The Case for Pearl Jam

"Daily minefields, [this] could be my time, [how] 'bout you?"

Today I was watching some youtube on my TV, sampling the myriad live rock videos available for your nostalgia pleasures. During a performance of Sleep of No Dreaming by Porcupine Tree, I blurted out to my wife, "It's sorta depressing watching these middle-aged guys rocking out..." This was curious because I didn't feel the same mixed deflation when I saw much older guys rocking out at last year's The Who concert in Philly.

Perhaps the elderly are expected -- or at least permitted -- to come full-circle, realizing a child-like mentality that middle age men just don't fit. Or maybe it's because I happen to know that The Who wrote a lot of those songs while they were still idiots. I don't know how old Steven Wilson was when he wrote the profoundly troubling Sleep of No Dreaming but seeing his band sell it, seemingly in their 40s, was weirdly disheartening. 

I immediately reached for my phone (which controls youtube on my TV) and searched for a Silverchair performance of Tomorrow circa 1994. I needed some youth. I needed some brainlessness. I needed some raw emotion, one-dimensionally joyful or angry (and I had already watched some Ok Go and live Flaming Lips earlier, so joy was covered).

Middle age is not a time for raw emotion. It's a time for thinking, for getting things done, for paying attention to your shit, for adulting. It's not until we're into our thirties that we begin to realize what a precious commodity our former stupidity was. (Which is not to say that my IQ has gone up because I'm older, but I have just enough life wisdom to know that tomato is a fruit but it shouldn't go in fruit salad. That, and I'm expected to sell smart and reliable to the outside world.)

I watched Silverchair nervously wail their answer to Nirvana at age 14 and gleefully dug on youthful nonsense, I wondered if Pearl Jam's 1992 performance of Porch on SNL is on youtube yet? If you want the raw emotion of punk, with the bittersweet qualities of blues and political angst all in one fell swoop, you'd be hard pressed to do better than Porch. (Especially their SNL cut.)

Middle age is not the age for rock stars. Ideal rockers are either youthful and passionate or elder statesmen. They're not your uncle or the guy who works at the DMV. They're either young and dumb or old and legendary. 

It's either Ozzy in '68 or Ozzy today. 

Pearl Jam is the inverse. They've always been old souls, wise before their time with a sense of longview and a nuanced blend of rage and gratitude. And now in their early 50's they're still screaming and thrashing on their instruments like manic vandals. They still perform Do The Evolution regularly. They were never one-dimensionally young, but at dad-age, they're still bafoons. Their music has matured with them. It's not a bummer that their post-Yeild material has sometimes been less interesting. Their music is incredibly personal, and middle age may be simply a less interesting time. Shit, the entire theme of Yield in wake of losing a court battle with Ticketmaster was learning to tolerate the push-pull of ideals and reluctant pragmatism.

Pearl Jam are great rock stars at age 50 because they've always been regular dudes, feeling everything's fucked up while marveling in youth and solidarity. They're fans. They love basketball and punk and classic rock. Many of their most memorable live moments are covers of other peoples' songs. And their sense of patriotism in the face of a brutal Bush era required a subtlety that could never be as sexy as straight rock idealism from Noam Chomsky or a 12th grader.

To put it plainly, Pearl Jam's music is the rock of real life. It's the simultaneous melody of torture and hope. It's the rock 'n roll avatar of Andy Dufresne. It's September 11th, and it's also surfing and fucking and laughing. It feels but it also thinks, which makes it less sexy and more authentic.

Pearl Jam is "delight in our youth!" and it's also "the wisdom that the old can't give away."

To quote Young Frankenstein... It's ALIVE!

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