God, Eddie Vedder, and a Dark and Lonely Road October 25, 2009Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs.
Tags: Backspacer, death, Divine Inspiration, Eddie Vedder, god, life, love, meaning, Pearl Jam, prophetic voice, youth
Headlights cut a swath through the dark canvass of night, lighting the two lane path through the rural Arkansas night as my car sped along the lonesome, unlit road. On either side of the vehicle lay fields of cotton and other assorted crops, flat, seemingly endless planes stretching unseen into the black horizon. The sky was dotted with what seemed to be an infinite number of stars to this boy from the city, where light pollution erased any semblance of star gazing, and I fought the urge to stare into the depths of space normally unseen. The road and the darkness were my only companions.
This had been a quick trip to my hometown of Beebe, some 130 miles from our current home on the outskirts of Memphis, on a Saturday evening in order to give our chocolate lab, Hershey, a new and better home with my in-laws. The drive usually takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes, give or take for traffic and construction, of which about half is on a two lane highway between Beebe and Brinkley, Arkansas, passing through small towns in various states of decay like Des Arc and Cotton Plant, before hitting I-40 in Brinkley for the second and faster moving leg of the trip through the eastern side of the state and across the river into Memphis. It is a rather boring drive, so I made sure to load myself up with an amount of caffeine that would no doubt qualify as liquid speed, beginning with a 5 hour energy shot before I left Memphis and finishing with a couple of cups of after dinner coffee at my parents’ house. As would be expected, I was flying high with energy.
Those of you who know me well know that there are few things more important to me than the soundtrack I choose to listen to each day. Music carries a special significance in my life for it is the fuel that powers my very being, it challenges and inspires in a way that few other things can. So I thought for a few minutes about what album or playlist I wanted to treat my ears and mind to for the drive ahead but it did not take very much time before the answer became clear.
This has been a stellar year for new music, but there is one title in particular that has truly grabbed me from the first time I listened to it. This powerful collection of songs bored directly into my very soul and I knew that it was something special, something transcendent that I would not soon forget. Of course, as most of you probably know, the album of which I speak is Pearl Jam’s newest release, Backspacer. As I’ve spoken of before, Pearl Jam have held a special place to me ever since their 1991 debut, Ten, and I have followed them diligently ever since that time, lapping up every melody and lyric that Eddie Vedder and the boys saw fit to release – and some that they did not. They were there during the confusion and challenges of my teen years, they accompanied me as I left school and began wading my way through the world, they shouted angrily alongside me at the perversions of justice during the first 8 years of the new millennium, and today, perhaps more than ever before, they stand beside me like a good friend, a companion into a new world, one where I am now in my 30’s with a wife and kids and a job, in which their accompaniment is as important as ever. It is hard for me to put into words how I feel about this new album, but this past Saturday night I experienced something that I have not in many years, if ever and that is the story that I want to tell.
Soon the loud Johnny B Goode-style riff of the album opener, “Gonna See My Friend,” filled the car and settled back, head bobbing to the driving guitar, but as I listened my mind began to wander, picking through the lyrics and the sounds and mulling over their meaning, and at some point it was a sudden realization struck my brain with an unknown force, an epiphany of Biblical proportions under whose weight I would have staggered if I had not been seated in a minivan. This was their story and, in turn, this was my story. The first four songs on the album are among the loudest and most upbeat as they tell stories of living fast and for the moment, dealing with their flaws (in their songs this includes what sounds like drug addiction, which is certainly not my personal problem, but I know we all have shortcomings with which we have to cope) and personal failings. I see within these songs the story of youth, a time filled with exuberance and mistakes as we hammer out our small place in the universe.
This section is followed by perhaps the most powerful piece on the entire album, a song entitled, “Just Breathe,” in which the narrative takes a sudden turn, for our heroes have discovered two things that change everything: love and mortality. This is really the point where my spirit perked up as I listened to Eddie Vedder’s emotion filled voice crack over a beautifully finger-picked guitar as he seemed to struggle through many of the words.
Yes I understand that every life must end, uh huh,..
As we sit alone, I know someday we must go, uh huh,..
I’m a lucky man to count on both hands
The ones I love,..
And this was it. The point where my eyes teared up a bit, my mind raced and I realized that something had just struck me like a spiritual lightning bolt – the Divine was suddenly here, sitting alongside myself and Eddie. I thought of my wife and kids and how I don’t always show them how much I appreciate them in our busy lives. I thought of my own life and the short time that we have to walk this earth with the ones we love.
I’ve long had a feeling that I’m going to die young, but can’t quite put my finger on why. Perhaps it is due to the fact that I have already cheated death once, barely escaping its icy grip, and that the chances are low that I will once again evade it. Perhaps it is just general paranoia, though the idea doesn’t really fill me with fear, just some degree of sadness at the thought of missing my family.
And the rest of the album is filled with incredible songs having similar themes – ones of loss, regret, love, time and mortality. It is here that my melancholic soul found inspiration.
And so I press forward, inspired as a new man. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that love is the most powerful thing. All else will fail you in the end, whether it be your money or fame or religious dogma. It is all for naught. Love is what will carry you. Grasp it and don’t let it go and hold onto it until your dying day and all will be right.
The aptly titled final song on the album, “The End”, puts this in perspective when Eddie sings in the first person of someone nearing death begging their loved one to stay with them.
Don’t leave me so cold
Or buried beneath the stones
I just want to hold on
And know I’m worth your love
But the end comes suddenly as he sings the last words of the album,
But not much longer
And the music abruptly stops.
It was as though the finger of God suddenly reached through the clouds and touched me for all seemed clear, like a new plane of existence had been reached, one in which this realization was made plain. Eddie Vedder is a prophetic voice in the wilderness, a man preaching the Divine in a way that I had never heard nor felt from a preacher or church before. This is true. This is right. I smiled knowingly through watery eyes and I knew what had to be done. I had to tell my family how much I love them for nobody knows how much time is left.
It is love and only love that matters.
Looking Back from Backspacer September 22, 2009Posted by Matt in music.
Tags: album ranking, Backspacer, Binaural, Generation X, No Code, Pearl Jam, Riot Act, Ten, Vitalogy, Vs, Yield
Over the decades, music has always been an integral part of American culture, from sock hops to hippies to big hair to the multiplicity of styles available today, and each generation has their artists with whom they self-identify. For me, and I reckon many others on the younger end of generation X, there is one band that has long stood above the others – Pearl Jam.
I was 14 in 1991, the year their debut album Ten broke into the mainstream, and I have been a dedicated follower ever since, for some 18 years, over half of my life. It’s as if we’ve grown up together, and they are like friends or family that have always been there. I remember driving up to Searcy to the only music store within 40 miles of my house to buy the Vs. album on the day it came out back in 1993 and then later that year waiting in line outside a car audio store to buy tickets to their Little Rock show. Their songs of disillusionment and disnefranchisement seemed to speak to me, despite being a teenager in small town rural Arkansas and far removed from Seattle.
A few years later when I was in college I discovered a little used CD store in Little Rock where I was able to purchase two imports full of cover songs and other performances culled from the archives that I still have today. I had the chance to catch them live again in 2000 and then saw Eddie Vedder solo earlier this year, so I feel quite confident in recommending that you see them live any chance you get.
With the upcoming release of Backspacer, the latest album from Vedder & Co, coming this week, I wanted to give you my rankings of their 8 other albums spanning the past 18 years. Let me know what you think.
8. Pearl Jam (2006) – Though certainly not a bad album by any means, this one ranks last on my list due to the fact that it just is not as a memorable as their other releases. It is their political, anti-war rant that was timely when released, but that may not stand the test of time against their stronger releases. There are still some real gems on here, though, and it is definitely worth owning.
Favorite Tracks: World Wide Suicide, Unemployable
7. Binaural (2000) – For some reason, Binaural did not resonate with me from the beginning and it was not until after I saw them live later that year and went back and truly listened to it that I discovered how much I enjoyed it. The material is heavier and darker than previous releases, and lacks the anthemic tunes of the early 90’s, but it still serves a nice bridge during a commercially quieter time in their recording career.
Favorite Tracks: God’s Dice, Insignificance, Thin Air
6. No Code (1996) – I’ve long held that the oft-maligned No Code is PJ’s most misunderstood album. Their previous release, Vitalogy, had some moments of experimentation, but this is where the band stopped flirting and delved into the world of experimentalism full throttle ahead. While I will admit that it can feel a bit disjointed at times, the overall product is truly a work to be marveled at.
Favorite Tracks: Hail, Hail, Off He Goes, Red Mosquito
5. Riot Act (2002) – As much as PJ disliked the Bush Administration, he did provide quite a wealth of material to the band, as this and the aforementioned Pearl Jam are evidence of. Politically charged tunes like Bu$leaguer are products of the time and will no doubt prove to be dated over the years, but plenty of other great songs will stand the test of time.
Favorite Tracks: Love Boat Captain, I Am Mine, Thumbing My Way
4. Yield (1998) – PJ followed up their venture into experimentalism with this more conventional rock record which captures them at their ferocious best. It also doesn’t hurt that “Do the Evolution” is one of the coolest songs ever and the very best one ever recorded about evolutionary biology.
Favorite Tracks: Given to Fly, Wishlist, Do the Evolution, Low Light
3. Ten (1991) – Yes, I know it is a borderline heresy to place their most popular album all the way back in third place, but as time goes on I find myself listening to it far less than the others. This is the album that launched the band into the stratosphere with early 1990’s anthems like Alive and Jeremy that I’ve heard enough to last a lifetime, so it is quite nostalgic for this longtime fan.
Favorite Tracks: Evenflow, Porch, Black, Release
2. Vitalogy (1994) – This first foray into experimental music may have its missteps (Bugs and Foxymophandlemama, to name two), but the overall product is a veritable feast for the ears. The diverse sounds, from the quiet beauty of Nothingman to the heaviness of Not For You somehow work together to form a cohesive whole that, along with Nirvana’s Unplugged, puts the nail in the coffin for early 90’s grunge.
Favorite Tracks: Last Exit, Not For You, Corduroy, Immortality
1. Vs. (1993) – Vs. occupation of the top spot may have more to do with my nostalgia toward the album as the one for which I first saw them live, than it has to do with being their best, but it remains a real testament to the band’s greatness, even 16 years after its release. The album has a diversity of styles that their debut lacks, while not yet embracing the noisiness of their later works. This is the band in all of their flannel-clad, crowd-surfing, mosh-pitting glory, and I love it. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I bought this album on cassette the day it came out and actually even had one of the early-run tapes with the Five Against One title imprinted on it. So, that’s pretty cool too.
Favorite Tracks: Animal, Rearviewmirror, Elderly Woman, Indifference
All of that being said, Pearl Jam remain an important part of the American music landscape, even after almost 2 decades as one of the, if not the, preeminent bands of an entire generation. Here’s to 20 more years!