I am a fan of Pearl Jam, even up to this day.
I was in high school, when I was around 15, when my older brother would return home in the afternoon from school then play his cassette tapes of Pearl Jam’s Ten and Vs in our turntable with a built-in cassette player. I like what I was hearing but that time, since I was more into the local bands and the Beatles and The Carpenters and Paul Anka, and it was a different period of “growing up” for me, Pearl Jam was just there, in the background, whenever my older brother would play his cassette tapes of Pearl Jam and other American rock bands.
In 1998, through MTV Channel, I caught for the first time the music video of Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy,” a cut from their album, Ten. I was probably around 19 years old, and though I was already familiar with the song since long ago, the “Jeremy” music video totally captivated me. Didn’t know they have a music video of one of their songs.
Perhaps because I was in another phase of my growing up years, an introvert, with a different set of angst and longings, the “Jeremy” music video put me under some sort of a spell. And I just loved how Eddie Vedder delivered the song, those facial expressions, those lethal screams and shouts as he tells a story of a boy that to my 19-year old self back then, it just felt so cathartic. Never mind if I couldn’t relate with the lyrics of the song, totally. But it’s just how Eddie Vedder opens his mouth and just speaks those words through a melodic tune that’s brutal. And fierce. It’s the different emotions of Vedder’s singing, Ament, Gossard and McCready’s guitar playing, and Kruzen’s drumming that gave impact to the song which grabbed everyone’s attention. And the effect was so subliminal. It was magic. It was life-changing. From being sad and pensive, I became a fan of Pearl Jam. That even if my allowance in college was only P70, I would try to save money so I could collect Pearl Jam’s old and new albums, in cassette tapes then later on in CD format. (My Pearl Jam cassette tapes, by the way, despite the decade that passed, still remain of good quality today. Thank God.)
“Smile,” “Red Mosquito,” “Present Tense,” “Spin the Black Circle,” “Whipping,” “Daughter,” “In Hiding,” “Given to Fly,” “Faithful,” “Rats,” these are just some of my favorite Pearl Jam songs.
They say we should forget our past and just focus on the present. But not all from your past should be forgotten. Memories from our past oftentimes can help us to continue living in the present and remember how far we have gone in our journey, how brave we are to reach this far, this age despite the trials and tragedies. Whenever I would revisit my Pearl Jam cassette tapes and CDs, it would always bring me back to those yesteryears of my life, of who I was then, then I would reflect on the person that I turned out to be now. Pearl Jam is one of those things from my past that deserves remembering and revisiting. For it was–and still is–the music of Pearl Jam that has kept me alive and brought me to where I am now (different from who I used to be, more expressive I guess. And more assertive I hope). Pearl Jam has helped me walk forward to the beat of my own drums.
Thank you Eddie Vedder, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, and all their drummers who became or is still part of the band–Dave Krusen, Matt Chamberlain, Dave Abbruzzese, Jack Irons, Matt Cameron– and though so many years have passed and you’re looking older now, hehe, you are my personal heroes. Your gift of music has helped me in so many ways.
I just remembered Pearl Jam today, November 1, All Saints’ Day. I’ve been really itching for a long time to write about them in my blog for special and sentimental reasons and I am glad I am able to do it now.
As a special tribute to Pearl Jam, I am posting here a very beautiful article written by Jessica Zafra, a newspaper columnist, after she attended the very first (and hopefully not the last), one-night only concert of Pearl Jam in the Philippines. The year was 1995. And I treasured this article, kept in my personal files folder for years, and now I am sharing it, especially to those Pearl Jam fans like me. I copied this from Zafra’s book 2 edition of Twisted which contains her collection of articles.
By Jessica Zafra
I had thought of calling my Pearl Jam article “Stormy Vedder” or “Veni, Vidi, Vedder” or “Vedderman”—something catchy and cute. Two seconds into the concert I knew they were all wrong. This event had nothing to do with cuteness. It was ugly. If you really want to know—hot, sweaty, and reeking.
I was not prepared for the raw, primal emotion that was unleashed at the Folk Arts Theatre on Sunday Night. It roared into the packed arena like an animal bursting out of its cage, and we knew that the animal was us.
It was the voice that triggered it: the low, distinctive part-growl, part-howl, that seemed to have been wrenched from the deepest corners of Eddie Vedder’s soul. It rose and meshed with the guitars and the drums to touch something we had put away, something so ugly that we buried it and forgot that it was there.
What, after all, does Eddie sing about? Pain, confusion, loss. Children robbed of their innocence, children tormented by the people who are supposed to love them. Young people locked up in hospitals, women trapped in dead-end relationships. He sings about ugliness, and the audience response. Let it all out, he says. Be angry. Dredge up your misery, hatred, lust. Release them, and be free. There is the promise of redemption, the tinge of hope that eluded Kurt Cobain, who found peace at the end of a shotgun. “Saw things clearer once you were in my rearview mirror,” sings the former battered child, and the boy who discovers the cruel truth about his father can say, “I’m still alive.” Ironically “Rearviewmirror” is about suicide, and “Alive” is about a serial killer. Somewhere in the process of recording and performing, whether the band intended it or not, these songs became anthems to life.
Some critics wonder at the huge popularity of Pearl Jam, pointing out that this band has more artful arrangements and that band has more literate lyrics. And yet Pearl Jam has succeeded in connecting with its audience in a way few bands ever have. They seem to have plugged into the right frequency—the cable-TV channel, as it were, of the unconscious.
That is why a Pearl Jam concert cannot be an orderly affair with nicely dressed, well-groomed people in numbered seats clapping politely after every number. No, passion requires chaos: the crowd pushing and jostling to reach the front of the stage, the heat and sweat, the reek of bodies packed into the platform, the deafening screams. This is ritual, and Eddie Vedder is our shaman.
Notes from the Moshpit, 26 February 1995
9:00 a.m. To get into the spirit of things I contemplate not washing my hair. The de rigueur hairstyle at these grungefests is long, lank, and greasy, plastered to your head with sweat and city grime. However the mere thought of not washing my hair causes my scalp to itch, and I end up dashing to the bathroom for a shampoo.
1:00 p.m. I head for Mcdonald’s on Vito Cruz to meet two friends so we can proceed to Folk Arts Theater together. I was supposed to watch the concert with Ayee, but at the last minute she was assigned to babysit the Seattle band Mudhoney, the front act of the evening. (Sure she hung out backstage, but she saw everything from the rear. Though I love Eddie, I am not interested in the state of his glutes.) Then I find that my friend had the P600 bleacher tickets. I had bought the P700 ticket for the platform—the standing-room-only, fight-your-way-to-the-front type. I would have to watch Pearl Jam by myself.
2:00 p.m. I can’t believe I’m sitting on the concrete, baking in the sun, lining up for a show that starts at 7:30. I can’t believe I’m completely surrounded by noisy zit-faced hormonal adolescents in black T-shirts with different band logos on them.
I can’t believe I’m the oldest person in this line. I console myself with the thought that I am the same age as Eddie Vedder. For the record I wish to state that long before the grunge thing, I had been tying long-sleeved shirts around my waist. It is not a fashion statement, it’s just convenient, plus it covers my rear.
2:35 p.m. I consider leaving the line and popping over to the Westin Philippine Plaza for a Coke. I had brought a book to read, but the sun is too bright and I’m getting a headache. I am about to get up when the sound check begins, and Eddie Vedder’s familiar howl cuts through the crazy yellow sunlight. The hundred or so people in line start singing along to “Betterman” and “Deep.” I decide to stay put.
What the hell, I owe Pearl Jam one. Three. I’ve never met the guys, but I have filched some story plots from their songs, and they have pulled me out of the pit a few times. One time I was wandering around the supermarket, feeling like a giant scar, listening to Pearl Jam’s Ten on my Walkman. On my way out the guy at the package counter pointed at the tape I was holding and started singing “Jeremy.” I don’t know why, but that made me feel better.
3:43 p.m. After you’ve been sitting in the sun for a while your mind goes blank. It’s actually rather pleasant, not thinking. The teenage guys in front of me are having a discussion about kuto (head lice), viz, what causes them. One guy fears that prolonged exposure to sunshine will give him kuto. Another guy says sunlight will cause the kuto larvae on his scalp to hatch, and another ventures his expert opinion that light will activate bacteria on his head, spawning lice.
Mostly I’m worried about dandruff. That, and skin cancer.
4:00 p.m. A friend of mine, a lawyer, happens by. “I’m treating the UP debating team to the concert because we beat Ateneo,” he announces.
“Where are you sitting?” I ask.
“In the bleachers.”
“Weenie,” I mutter.
Then two friends come along. “Are you writing about the concert?” Paolo says.
“No, I’m just sitting here getting fried, then I’ll go in there and get squashed and scream my lungs out, but I’m not going to write a word about it.”
“Oh,” he says, scampering off.
4:30 p.m. A bunch of high-school girls from International School join the line. One of them produces a pair of scissors, and while her giggling friends watch, cuts off another girl’s jeans at the knees. While she’s still in them, I mean. “What jeans are those?” one girl asks. “Oh, they’re only Gap,” the owner replies.
God, when are they opening the gates?
4:45 p.m. “They’re opening the gates!” A roar goes through the crowd and the people sitting on the pavement shoot to their feet in a long wave that snakes around the theatre and winds towards the parking lots. Those in the shade squeeze back in line, and dozens of people manage to cut into the queue. This is for all those who made singit (no English equivalent): may your hair fall out, may you grow old and flatulent, and may you become exactly what you hate.
False alarm. We all sit down again. Wait a minute, didn’t the organizers announce they were opening the gates at four? Aaargh.
5:00 p.m. A guy walks up to me and asks for my autograph. I’m not kidding. “No,” I say. He laughs and repeats the question. “Go away,” I snarl. “Hey, you’re really funny,” he laughs. What can I do—I sign the back of his ticket and he goes away.
Hey, I’m almost famous. I’m not sure I like it. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it sucks. Magnify this incident ten million times and you begin to understand why Eddie Vedder sometimes goes around in a Halloween mask.
5:30 p.m. The gates are opened and the line starts to move. The guards at the entrance frisk everyone for weapons, drugs, alcohol, water bottles, anything that can be thrown at the stage. The word goes down the line: No belts allowed. The guys in front of me take off their belts and hand them to this one guy who dashes to their car. Pity the guys with low-slung jeans.
The guy next to me doesn’t have a car, so he puts his belt around his chest like a really weird bra. “You’re going to get caught,” his friend warns him. He shrugs. I wonder if he got in.
The line moves at a crawl—the guards seem very thorough, although they are of no use whatsoever in preventing singitan. The floodlights are turned on. The one on our side of the line starts smoking like a fog machine. “It’s Eddie!” some young louts screech.
“It’s Eddie! He’s coming out!” Ha ha ha.
The sun goes down and a cool breeze blows in from the bay. I think I’m catching a cold.
6:25 p.m. I’m a little worried about my Swiss Army knife—what if they consider it a weapon and deny me entrance? There will be bloodshed! Two guards inspect my bag—they’re looking for water bottles, so they miss my knife completely.
6:30 p.m. I’m inside!
Jeez, it’s hot. The humidity is awful—it’s like inhaling water. The platform is divided by a barrier—I make my way to the inner platform, which packed beyond relief. I’m about fifteen meters from the stage and there’s a solid wall of bodies in front of me—I can’t see a blasted thing. When the lights go down I’m going to have to fight my way to the stage.
Around me guys are taking off their shirts and standing around with testosteroney “Aaay, check out my bod” attitudes. Hey, I didn’t know you could be skinny and flabby at the same time. Incredible: these guys have no muscular definition to speak of. If this is a meat market I’m definitely turning vegetarian.
Occasionally some people near the stage squeeze towards the back. They’re wrecked—greenish, gasping for air, and drenched in sweat, as if someone had doused them with buckets of water. “My God!” the girl next to me exclaims. “There are gangs in front and they’re pushing everyone!”
The bleachers are too far to dive from, but that doesn’t stop guys from body-surfing: their friends hoist them up over their heads and they slide across people’s raised hands.
“This is so stupid,” the girl next to me says.
Stupid and contagious.
7:00 p.m. “The people in front are getting crushed,” someone announces. “Everybody please move back three steps. The band won’t come out until everybody steps back.”
We step back. How am I going to see anything?
7:40 p.m. Mudhoney opens the show with 45 minutes of unabated, grueling, seizure-inducing guitar noise.
A bit of grunge history: Mudhoney was spawned in the same Seattle scene which gave birth to Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam. Mark Arm and Steve Turner of Mudhoney were with Pearl Jam’s bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard in the punk band Green River. Then Green River broke up and Ament and Gossard joined up with Andrew Wood to form Mother Love Bone. Then Andy Wood died of a heroine overdose. Then Ament and Gossard started jamming with guitarist Mike McCready. Gossard put together a demo tape of his stuff, and a copy wound up with ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers (now Pearl Jam) drummer Jack Irons in Los Angeles. Irons passed on the tape to a surfer friend of his who worked in a petroleum company by day and stayed up all night writing and singing. One morning while surfing the guy thought up the words for an Ament-Gossard piece called “Dollar Short.” It went, “Son, she said, Have I got a little story for you. What you thought was your daddy was nothing but…” The guy went home, and in a flurry, wrote “Alive” and some other songs, including “Black.” He made a tape and sent it to Gossard et al in Seattle.
And that’s how Ament, Gossard, and McCready met Eddie Vedder. They enlisted drummer Dave Abbruzzese (who was fired last year) to form a band called Mookie Blaylock, after a basketball player. Afterwards they changed the name to Pearl Jam.
Here endeth the lesson.
I can’t see the band at all, goddamnit. Everyone is dancing—basically jumping in place, which is all there is space for—and headbanging hard enough to get whiplash. By jumping as high as I can I manage to catch glimpses of Mudhoney.
I know exactly two songs by Mudhoney: “Overblown” and “Touch me, I’m sick,” but that doesn’t stop me from screaming. Concerts are great for primal scream therapy, and they’re cheaper than shrinks.
8:30 p.m. The left side of my head just above my eyebrow is throbbing. I don’t know if it’s from the heat, the humidity, the lack of oxygen, hunger, or all of the above. I sit down on the wooden platform. My knee is on someone’s lap—I don’t care. The people next to me are discussing their diets. “Oatmeal for breakfast, oatmeal for lunch, oatmeal for dinner,” says the girl. The guy says, “Bananas.” I close my eyes, and right there in the middle of the swarm I fall asleep. Fortunately there is no space in which to keel over. A few minutes later I wake up with a jolt. “Are you all alone?” the girl asks me, which is really sweet of her. “Yes!” I reply. I feel a whole lot better.
8:45 p.m. That boy is making eyes at me, I swear to God, the intense-looking shirtless one with the cockroach tattooed on his hand. He is kind of cute, but about eighteen. He’s doing that thing—you know, the macho-but-vulnerable soulful stare—and I nearly burst into laughter. Sweetcakes, does your mother know you make goo-goo eyes at strange old women?
8:55 p.m. I am sitting in the sweltering pit amid a crush of bodies, my T-shirt and jeans soaked in sweat, my lungs screaming for oxygen. It’s like a sauna in here, one of those ritual hothouses where the members of the tribe dehydrate, smoke themselves into a stupor, and have mass hallucinations. It’s an Iron John bonding experience, very interesting, but I’m more interested in figuring out how to get in front. I suppose I could try squeezing in, except that there is no space to insert myself into. I could try body-surfing, but I’m clumsy.
There’s only one thing left to do: Teleportation! I close my eyes and concentrate on scattering my molecules and reassembling my physical body in front of the stage. Suddenly there is a roar like an oncoming train—I got to my feet, and the people behind me surge towards the stage. I am borne on a wave of bodies, and when the wave stops I am scrunched at the center of the mass perhaps ten meters from the stage, and Pearl Jam begins a slow, almost stately “Release.” Eddie Vedder grips the mike stand and looks out upon the churning sea of humans. He opens his mouth to intone the words—and the audience sings them to him.
Every word, every line, every “OOOOOh” in the refrain. The song builds in intensity until the theatre is filled with a long, low howl. I can barely hear the singer but I see his face, the sweet, almost cherubic features contorted into a grimace.
Then Stone Gossard kicks into “Last Exit” and the crowd hurls itself into a mad dance. The girl behind me climbs onto her boyfriend’s shoulders, and the boy on my right is flailing about so much I’m afraid his head will fly off his body. Then comes “Spin the Black Circle,” the band’s ode to vinyl records, and the dancing gets more furious—I’m drenched with sweat and it’s not all mine. Onstage there’s something odd about Eddie: he’s smiling. My God, what have we done—Eddie Vedder is happy.
The audience greets the opening chords of “Why Go” by chanting “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” Then they sing the whole song. On one hand I’m a little pissed because I didn’t pay to hear community singing, I paid to hear Pearl Jam. On the other hand I’m singing with Pearl Jam. We’re, like, one. Talk about a bonding experience.
9:30 p.m. A dork in front of the stage grabs Eddie’s leg and he falls down. Screams. He gets up—I supposed he’s used to this.
The guys in front beat up the dork.
“Mabuhay!” Eddie says. The band whips through the most of the songs in their new album Vitalogy: “Tremor Christ,” “Immortality,” “Whipping,” “Corduroy.” Interesting side note: no one onstage appears to be in corduroy, or grunge band-issue flannel, or Doc Martens. They’re all in T-shirts, cutoff jeans and sneakers. Eddie has a shirt on over his T-shirt; the sleeves rolled up, revealing his biceps—the man has been working out. He launches into “Evenflow,” and the audience goes berserk.
What I want to know is, how did these people figure out the lyrics to the songs? I’ve been listening to the band for years, and I still don’t get what he’s mumbling. Wait a minute. The guys standing in line behind me were carrying “songhits,” those little magazines which print the lyrics—often hilariously wrong—of popular songs. These people reviewed for the singalong.
The opening bars of “Daughter” ignite mass hysteria, and the voices of the audience completely drown out the singer. One of the strengths of Pearl Jam is its empathy with women—amazing when you consider the macho preening and swaggering that afflicts many bands. “Don’t call me daughter,” says the woman to the parents who hold her back. In “Betterman,” the story of a woman hanging on to an unhappy marriage, “She likes and says she’s in love with him/ Can’t find a better man.” And the deceptively quiet “Elderly Woman Behind A Counter In A Small Town” seethes with long-buried emotions. “I just want to scream, Hello!” says the old woman who accidentally meets a former lover. “My God, it’s been so long, never dreamed you’d return/ But now here you are, and here I am/ Hearts and thoughts, they fade away.”
Around me people are screaming for “Black.” It’s a little hard to scream “Elderly Woman Behind A Counter In A Small Town!”
“Daughter” leads into “W.M.A. (White Male American),” a song about abuse of police authority. The band delivers a funky “Glorified G,” and a scathing “Porch.” “Satan’s Bed” has the crowd yelling “Already… in love!” “Not for You” sums up the spirit of Vitalogy, an uncatchy album which seems to have been designed to alienate the “fans” who embraced Pearl Jam because it had become fashionable. “This is not for you!” Eddie screams at his audience—and they love it.
The teenage boy standing next to me bends down low and starts retching—I don’t know if it’s nausea or drunkenness. He’s crouched there for a long time; maybe he’s having a heart attack but has no room to topple over. “You okay?” I ask him. He nods. Jeez, you’re about sixteen. I’m nearly thirty, and I feel wonderful. I’ve lost around five pounds of water—unfortunately it got soaked up by my clothes, so I feel like I’m dancing underwater.
10:00 p.m. “There are people out there trying to come in, and they’re dispersed with water cannons,” Eddie says. “Let’s not hurt each other.”
He hurls himself into “Alive.”
First time I heard “Alive” I was washing the dishes. My friend’s copy of Ten was playing on the stereo. Something about the song—that great bridge, maybe, or the voice that seemed to bleed—made me drop the sponge and walk over to the stereo. I stood there until the song was finished. My eyes were wide open. My hair was standing on end. I wanted to light a candle.
I wonder how Eddie feels, hearing his words repeated on thousands of lips. I wonder what it’s like to be the screwy kid who suddenly becomes the idol of millions.
“Jeremy” is cathartic. It doesn’t take a literary genius to write a line like “Daddy didn’t give attention/ To the fact that Mommy didn’t care,” but when Eddie sings it you know that the words were ripped out of him. “Clearly I remember picking on the boy,” Eddie cries, “Seemed a harmless little fuck.” My parents love me, and I wasn’t picked on in grade school, but suddenly I am Jeremy. I’m the little twerp who gets sick of being pushed around and finally wigs out in the classroom. “Jeremy spoke in class today,” the audience roars, pumping their fists in the air. The song ends in a communal howl. I feel drained, like I’ve just been exorcised.
10:20 p.m. Eddie squints at a piece of paper and utters the classic Pinoy salutation: “Ayos ba tayo diyan?” The audience goes nuts. He takes a swig from a plastic bottle of mineral water, then he starts walking around the stage and sprinkling the people in the front rows. The gesture is not lost on the audience: some guys start chanting “John Paul Two, we love you!”
The band tears through “Deep,” “Betterman,” “Rearviewmirror.” Then they play “Black.” Despair, confusion, loss, bitterness, blind unanswered passion—everything burns in this song, and by the time Eddie sings “We… belong… together” my face is streaming with sweat, tears and snot. Funny how a complete stranger can speak to us and for us, and yet that’s what he is, a complete stranger. No matter how well he vivisects his soul for public listening, we can not really know him. We don’t have to. He could be a complete dickhead at home, but when he sings he becomes our voice.
“Thank you for coming to see us, it’s been our pleasure,” he says. “This has been the best gig ever on our Asian tour. Thank you. Be strong. Have good lives.”
They close their set with a rousing cover of “Let My Love Open The Door” by The Who. They leave the stage while the crowd sings “More!”
10:55 p.m. The audience has started trickling out. I want to see what it’s like in front of the stage, so I move forward. I’m maybe three meters from the stage when the band comes back. Eddie takes the mike and sings “Indifference.” “How much difference does it make?” he bellows—strange ending for a concert that has obviously affected so many. Then he says “Good night” and walks away.
I join the horde trudging towards the exit. My feet hurt. It’s 11:05, and suddenly I’m wide awake.
Pearl Jam today