By Tony Sokol
Pearl Jam was cultured in the Seattle band Temple of the Dog, which also bred Soundgarden. Bassist Jeff Ament held down the bottom, while guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready weaved loud melodies through their fingers. The lead singer was San Diego transplant Eddie Veddar who paired lyrics to a mother-son opera he was writing to a demo tape that had become legendary in the local scene. Originally called Mookie Blaylock the New Jersey Nets point guard, the group named their first album after his number on his jersey. Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten, came out in August, 1991. The drummers on the album were Dave Krusen, and Matt Chamberlain, but the band’s beat was also kept by Dave Abbruzzese and Jack Irons before sharing Matt Cameron’s sticks with Soundgarden in 1998.
The album encapsulated grunge angst with anthems of self-destruction and near redemption. While Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain thought the guitar solos smelled like teen sellout, the band would go on to explore open tunings, the e-bow, deeper lyrical themes and expanding musical genres. Pearl Jam has never shied from a fight, whether it was against right wing values, Crohn’s disease or Ticketmaster. The band was credited for backing Ralph Nader for president, but not credited for backing Neil Young. They put their third album Vitalogy out on vinyl before it came out on CD. Lightning Bolt, which came out in 2013, is the band’s 10th straight studio album to debut in the Top 5 of the Billboard 200.
Where are the anthems for our youth? What happened to music that meant something? Director Cameron Crowe hired Pearl Jam to represent the Seattle sound as the band Citizen Dick in the film Singles. But the band came into the nationwide consciousness of TV when “Yellow Ledbetter” closed out the sad 2004 series finale of Friends. As we learned in the comedy Can’t Hardly Wait, you can’t break up with a girlfriend if her dad can score tickets to a Pearl Jam concert, even if you risk getting kidnapped like the young fans who disappeared on a CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode.
Vedder’s first solo record provided the soundtrack for the 2007 animated film Into the Wild, and he played himself giving a lifetime achievement award to the title character in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Vedder played a tattoo of himself in a 2012 episode of the comedy series Portlandia. Cameron Crowe directed the documentary Pearl Jam Twenty in 2011 and made Vedder give another speech for the Showtime series Roadies. Pearl Jam contributed the song “Man of the Hour” to Tim Burton’s film Big Fish (2003). The song was also used in a tribute video dedicated to the late Nintendo president and CEO Satoru Iwata at the The Game Awards 2015. Vedder even sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the Seventh Inning Stretch of Game 5 of the 2017 World Series at Wrigley Field. Vedder will appear and bring a song to Showtime’s 2017 revival of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
But the band’s biggest legacy is the music, and they keep that live. In 2001 alone, Pearl Jam put out 72 live albums of every concert they played in support of their Binaural album. The band can play in any style, but even if they cover a song note-for-note like they did for a celebration of The Who, or put a spin on an old rock and roll classic like their version of J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers’ “Last Kiss,” they still sound like Pearl Jam.