No, the title isn’t a reference to how long it is since my last post to this series (well, maybe a little bit!). Rather, it’s a line from today’s chosen song: Pearl Jam’s Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.
Pearl Jam seem to be one of those bands who inspire adoration and indifference in almost equal measure. A cornerstone of the early 90s grunge scene, they’re now pretty much the last man standing (reunions notwithstanding) with nine studio albums under their belt – a fact that often surprises people, who thought they’d long since followed their peers and given up.
Of course, that’s not entirely accidental – after a meteoric rise to fame (second album Vs, on which …Small Town appears, was the fastest ever selling album in the US) the band, and in particular singer Eddie Vedder, did their best to escape the limelight. One way they did this was by boycotting Ticketmaster venues in the US, severely limiting the number of shows they could play there. Another was by eschewing the grunge sound that had brought them to prominence, resulting in a series of diverse and experimental albums that alienated a lot of their early fans.
At this point, I have to hold my hands up, and say that I was one of those fans – 1994’s Vitalogy was actually the first PJ album I bought – home-taping never did kill music, did it? – and for a long time was the last. Yes there are some awesome tracks on there, but there is some absolute dross as well. Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me was sufficiently poor that I turned my back on the band altogether.
That all changed in 2000, when PJ played in Glasgow for only the second time in their career, the previous occasion having been in 1992 at the (original) Cathouse. Playing a mix of songs I knew and songs I didn’t, I rediscovered a band I’d given up for dead 6 years previously. In fact, the Pearl Jam live experience ignited a love of the band that hadn’t even existed first time around.
A year or so later, I travelled to London on business. The hotel I was staying in was a five minute walk from the Hard Rock Cafe, and I ended up having dinner in there one night. Across the road from the restaurant is a HRC shop, and below that is “The Vault” – a collection of Hard Rock’s most prized possessions. It’s only one room, but packed in there were some amazing artifacts from the entire history of rock (and roll) music – a cigarbox guitar made by Bo Diddley, Elvis’s karate suit, furniture from Hendrix’s London flat, Dylan’s hat, Lennon’s military tunic and a whole bunch of other stuff that I can’t think of off the top of my head. Everywhere I turned were items that had belonged to musical legends.
Sitting quietly in the corner was an acoustic guitar. Taped to the side were the lyrics to …Small Town, handwritten by Eddie Vedder on what looked like toilet paper. And out of everything in that room, that guitar is the thing that touched me the most. Here was something that had belonged to someone I’d seen – Elvis, Dylan, Lennon and Hendrix are great and all, but it’s hard to think of them as real people, owning real things, because they’ve never been part of my reality. Whereas I’d seen Eddie just the previous year – he WAS a real person.
Which is why, out of all the songs I could have chosen to represent my favourite band, I’ve picked this one.
Tonight I’m going to see Pearl Jam Twenty, a Cameron Crowe directed film chronicling the band’s career (the “Twenty” refers to the 20 years that have elapsed since their debut album, Ten, was released). I know some of the stories from that 20 years, and have some idea what to expect. But there’s plenty that I don’t know, not least from my 6 years in the wilderness. A wilderness I don’t see myself returning to any time soon.