEN () album was completely contextualized by VITALOGY. on VITALOGY, singer EDDIE VEDDER essentially took the creative reigns from guitarist STONE GOSSARD and very much created a sonically and thematically EXPERIMENTAL record that expressed his own personal grievance with being so personally identified with the convoluted ALTERNATIVE ROCK genre. much like KURT COBAIN with NIRVANA's IN UTERO (review linked HERE), VITALOGY was VEDDER's attempt to determine his own narrative and that of his band and thwart and hopefully transcend audience expectations built up from TEN and VS (review linked HERE).
all that to say that when i first came across STRAIGHTFORWARD and ENERGETIC TEN tracks like "WHY GO," "PORCH," and "ONCE," i was basically waiting for a plot twist that never came to pass. also, the ANTHEMIC singles "ALIVE," "JEREMY" and "EVEN FLOW," though incredible WELL-CONSTRUCTED and no doubt PASSIONATELY EXECUTED, still seemed cut from a TRADITIONAL songwriting playbook. there were even extended guitar solos! initially the songs that really hit me hard as a pre-teen were the more INTROSPECTIVE and SOLEMN numbers like "BLACK," "OCEANS," "GARDEN," and especially what i consider the best track on the record (and maybe their career) "RELEASE." the way that song builds and crescendos is bordering on SPIRITUAL, which perfectly matches its lyrics about being able to transcend one's circumstances. for me these tracks and the future emotionally RESONANT character studies they prefigure (like "DAUGHTER," "CORDUROY," "INDIFFERENCE," "OFF HE GOES," "NOTHING MAN," "OF THE GIRL," "ELDERLY WOMAN BEHIND THE COUNTER IN A SMALL TOWN," "NOTHING AS IT SEEMS," "BETTER MAN") are what set PEARL JAM apart from their ALTERNATIVE ROCK peers. yes, its based in a tradition, but that includes CONTEMPLATIVE world-weary songwriters and craftsman from the FOLK, GOSPEL, R&B, BRITISH INVASION and even PUNK traditions. its all in there.
sonically my favorite PEARL JAM album (how could it not?) will always be VITALOGY, but TEN is quite an AFFECTING achievement which makes sense given its history. most of the tracks pre-date VEDDER's involvement and the original INSTRUMENTAL frameworks were concocted by GOSSARD and bassist JEFF AMENT of the recently dissolved MOTHER LOVE BONE, along with friend and fellow guitarist MIKE MCCREADY, in the wake of the death of singer ANDREW WOOD. VEDDER, especially on the more MELANCHOLY tracks, very much tapped into something CATHARTIC that was being purged. its a record that is a confluence of different voices in the band that would last another album cycle before VEDDER essentially took over.
needless to say, TEN is a great album that is worthy of all the acclaim its enjoyed for the past three decades. well worth checking out.
its always COMPELLING to learn about the INDUSTRY GATEKEEPERS that had a demonstrative impact influencing and effectively curating AMERICAN culture for a period, be they RODNEY BINGENHEIMER of 106.7FM KROQ in LOS ANGELES in the 1970s/1980s/1990s or MARCO COLLINS of 107.7FM KNDD THE END in SEATTLE in the 1990s. these DJs are in essence force-multipliers who communicate novel sounds and new artists to a much wider audience, essentially giving permission for bigger entities like MTV or national radio to add them to the rotation. in a pre-internet age, these GATEKEEPERS were incredibly POWERFUL and BINGENHEIMER and COLLINS cultivated such influence by staying true to their ears and sense of tase. this in the face of the industry practice of PAYOLA whereby RECORD LABELS courted RADIO STATIONS and program directors with massive amounts of money for airtime, which had been a thing going back to the 1930s. such was still the case with the competition for both BINGENHEIMER and COLLINS.
as someone who has a regular INTERNET RADIO SHOW on a much lower scale, i can assure you having that sort of EMPATHY and capacity to lock in with emerging cultural movement is a RARE gift. scratch that, an extremely rare gift. the recent documentary THE GLAMOUR & THE SQUALOR (ORANJE FILMS, 2015) follows the COMPLICATED LIFE and impactful career trajectory of celebrated SEATTLE DJ MARCO COLLINS who in essence gave emerging local bands in the early 1990s their first radio exposure. current and past local bands like SOUNDGARDEN, DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, SEAWEED, ALICE IN CHAINS, HARVEY DANGER, SCREAMING TREES, PEARL JAM, SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE, MUDHONEY, THE PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and NIRVANA as well as national acts like BECK, THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS, WEEZER, EVERCLEAR, THE CRYSTAL METHOD and GARBAGE and even international acts THE PRODIGY and DAFT PUNK. participants in this documentary include everyone from musicians like CARRIE BROWNSTEIN (SLEATER-KINNEY, WHITE FLAG), SHIRLEY MANSON (GARBAGE), MIKE MCREADY (PEARL JAM, MAD SEASON), PATTY SCHEMEL (HOLE), BEN GIBBARD (DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, THE POSTAL SERVICE) SEAN NELSON (HARVEY DANGER) and MACKLEMORE to MUSIC WRITERS and JOURNALISTS like MATT PINFIELD (120 MINUTES) and CHARLES R CROSS (HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN, ROOM FULL OF MIRRORS) as well as RECORD EXECUTIVES such as DEBI LIBETZ (EPIC RECORDS), MIKE TIERNEY (EPIC RECORDS), SUSIE TENNANT (GEFFEN RECORDS), SCOTT PERLEWITZ (SUB POP RECORDS) and ERROL KOLOSINE (ASTRELWERKS, CAROLINE RECORDS) among other INDUSTRY VETERANS.
all that aside, one aspect of this film i was particularly struck by was the argument that COLLINS' HOMOSEXUALITY gave him a sort of OUTSIDER STATUS that enabled him in his PROFESSION. it was almost an UNEXPECTED and UNINTENTIONAL competitive advantage in the sense that his very perspective and formative experiences as a GAY MAN surrounded by HOMOPHOBES (including his father) engendered him to go his own path and trust his instincts. surviving childhood in the sticks made the insular RADIO and MUSIC INDUSTRIES a breeze in comparison, although being 'out' publicly was another matter entirely. i just found it interesting that within a community of artists and musicians, COLLINS was excepted intrinsically due to his PASSION, INTELLECT and even his SEXUALITY. i wonder if there is something about being an OUTSIDER that resonated with the KURT COBAINs and EDDIE VEDDERs of the PACIFIC NORTWEST ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene at the time. interesting to consider when you take in the similar dynamics of BIGENHEIMER being an EFFEMINATE male, who likewise broke a whole platoon of HARDCORE, NEW WAVE and ALTERNATIVE bands a generation earlier.
less interesting was the drug angle and COLLINS coming to terms with his chemical addictions. i have no doubt that such were a massive DISAPPOINTMENT and PERSONAL FAILURE for him and dealt lasting blows to his work and close relationships. but such is not as interesting as his recovery which includes reintegrating himself in the current music scene and enabling new bands to get their initial exposure, much like he did nearly 30 years ago. that dedication to the here and now is what radio in my opinion is all about. its also nice to know that in years since this documentary COLLINS has been a regular contributor at the massively INFLUENTIAL 90.3FM KEXP in SEATTLE which has innovated the digital landscape with its high-quality recorded and mixed live performances at its dedicated multi-use CREATIVE SPACES. seems he is where he should be.
which is exciting for new music lovers and bands alike.
parodies by nacrowe
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO celebrating the iconic SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK band PEARL JAM!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
parodies by nacrowe
join us TONIGHT at 10PM EST for an all new episode of DEER GOD RADIO on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC with a playlist celebrating ALTERNATIVE ROCK veterans PEARL JAM!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
and if you haven't done so already, make sure and download the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
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.