In a previous post I mentioned a teenage love of Pearl Jam. I was such a grunger in the early to mid 90’s that my group of friends at school were labelled ‘Grunge Club’. It was barely an insult, in fact I liked it, it seperated us from the people we despised or ‘Ravers’ as we used to call them. I was proud to be a grunger and I had the long hair and doc martens boots to prove it.
Pearl Jam were very much a part of this. Back in the day I was glued to MTV, which in those days stood for music television, they played music videos all the time and the videos for ‘Alive’ and ‘Even Flow’ used to be on heavy rotation on the channel. Then one day I came home and my brother had very kindly recorded the Pearl Jam MTV Unplugged for me. From the moment it begun I could see that this band were about to become very important to me. They were playing an acoustic set but it was electrifying to watch. The songs didn’t lose anything by being stripped down, in fact by being played in this way you could understand just how brilliant they were. I was sold. Pearl Jam, along with Nirvana and a host of other bands, became all my friends and I would talk about. Our deputy headmaster even gave us our own room at school where we could all hang out at lunch to talk about and listen to music we were so obsessed. Hence the nickname ‘Grunge Club’.
It seems so long ago now, 20 years in fact since Pearl Jam formed. And to celebrate comes the release of the documentary film ‘PJ20’. Made by former music journo/major film director Cameron Crowe, the film documents Pearl Jam’s entire career from the early days of Green River and Mother Love Bone right up to the present day. Sometimes, when you read a book or see a programme about a band you’ve liked for a long time you’re put off by the amount of stuff you’ve already seen but that’s not the case here. From the start there is a ton of amazing footage you will have never seen before. It’s incredible just how much there is of the early years, especially before the band formed including priceless footage of Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament goofing round Seattle in the mid 80’s. The film is at it’s best with this early footage, taking you from the emotional and tragic end of Mother Love Bone, through Temple of the dog and to the start of Pearl Jam. It makes you realise what a short amount of time there was between the band forming and finding success. Eddie Vedder seemed to arrive in Seattle and days later the band had classic songs that they still play to this day. Shots of their second live show are testament to this as it shows them playing a near fully formed ‘Alive’. Things obviously took off incredibly fast for them and several other bands from Seattle. It’s amazing to think of how one scene from one city could change the face of rock music. Pearl Jam had to learn as they went along, the first big lesson as they explain was how to say “no”. This is illustrated with the bizarre and hilarious footage from the ‘Singles’ launch party, that shows Eddie Vedder to somewhat lose control. Having not seen any of this before it was amazing to see the band in a different light. The film goes on to show how the band evolved, taking control of what happened to them, taking on Ticketmaster and on to the tragedy at Roskilde that could’ve ended Pearl Jam. Cameron Crowe doesn’t use each album as chapters to tell the story instead relying on the major changing points in their history. I think this works really well to stop the film becoming a predictable, run of the mill documentary. Although the film does start to dip about two thirds of the way through. At one point it feels like it doubles back on itself by going into how some of the members met and grew up when the film already seemed a long way from this point. The dip coincides for me as to where my love for the band died down. Pearl Jam helped to introduce me to alternative music which would then turn me on to underground, independent punk rock and so on, so it was only natural that my obsession with this one band would fade. The film does keep you interested right to the end, however. It’s comforting to see Eddie writing setlist’s for shows minutes before they go out onstage, showing you that nothings changed and the band still have the same morals that made them a great band in the first place.
Apart from seeing most of Pearl Jam as Neil Young’s backing band at Reading festival 1995, it pains me to say the only time I’ve seen them play was at Wembley Arena on the No Code tour in 1996. It pains me because we had seated tickets at the very back! I wish I could’ve seen them play up close, the film has so much live footage from throughout their career it gives me regrets. Although, I do remember that even though it was a struggle to see them from the back they still had me captivated. There may have been a tear or two while they played ‘Animal’, tears of joy obviously. That night my friend Gee and I missed the last train home, but spent the time sat outside London Victoria station waiting to be picked up recalling all 25 songs they played, trying to put them in the set order. It certainly gave us comfort, which is just what two 16 year old, out of town boys needed because we were proper scared sat there at 2am.
PJ20 confirms and reaffirms what you knew all along, that Eddie Vedder is exactly the perfect ‘rock star’ you always knew him to be. He cares. He always puts the music and the fans first because he knows what really matters. He understands its important to get things right for everyone. Seeing him sat being interviewed on ‘Headbangers Ball’ with Fugazi written in pen on his arm reminds you that although he became a world famous front man he has never lost that independent mindset and his voice is one of the most memorable and mind blowing in music history. Why else would it have been copied so much if it wasn’t. Even Kurt knew he was a great guy, one of the films definite highlights is seeing the touching video of the Kurt and Eddie slow dancing backstage at the MTV video music awards. Pearl Jam will always hold a special place in my heart and this film is a great reminder of that. I said on this very blog a few weeks ago that nostalgia is bullshit, and it is, but there is nothing wrong in sitting for 2 hours watching a film about a band you used to love. Especially when the film is as brilliantly well made as this. If you ever liked Pearl Jam, grunge, music or the 90’s then I’d recommend very highly that you watch PJ20.