I also remember Easter (Thanksgiving?) of probably 1992, when, in a turn of events that I almost can't even believe happened, Vedder took over a local Long Island radio station called WDRE. He mumbled into a microphone, incomprehensibly for the most part, and he played songs by some of his favorite bands. I remember hearing stuff by the Frogs, the Pixies, Black Flag, maybe the Ramones, and definitely Daniel Johnston's cover of Yo La Tengo's "Speeding Motorcycle." Cobain's iconic t-shirt aside, I actually credit Eddie Vedder with first telling me about Daniel Johnston. If I'm not mistaken, he also played a live version of Pearl Jam covering "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" -- but he may have just sung it, a cappella, in the studio. So weird.
A year or so later, they would release Vs., which I suspect is actually the best album they've ever made, even though it lacks the landmark status of Ten. Then came Vitalogy, which my parents bought me for Christmas one year, and which I don't believe I've ever heard from start to finish. After that, I think came Yield. All I know about Yieldis that it had a pretty nice photo on the cover. Or, wait, did No Code come before Yield? I've definitely never heard No Code. Either way, I haven't listened to a new Pearl Jam record all the way through since 1993, right around the time the band quit making videos and embarked on a crusade against Ticketmaster--the two decisions that would keep them endeared to critics through a lean period when their fanbase and the world around them seemed to be in flux.
Then, eventually, the people who were getting jobs at magazines and newspapers all across the country were my age--people for whom Ten came along at the single most important time in a person's development--and the quiet respect that people always reserved for Pearl Jam started to be more noticeable. Suddenly, they stopped being a pretty decent band that had managed to hang around long after their moment had passed, and they became a rock and roll institution--a band that spit in the face of convention and did things on their own terms. And it is a valid argument: They've done things no band would ever dream of doing, even now--from not making videos and taking on Ticketmaster to releasing 72 "official bootlegs" over the course of a year, they have, to a certain extent, rewritten the rule book.
But still, you have to question the origins of their legacy. As people my age continue to wield some power, it's starting to feel distinctly like Pearl Jam is being given a pass because the idea of launching an attack against the band that rescued you from suburban hell and helped make you the person you are today isn't terribly appealing. (I also suspect people maintain a soft spot for Vedder because of the possibility, however unlikely, that he offers some indication of what Kurt Cobain would have been like had he still been alive.) You get the sense that, for all the praise that's routinely heaped upon Pearl Jam, very little of it actually has anything to do with the records they've made, and it's strange, if not exactly infuriating.
In an attempt to find something nice to say about Pearl Jam that doesn't have anything to do with 13 year old me (or you), I'm going to listen to the entirety of their new record, Backspacer, which was released yesterday. As you've probably read, it's only available at Target, certain independent record stores, and iTunes. I neither understand this decision nor find it very interesting. So, onto the music.