I consider myself a pretty avid Pearl Jam fan, with a bond that dates back to the fall of ‘93. I've gone to countless of PJ concerts during that 18-year span in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, and have a mount of albums, live-recordings, singles, fan club releases, that if stacked up next to me would reach me at eye-level (I'm not tall by any means, but still). It's safe to say that if you followed Pearl Jam from the beginning, you're still a fan now.
My love affair with Pearl Jam began when I heard “Alive” off of Ten, their debut album, though it intensified when I read the cover story in Rolling Stone titled “Five Against the World” written by Cameron Crowe. And it is Crowe who, in a sense, retells the story of Pearl Jam in the new documentary "Pearl Jam Twenty." The words I read back in 1993 about a band from Seattle I can now experience through old footage, home videos, and interviews with the band, and their friends that are only being released now.
For those of us who know Pearl Jam through songs and magazine articles we heard and read as adolescents, seeing these rare images and interviews as an adult is beyond amazing, it’s also extremely touching.
In "Pearl Jam Twenty" we see Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready reflecting on their life together in the band in retrospect. We, just like them, have gotten older together. Through this film, even the most hard-core Pearl Jam fan will rediscover the band. You’ll experience the thrill just like when you buy a new Pearl Jam album, like it’s your own personal treasure, and although you’re not sure what to expect, you know it’ll be awesome.
And so now we're going to spoil it for you. Here are five things we learned about our favorite band through this remarkable documentary that will be in theaters nationwide on Sept. 20 and also be on PBS Oct. 21.
By the time Pearl Jam released Ten, the Seattle scene was in full swing with bands like Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, and the Melvins, to name a few. And even though Pearl Jam and Soundgarden collaborated on Temple Of The Dog, we had no idea to the extent of their camaraderie, and not simply between these two group, but with all the bands from Seattle. Cornell speaks about this in the documentary, and says that while bands from Los Angeles had rivalries with other bands in the area, in Seattle they all supported each other. You get an eyeful of their chumminess in a clip from Pearl Jam and Soundgarden's early days on tour together. In the concert footage you see Vedder and Cornell wrestling on stage, but not so much like a fight but more like engaged playfully, as if they were two monkeys hanging onto each other. It was very weird, but also very sincere.
The ongoing tension between Vedder and Kurt Cobain was much publicized in the media, and the context was mostly taken from clips in which Cobain discussed his disdain towards Pearl Jam's mainstream success, more specifically targeting Vedder and the band for not being genuine. Vedder talks to Crowe about this conflict and how much he was deeply hurt by Cobain's words. However, later in the film there's a clip (though it seems like the same interview) in which Cobain says he did, in fact, like Vedder and the band. And in another clip that looks awfully like the MTV Video Music Awards, it shows Vedder and Cobain in an embrace while Courtney Love is cheering and clapping in the background. They might not have been the best of friends, but they weren't enemies like we all thought.
3. Father Figure
One of the integral parts of Pearl Jam that has existed almost as long as the band has been together is their relationship with Neil Young. We've seen the two entities perform together various times, which began with Young's Bridge School Benefit concert, which is now in its 25th year. The proceeds of this benefit go towards the Bridge School in Hillsborough, which helps "individuals with severe speech and physical impairments achieve full participation in their communities.” And while Pearl Jam has always lent a helping hand to many causes, the kinship between Vedder and Young has a unique spark. We sort of thought their bond was just a mentorship but in the film we learn it was a bit stronger than that. Vedder has disclosed his past relationship with his stepfather (who he believed to be his real father), and talks about how he never got the chance to truly know his real father in the song “Alive.” Vedder says in the documentary that when he met Young he had finally met a man that he looked up to.
We've read in several articles about the difficulty Vedder experienced during his transition from being an unknown singer/surfer living in San Diego to becoming a mega rock star. In the film we get such a detailed look about this particular time. From the beginning of the film, we see a rare interview, perhaps Vedder’s first as the frontman of Pearl Jam, in which he is smiling and goofing off wearing a woman’s bra and lipstick. It was quite startling to see him so green, and so natural. You always hear about how fame changes a person, but you never really see the extent of it. In the film you can actually see the progression that fame brought on him throughout the years, and what it took for Vedder to reclaim himself.
5. Andy Wood & Eddie Vedder
A great discovery about the evolution of Pearl Jam is the truth about how they began, and where they wanted to go, musically. Although we know that the band grew in the wake of the death of Mother Love Bone’s singer Andy Wood, we didn’t realize that Gossard and Ament (and mainly Wood) had always had a goal of making it big. Mother Love Bone was supposed to be their ticket to the big time, so when Wood died of an overdose, they thought their dreams were over –– until they met Vedder. But Vedder just wanted to be in a band and play for small groups of people. He truly never thought they’d be where they are today. The guys talked in the film about how Wood always wanted to sing in large venues like Madison Square Garden. Years later Vedder did sing a Mother Love Bone’s “Crown Of Thorns,” which we see in the film, and they say it was as if Wood did get to play the big show he always wanted.