First, I have to plug a bit about 92.1 FM WFUZ. Thanks for the free tickets to PJ20!
The show was fantastic. I drummed on my lap, rocked in the rocking seats in the super-sweet IMAX theater, and yes, cried. There’s something about the magnitude of watching the last two decades of my life, through Pearl Jam, flash before my eyes.
Much of my life has been owned by this band yet I never really thought it was something others would take seriously, so I never truly celebrated it. Certain things are just a part of who you are (<–were you singing the song just then? I was) and are so ingrained in our natures that we often don’t realize it.
My abiding and undying love for Pearl Jam defines me, and always will. It started when I was ten years old and jumped out of my skin the day I earned enough allowance to purchase Ten on cassette.
I’ll share a bit of my memoir here:
[Jeremy’s] influence led up to one of the most exciting days in my adolescence. By late summer 1992, I’d saved up enough allowance to purchase Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten, on cassette. Mom promised to take me to Hill’s Department Store that evening for my purchase. I’d been in love 12 days. It all started with my brother annoying me while I was writing.
Rewind about two weeks. I was sprawled across my bed writing in a three-subject spiral bound notebook with one of my favorite blue pens when Jeremy yelled for me. “Rachael! Come here, dude!” I stopped, pen poised in hand.
“What do you want?” I complained over my shoulder. I hated when people interrupted my daydreaming and writing time.
“Just come the fuck here, all right? You gotta see this!” I heard the volume increase on our television. MTV was already a staple in Jeremy’s world. I let the pen fall out of my hand as I leapt up from the bed and made the short trip up our hallway, my waist-length golden blonde hair trailing behind me. The living room was adjacent to my bedroom and the TV was located against the wall where I laid my head at night. I pushed my bifocals up my nose as I rounded the corner into the living room.
“What is—” I started, but Jeremy impatiently waved me into silence and pointed adamantly at the TV. I saw a tall man with wavy brown hair and a wild look in his eye clutching his elbows. He was clad in a brown corduroy jacket and he had the most intense blue eyes I’d ever seen. The screen flashed from him to a black-haired boy coloring pictures of elementary school expertise. The man sang, “Daddy didn’t give affection, oh; and the boy was somethin’ that mommy wouldn’t wear…King Jeremy the wicked, oh, ruled his world…Jeremy spoke in claaaaaaass today.” I glanced at my Jeremy. He nodded to the beat with excited green eyes, still pointing at the screen. He still acts this very same way when he’s excited about music today. His eyes take on an eerie energy, and he always has to look at you for approval. Sometimes I feel like we’re the only two who appreciate music with the same intensity.
I smiled at him briefly but my eyes followed his pointing finger back to the 19-inch Magnavox frame that caged in this divine and yet troubled human being. I felt like I was looking into a mirror. When the man glanced toward the camera lens I felt his blue orbs hit me like an icy tidal wave. Damnable pane of glass! I wanted to reach right into the screen and tell him I knew his pain. I felt such strong feelings course through my ten-year-old body that I was uncomfortable standing in the room with my brother.
The song progressed into something wild with distorted guitars all the while this beautiful man was emanating a haunting wail in the background, “Whooooooooo-ooooh-oh-oh-oh-oh….spoke in…Jeremy spoke in claaass today…” There was a strobe-light head banging scene—flashes of wild, wavy brown hair flew like streamers across the screen. The video ended with cardboard cutouts of the boy’s classmates covered in blood. The story of the song is true, too. A neglected boy blew his brains out in front of his classmates.
I was disturbed by the video. It didn’t feel right to stand there feeling attracted to a man who just went crazy in a video about a violent suicide. The song ends by slowing down until it finishes with one haunting clang on the electric guitar. The video jockey (VJ), Steve Isaacs, came on with a cheerfulness that trumped the devastation we just witnessed. Steve was so adorable. He would become my favorite VJ. “That was Pearl Jam!” He announced, “With their hit single, ‘Jeremy’…kids don’t try that at home. Or school…” but Steve faded into the background as I looked to my Jeremy.
“Don’t try that at school, all right, Bubby?” Yes, I still called him Bubby. To this day I call him Moey, even. Mom will still call him “Moe” on occasion. When I was a toddler I called him “Me-Moe” and it got shortened to Moey or Moe by later adolescence. We have a history of strange nicknames. Mom even calls me “Sis” to this day, which I know is weird but I like to think of it as her way of trying to keep the three of us close together. Jeremy always called me “Rae-Rae” or “Sissy.” These days, he calls me “Rach” or “Sis,” so I guess Mom’s chosen nickname has worked.
“Yeah, well if I was gonna have the balls to do it, I wouldn’t waste it on those bastards,” Jeremy retorted.
“They can’t all be bastards. You don’t even know them yet.” He was about to start seventh grade in a new middle school, one town away from where we grew up in Blacksburg, Virginia.
“Whatever dude, I’m not gonna off myself.” He nervously chewed on his thumb cuticle. Just when I thought this was my cue for dismissal, he looked back to me. “Well? What the fuck was that? What’d you think? Crazy shit, huh?”
“Um, yeah. Those guys rule.” He had no idea. Jeremy and I have always shared a similar love of music. We love almost all the same music to this day, in fact, but I could never share this moment with him the way I could have with a girlfriend. He’d never understand the way I felt when I saw Eddie staring at me with those haunting blue eyes.
“You can say that again—yeah. And he’s all ‘hoo—hoo—hoo-whooooaaaaaa…’” Jeremy re-enacted the head-banging scene until I laughed. “And Jeremy’s like ‘fuck it, man! I’m gonna off myself on you bastards!’ How sick is that?” He sat back up on the couch and looked at me, completely composed. For a boy who’d been reading Stephen King since the third grade, this was mild for him. I rolled my eyes at his delight in gore.
“S’pretty sick, man. But Pearl Jam? Righteous, brother.” I turned to go.
“No doubt,” he said, pulling on his cuticles with his teeth again.
“Thanks, man. I’ll be writing. Call me if another one comes on,” I told him.
“’K, Sis. Rock on.” That day changed the entire course of my life. It’s funny how you hear stories about how a split-second decision saves a train from de-railing or how one person saves another’s life by leaping out in front of a bus…or about how some impoverished family wins the lottery and uses the funding for good (it was never us, but we were always hopeful.) My pivotal moment occurred there in the living room of our small, ranch-style house staring at the 19-inch Magnavox TV Mom won in the divorce settlement. I never realized then that this band would become my life, my salve, my path to healing. While Jeremy was often the reason for most of my adolescent heartache, he is redeemed because he lead me to a way to heal from it.
It would have been in no way right for me to take anyone other than my brother to the showing. He is responsible for passing on all the cool music of my entire life. Passion for music in innate, I think, but it takes someone or something to direct you to that pivotal moment when you realize that it is your entire world. For me, that moment was when Jeremy disturbed me from my writing to show me the disturbing “Jeremy” video on MTV that hot August day in 1992.
Eddie was everything to me that all my male role models should have been. I identified with his ability to heal through music. Though Eddie may have been the captain of the ship, my love ran deeper still. Jeff Ament helped lead me to a lifelong love of the bass guitar. Mike McCready owns a style that, the documentary said, comes from something inhuman inside him because of its power.
There’s a sound I’ve never been able to describe but I could recognize if I were deaf: Pearl Jam guitar. It’s a mix of Page, Hendrix and some special endorphin that seeps from their fingers onto the strings and into your soul. (Check out: “Inside Job,” Pearl Jam, 2005.)
But we can’t forget Stone Gossard on rhythm guitar, of whom I had such an incredible fascination with that I decided, at age ten, that my son would be called Stone, after him. (I did abide by calling my main fiction character Stone, complete with physical likeness–in my head, anyway.) It is perhaps the blend and harmonies with Gossard and McCready that make the perfect ingredient for Pearl Jam guitar.
But it all stems back to the achingly beautiful and short-lived unit, Mother Love Bone. I had a black stained-glass music note that I had someone professionally script “Andy” onto in memory of the musician I never even knew until he passed. Yet I mourned his passing even so.
This blog post could go on and on (20 years worth!) but is going to be a part of a much larger Pearl Jam tribute, alongside my own memoir. I’ll leave you with a few bits of advice:
Check out PJ20 and everything before it. 🙂
Get acquainted with Mother Love Bone.
Recognize that Matt Cameron is the man. Wait, that needs capitals: MATT CAMERON IS THE MAN. (I’m so glad he’s the drummer now!)
Let me know what you think of this post/the band, etc.
And check this out:
Be well and rock on,