Pearl Jam

– by Victoria Anderson

Nostalgia is a beast, and it seems there comes a time where its warm, fuzzy yet duplicitous embrace really starts to kick in, kind of like trying not to fall asleep in zero temperatures.

Everything fun recently seems to be a blast from the past. Adam from The Adam and Joe Show’s in town? I’m there! The Stone Roses reform? You couldn’t love to hate anything more! And it was even surprising to find how secretly exciting it was to get the email announcing a Liverpool New Kids on the Block date. SECRETLY, mind.

But the most interesting and personal one so far was an exclusive showing of the new documentary about Pearl Jam. The film has been shown only twice at special screenings at FACT in the last month. The first sold out (a national release, for one night only), although the second was quieter.


It should have been amazing, but director Cameron Crowe seemed so involved he missed what makes that band so interesting. I wanted to be glued to my seat weeping tears of nostalgic joy, but found myself running out to the loo somewhere around the ten year mark, which oddly enough was where I gave up on the band in real life. After that, Crowe didn’t make clear what anybody would have missed in between then and catching up with their beautifully uplifting 2009 album Backspacer. He did, however, interview himself in a section emphasising the importance of his own movie Singles. With all that Pearl Jam took on and won over the years, it was certainly a skewed perspective.

Tellingly, the band were never interviewed together, and neither were former members (or other pertinent figures) invited back into the fray, which is a shame because it would have been good to hear from Dave Abbruzzese, the drummer who was kicked out for enjoying being a rock star too much, the poor sod. Pearl Jam Twenty was clique-y and clunky. It didn’t make itself approachable to outsiders (like the best rock docs do) and, the more I think about it, the more unsatisfying it seemed. The best bits came from the archive footage, not the surprisingly unchallenging interviews that did not stretch past the band and Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell.

Watching Stone Gossard and Eddie Vedder (pictured) toy with the song that would become Daughter at the back of a tour bus in the early 90s was spine-tingling. Seeing Vedder and Cornell tussle on stage like some cubs out of the Lion King while never missing a note of Hunger Strike was a joy. Hearing an arena full of people save the frontman the bother of singing Better Man, a slowie about domestic violence, was eerie and something only a band with devotees like Pearl Jam could achieve (and again, something Crowe would have done better to try and explain).

Snippets of TV shows like Celebrity Deathmatch, shaky clips of Vedder and Kurt Cobain hugging backstage at an MTV do, and a peek at the column from Kerrang magazine the band derided so much for its vacuous subjectivity, the beautifully stupid reverse sexism of ‘Gaggin’ for a Shaggin’’, was mind-blowingly evocative.

There was the interesting argument that the Seattle scene of the early 90s was exceptional because of its supportive environment. The bands didn’t compete, they helped each other and were generous towards each other in an industry where bands in New York or California would sell their
peers’ grannies for commercial success. Maybe that’s why it all felt like such an important place to the disaffected yoof of the time. In the same way, they educated and politicised their fans’ like minds without it ever seeming that way. That Unplugged footage of Vedder standing on a stool and writing ‘PRO-CHOICE’ on his arm didn’t seem like any big deal to a UK teen, but it was a huge statement on prime time American TV. It still would be now.

To be reminded of just how bloody good they are all these years down the line, firstly with ‘Backspacer’ – which remains one of the best albums of the last few years – and now Pearl Jam Twenty, is just a great thing. In my youth I may have been a bit of a po-faced uber-grunge kid, but was one who didn’t half nail their colours to the right mast.

For Pearl Jam, the cheekbones may have fleshed out and the dubious blouses been consigned to the dustbin of history, but the songs – those songs – were really, truly built to last. They’re still writing them. And even the quickest trip down memory lane can forgive Chris Cornell that regrettable album with Timbaland.

Pearl Jam Twenty
Selected cinemas nationwide