Monday, September 21, 2015

Musical Series: Intro and Pearl Jam is King

MUSIC has been a life saver for me. It is like a basic need. Food. Water. Shelter. Music. I have loved music my whole life. I was born into a pretty musical family and it seemed that there was always some form of music going on somewhere at any given time. I remember listening to Kenny Loggins in the car with my mother while running errands. I remember the Doobies blaring on Saturday mornings when she was cleaning. I remember very keenly my discovery of music videos on the old Night Tracks television program from artists like Duran Duran, Men at Work, The Police. With the magical combination of Muppets and music, I was aware of and familiar with most of the artists that appeared on Sesame Street, artists my mom exposed me to, like James Taylor, Carly Simon, Paul Simon and the like. Like most kids in the 80's I was also fascinated with Michael Jackson and listened to my mom's MJ records.  I was also drawn to musicals, and my mother being a fan, was given plenty of fodder to feed on. Plenty of Barbara Streisand and a flood of other favorites of my mother’s, including How the West Was Won, The Music Man, My Fair Lady.  Finian’s Rainbow was my favorite, that is - up until the later arrival of Newsies, which surpassed all others in my mind to become the crown jewel of favorite musicals!  

Needless to say I soaked up as much music as I could through all of these channels, and basically any other channels I could access. My mom's record collection. Whatever tapes I got my hands on. I remember snagging my father's copy of Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' and playing it over and over again when I was probably eight years old. The first album I ever bought with my own allowance money was purchased at the Aafes in Schweinfurt, Germany. It was Richard Marx’ Repeat Offender album. I sharply remember hearing Richard Marx once in a store in Germany and in my mind is a mental snapshot of that moment. I also remember standing in line for pizza at age eleven and seeing the video for 'U Can't Touch This'. For me, music strongly ties to memories.  From age 10 through the teen years I saved up all of my money for tapes and eventually CDs. Others I remember saving for -  PM Dawn’s ‘Bliss Album’, U2’s ‘Joshua Tree’, Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ and ‘Siamese Dream’ The Fugees ‘The Score’, Radiohead’s ‘Pablo Honey’ and ‘The Bends’.  I even bought a Randy Travis album, probably the only country music album I ever owned. Music is what brought about friendships and boyfriends. The first gift I got from a guy in high school was the Stone Temple Pilots first album.

I was born as part of what I call the ‘MTV generation’. Those who were young when MTV was full of music, and was spearheading music movements, like Grunge, by bringing music, artists and music videos into the livingrooms of American youth. A time when music was becoming global. Ultimately, it was only a glimpse of what was to come with the oncoming arrival of household internet, making artists and their music accessible to the whole world instantaneously. 
I'm actually very grateful to have had access to MTV. Without a doubt, it made a positive impact on my life.

Some music is fondly remembered and brings us joy to hear, while other music changes our lives and we are never the same.  That’s what I’m here to talk about. I am trying to narrow it down to just the absolute life changing music. Music that saves. That heals. That brings us to life and becomes part of our soul.
I'm going to do a little series on the music that is most special to me, the top 5 artists/bands that have made the strongest impact on my life. I hope others post theirs, too. I love hearing about other people's relationship with music.
I have decided that the best way to do this is chronologically, so here goes.

Without a doubt in my mind the first musicians that came along and changed my life and wrapped around my soul like mother’s wings were Mike McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Dave Abbruzzese and Eddie Vedder. Names I’ll never forget. The boys of Pearl Jam. (Though there have been a variety of drummers…)


It hit me like a wave.  The first time I heard their sound was on MTV, as Temple of the Dog, with the video to the song ‘Hunger Strike’, in what was likely the fall of 1992. Soon after, I discovered who Temple of the Dog was, likely through an MTV promo, as I could not just Google them. Once I discovered that they were a combination of the bands Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, I kept my eyes and ears out for them. I think Soundgarden’s ‘Rusty Cage’ was out at the time in video, and I caught them once in interview form on Headbanger’s Ball. Pearl Jam was soon to follow, as there was, at the time, Evenflow and Alive, both concert videos, as that was what they were up to at the time and how they catapulted themselves into one of the legs of the so-called Grunge music movement. Very quickly their music began to pop up more frequently in video form and soon, like dominoes, came appearances on SNL, Unplugged and at Lollapalooza. Living in the town I was in, with basically just a classic rock station, it wasn’t likely at all that I would ever have caught them on the radio. The only way I was going to get them into my stereo was by tape or CD. Thus, a clear memory of a trip to Musicland to buy the Ten album, and a lifelong fan was born.   

Most people have some idea who Pearl Jam is. This is who they are to me.
Most teenagers have angst. Its pretty much a given. I was no exception. What I also had, like too many other kids, was a lot of darkness and a lot of frustration over events in my life. I felt increasingly like an outcast. I felt like I was walking around like a zombie, carrying a secret burden, as I was. It was relevant that I first heard their sound in the fall of 1992, it was during a time when I was suffering sexual abuse from my father. Life had become too real for me. All of the music I loved before had lost its luster, it all seemed a lie. Pearl Jam came along and gave me truth, allowed me to accept emotions I had been trying to suppress, to deny. Life had kicked me in the teeth. Pearl Jam gave me both permission and inspiration to kick back. It was okay to be mad at the world. The world could deal some pretty bad shit. It is okay to disagree. It is okay to not accept the crap dish you’ve been handed.  Pearl Jam unapologetic-ally voiced their disagreement with the world, with the media, with politicians; became a voice for Gen X and through their music created masses of devoted followers and hype far faster than they were comfortable with.

I little cared about that at the time, though ultimately I credit them for planting the seeds that would grow my own political opinions, like Eddie’s persistent aversion to war. I just kept wearing out my Ten tape until I eventually had to buy a second one. To my delight, Ten was followed by Vs., Vitalogy, No Code, Yield. All of which I purchased on the day of their release, or as soon as I could..
I ignored friends that criticized the band, people that mocked them. They didn’t know as much as I did about them, and I really didn’t care. They would never understand just what an impact their music had on me, and they never had to. It was just for me to know.

Picking my top three favorite PJ songs is nearly impossible. I tried to just pick one from each of my favorite albums, but I have too many favorites there too.
There are a few, though, that have represented pivotal moments in my life

First, I love every song from Ten. When I am asked to shortlist my favorite songs, I usually just have to say the Ten album and exclude the entire album from my list. To narrow it down to one, I have to say while I do love Release, it means so much to me, but at that time in my life I was full of a lot of anger and no sense of any control of what was going on in my life. Porch complemented those feelings precisely. This particular version is from their appearance on MTV Unplugged. An event that I would definitely not miss if I could rent a time machine.

Second, I also love every song from Vs. The staunch statements made by W.M.A. and Glorified G I still agree with and are still very relevant to what’s going on in the United States, and I love those songs! This is about me, though, and I was trying so hard to put all the pain behind me, thus - Rearview Mirror.

Last but by no means least, Given to Fly just might be my most favorite Pearl Jam song, and were I to build a soundtrack for my life, it would not be complete without it.
By the time the Yield album came out, I had begun to think about what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was living apart from my mother, testing out my independent legs. Given to Fly was an anthem for me. I had come out of so much, and yet had remained bright and positive about where I was going in the world, at least on most days. I have so much love for this song, it means so much to me. It is a victory song, and it says all the things that I can’t say about what this band has meant to me. They were the wave that delivered me wings.

As an adult I have continued to appreciate their musical pursuits, and Eddie Vedder's independent pursuits as well. I am so glad they are a band that continues to make music and songs that impact my life, like 'Just Breathe', 'Sirens', 'Rise' and 'Society'.  
I am forever grateful for these guys.