When I was in high school, a friend of mine once referred to Garth Brooks as “country’s Pearl Jam.” The implication was that pretty much everyone—at least within the genre of country music—liked Garth Brooks, just like everyone liked the band Pearl Jam. This would have been in 9th, maybe 10th grade, a year or two after the release of the band’s debut, Ten. It was one of the first albums I bought on CD, after mom bought me my first CD player in 8th grade, a lunky boom box with detachable speakers that seems positively prehistoric when I consider my first iPod (also a gift from mom). There was no sleek maneuverability, no simple, sophisticated design. It was all awkward functionality with no style, which, oddly enough, also describes me during that era. I was one of the masses who liked Pearl Jam (as well as Eddie Vedder’s remarkable voice and cheekbones).
I’ve been thinking about Pearl Jam since watching Pearl Jam 20, the documentary about the band’s two decades of making music, directed by Cameron Crowe, a favorite around here. As always, it’s hard to separate my thoughts of the movie from my emotional reaction to it. First, there’s the obvious “I’m getting old” feeling that comes with seeing a span of time within your own life being depicted as a piece of history, with nostalgia usually reserved for periods long before you were born. Then there’s the music itself, the memories it evokes and the strange satisfaction that comes from having been there at the beginning of something that has endured at least this long, something authentic.
The documentary itself is a straight-up bio: the story of how the members found each other, found their sound and evolved over their many years together. It doesn’t really try to reveal any universal truths about music or the “grunge” scene or the 90s, nor about the motivations of Generation X back then or the suburban ennui that alternative music of that era was supposedly raging against (although there are two funny clips in the movie of the recently deceased Andy Rooney, RIP, doing his best curmudgeon, complaining about how the kids need to get over themselves because they really have nothing to complain about). This is the movie’s strength, that it is primarily about the band and their music. And yet while I watched I found myself thinking about the kid I was and the desire to be careless and do stupid things, however clichéd the desire and despite there being nothing in particular at that time for me or anyone to rebel against.
I was not one to act on this desire, certainly not in the way it is illustrated in the movie, with band members jumping headfirst into the teeming mosh pits that were their audiences to crowd surf. Still, I related to it. And it was oddly comforting to be reminded of myself as a teenager, perfectly capable of being rash and taking myself and my very tame version of adolescent irrationality very seriously. It was also comforting to be reminded that the pipers of this era of my life turned out to be fairly well adjusted people too, which kind of explains why they made it this far and why they and their music are just as interesting and entertaining now as they were back then.
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When hubby and I sat down to watch Pearl Jam 20 on October 21, the birth of our daughter was still days away. So our conversation after the movie ended eventually turned, as most of our conversations did in the previous months, to our daughter and, among other things, just what we were going to name her. I noted that if we had a boy in the future, I kind of liked the name Stone, like Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard. He said Stone made him think of Stone Phillips, who is not nearly as cool. Then he suggested Pearl as a complement to Sofia, long the first name frontrunner. We noted that we lived in the neighborhood of the Old South Pearl business district (and we love it here) and that pearl is my birthstone. We didn’t settle on it right then, but when we saw her face for the first time a few days later, Sofia Pearl seemed like the perfect fit. She’s our little precious stone. I wonder if she’ll like her name, and more so I wonder what she’ll think of her parents’ music.