Generation X: Pearl Jam spoke for us: Ahead of their summer UK tour dates (details below), Estelle Vosloo considers the importance of the Seattle quintet, then and now.
I grew up in South Africa in the Apartheid era. We saw injustices and as average white South Africans we timidly and fearfully accepted what we felt we couldn’t change. As teenagers we started asking questions. We questioned society, our government and ourselves. It was a tumultuous time.
Movies like Reality Bites, Ed Wood and Trainspotting clawed, Doc Martin-clad Generation X’ers, into the world of the anti-establishment. Our theme-music was offerings by hard-rock and grunge legends like Nirvana, Red Hot Chilli Peppers (RHCP) and Violent Femmes. Their lyrics articulated our thoughts and inspired freedom of expression, freedom to be individuals and shunning the establishment worshipped by our parents and their parents.
In the St. James Encyclopaedia of Pop Culture, Generation X is described as; “representing a more apparently heterogeneous generation, openly acknowledging and embracing social diversity in terms of such characteristics as race, class, religion, ethnicity, culture, language, gender identity, and sexual orientation.”
And Pearl Jam was the voice of that generation… my generation.
An abridged history of Pearl Jam
“I think music is the greatest art form that exists, and I think people listen to music for different reasons, and it serves different purposes. Some of it is background music, and some of it is things that might affect a person’s day, if not their life, or change an attitude. The best songs are the ones that make you feel something.” Eddie Vedder — Pearl Jam.
1990 Pearl Jam was formed in Seattle Washington.
The founding members were Stone Gossard (guitar), Jeff Ament (bass), Mike McCready (guitar), and Eddie Vedder (vocals).
1991: Debut Album
Pearl Jam’s debut album Ten was recorded in Seattle’s London Bridge Studios. The album was released later that year and included singles like ‘Alive’, ‘Even Flow’ and ‘Jeremy’. ‘Jeremy’, based on the tragic suicide of an American teenager, is considered by some to be one of the band’s crowning achievements. The ‘Jeremy’ music video would also be the last music video released by Pearl Jam for the next ten years. The poignantly honest, hard-hitting video drew a lot of controversy and Vedder took a stance; “Ten years from now, I don’t want people to remember our songs as videos.” The song became the trademark Pearl Jam product. It was an infusion of serious hard rock screaming even more series social commentary to those who listened.
A memory etched into my mind is the unplugged performance rendered by Pearl Jam on MTV Unplugged (and available as The Golden Unplugged Album bootleg). The MTV performance was followed be the infamous Lollapalooza tour which saw Pearl Jam headlining with contemporaries like Sound Garden, Ministry and RHCP.
1993: Vs and the awards roll in
Pearl Jam picked up 4 accolades at the 1993 MTV music awards including recognition for the best group of the year. Their second album Vs sold 950 378 copies in the first week of its release, outperforming all other Billboard entries combined during that week.
No 2 song, “Rearviewmirror” from Vs. released in 1993. ”The riff screamed and so did Vedder.”
1994: Fighting on all fronts
The US Department of Justice starts an investigation into allegations by Pearl Jam that the ticket vendor Ticketmaster used anti-competitive practices to exploit fans and concert goers. A bill was passed by congress requiring Ticketmaster’s complete financial transparency. Although the band was happy with the outcome they protested by cancelling their 1994 summer tour and boycotting any venue with contract ties to Ticketmaster.
1994 also saw the release of the bands second most successful album. Vitalogy is the band’s third album and was released on November 22, 1994. The CD release of Vitalogy sold 877 000 copies in the first week and went platinum 5 times. In 2012, Rolling Stone included Vitalogy as entrant no 485 on their “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list.
1995: ‘Long Road’ is released
“Eddie Vedder’s contributions to the 1995 Pearl Jam/Neil Young collaborative album Mirror Ball were pretty minimal, but he did write the haunting ballad ‘Long Road’ during the sessions and it was later released on the EP Merkin Ball. Vedder wrote the song as a tribute to his high school drama teacher Clayton Liggett, but it works as an all-purpose tribute to lost loved ones. It took on a new meaning days after 9/11 when Vedder sang the song with Young at the Tribute to Heroes telethon.” – Rollingstone Magazine.
1997: The Introduction; ‘Hard to Imagine’
“Remember the 1997 John Cussack movie Chicago Cab? We didn’t think so, considering it grossed a mere $23,946 during its brief run in theaters. But the soundtrack did introduce the world to the Pearl Jam super deep cut ‘Hard to Imagine’. It eventually got a more proper release on the 2003 rarities collection Lost Dogs. ” – Rolling Stone Magazine
2003: Speaking out
2003 was the year of the Riot Act Tour. Vedder was outspoken between songs and openly critical of the Bush administration. After Vedder ‘impaled’ a rubber Bush-mask on stage during the Denver leg of their tour some fans turned their backs on Pearl Jam.
“I think that if your approach is one where you don’t want to alienate anybody, you’re going to have to soften the viewpoint or the information that you’re offering to such an extent that it doesn’t have the power to make any difference. You have to take that risk,” said Vedder.
2003: Taking it to the big screen
Approached by legendary director Tim Burton the band wrote and performed ‘Man of the Hour’ for the closing credits to the movie Big Fish. The song earned Pearl jam a Golden Globe nomination.
2006: Speaking out again
In 2006 Pearl Jam made a moved to J Records and released the track ‘World Wide Suicide’ which criticizes the Iraq War and the US foreign policy. They also appeared on the ‘Vote for Change’ campaign video and threw their support behind causes like Crohn’s disease, of which band member Mike McCready suffers. Their song ‘Reclamation’ addresses abortion and their pro-choice stance.
2011: Global defenders
In 2011 Pearl Jam was named the 2011 Planet Defenders by Rock the Earth for the band’s carbon neutral efforts, raising funds in aid of Habitat for Humanity, Victims of Hurricane Katrina and the American Red Cross.
2013 – onwards: Pearl Jam remain loud and clear
Late in 2013 Pearl Jam’s tenth album Lightning Bolt was released. It became the bands fifth album to reach number one on the Billboard 200 with 166,000 copies sold in the first week of release.
“It has been a difficult record [to make] and it’s like sometimes the harder something is, then the more valuable it becomes. It’s easily the best stuff we’ve done but also some of the hardest stuff. It’s very aggressive, because again, it’s kind of a product of what it’s like to be an American these days. It’s pretty aggressive, especially when you turn it loud.” – Vedder, on making Lightning Bolt.
Pearl Jam play the UK this summer – on 08 July 2014 at First Direct Arena in Leeds then the big one at Milton Keynes Bowl on 11 July2014. Get tickets to Peal Jam live, here