I have written and re-written this piece. I have held it in “drafts” for a while now. There is no great revelation in here, but this feels especially personal to me. And, I feel vulnerable hitting “publish,” but I think I must. Here goes…
Pearl Jam was recently inducted into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame. I meant to have a beautiful, grand homage piece written prior to their induction, but that didn’t happen. So, instead, I’ve decided to post a few vignettes. Little snippets of important moments that have stuck with me over the years. If you’ve known me since college, you know that being a fan of Pearl Jam, and Eddie Vedder, and music in general, is a big part of who I am. I’m proud of the band for earning this accolade, and I’d like to share a few of my experiences with you.
The first time I even heard the name Pearl Jam is a memory burned indelibly into my brain. My friend, Tina, and I had decided to explore downtown Kalamazoo one fall day back in 1991. Turns out, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam were playing the State Theatre that same day. I had never heard of any of those bands, and I vaguely recall making fun of their names (the current me feels great shame in sharing this, but it’s the truth). We were looking around in a shop of vintage junk and curios when two long haired, kind of scruffy looking men – one of whom had a little triangle-shaped beard thing right under his lower lip – approached us looking for a place to store their records, like boxes or milk crates or something. Now, the thing is, Kristy back in those days was a bubbly, blonde cheerleader and ever the extreme optimist. She’d never met a stranger, and if she had, they certainly hadn’t been ill willed toward her. God, Mom, no wonder you didn’t want me wandering around downtown. Those doe eyes were bound to get me in big trouble one day.
Anyway, I suggested they look at Meijer’s (yes, I said Meijer’s, not Meijer – you know you do it, too) because I had heard that sometimes grocery stores have extra boxes and I honestly thought that I was being helpful. I was thisclose, this.close. to probably getting backstage and hanging out with a group of people who would soon become some of the most important and influential people in my young life. But, instead, I suggested they go to Meijer’s.
Fast forward a few weeks to Tina and me watching Mtv in her room at her parents’ house. Who did we see on the screen….triangle-beard man! Dave Abbruzzese, and I think it was Mike McCready (though, again shamefully, I can’t quite remember – I’m sorry, guys, really), had been hitting on us. *gasp* I didn’t know it. I think Tina may have known it. She was always better at that stuff than I was, and she was also better at protecting us from that type of stuff than I was (see, Mom, I was fine wandering around downtown with Tina).
That was my first real initiation into the music phenomenon known as Grunge. Once I got to college, my freshmen year roommate, Jessica, turned me on to the rest of the Ten album (up to that point, I only knew what I’d heard on the radio), and I was hooked. Completely. I credit my Mom with propelling my love of music by getting me a boom box for my graduation gift that summer and lord knows Columbia House got more than 99 cents from me in the years to come.
My sophomore year in college, I vividly remember sitting in my room, in front of my new stereo system (remember those multi-disc changers with two tape decks and also the radio built in? I got one of those for my birthday and I was *so* excited) with a blank tape in deck one and the radio on, my index and middle fingers poised and ready to press the record and play buttons simultaneously. The dj had just announced that the first Pearl Jam single off their new album was about to be played for the first time. My heart raced. My hands shook, just a little. My brain buzzed with the excitement of brand new music. I had so many questions: What would it sound like? Would it still sound like Pearl Jam? Would I even like it? Who was I kidding, of course, I’d like it. Would I be able to hit the sweet spot of recording the first note of the song, but none of the dj? Would he let the whole song play before talking over it? Aahh! I was so excited!
And then it came on. The opening sequence of that song blew me away. It was hard and fast and didn’t sound much like the Pearl Jam I had come to know, but I loved it! Go still holds a special place for me because every time I hear it, it brings me back to the glorious anticipation that was waiting for my favorite song to come on the radio so I could tape it and, even if only in some small way, be a part of the music.
Teenage Girl in Line for a Concert in a Small Town.
There are so many moments like that that I can relate back to Pearl Jam and my love of the band and the music. But, one major moment sticks out in my memory and I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t mention it. And also, anyone who knew me then, knows that this was probably the pinnacle of my life’s moments up to that point (and it probably held that position for many more years). My friend, Christa, and I got tickets through Ten Club to see Pearl Jam at the Masonic Temple in Detroit in the spring of 1994. We got seats in the 3rd row, center stage. I can’t put into words how excited I was. And, big thanks to Christa, who put up with me and my fangirl craziness during that whole event. I think because this one moment stands out so vividly for me, I really can’t remember much of the actual show. Other than standing on the arms of the theatre seats, along with all the other devoted fans, and Eddie telling the security crew not to bother us because we weren’t being destructive, we were just trying to get the best view. Man, I was so in love with him.
Anyway, it was a gorgeous spring afternoon and Christa and I were wearing our best flannel shirts, waiting in the line outside the Masonic Temple before the show. Somebody came by and said that Eddie and the band were playing Frisbee in the park across the street. I looked at Christa. I was fraught with indecision. If we both left we’d lose our spot in line, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet him. Eddie Vedder. I had to go. Christa was so gracious and kind and understanding, she just looked at me and said, “Go.” I am pretty sure I didn’t even pretend to argue with her about it. She’d granted me permission to leave her there (what a terrible friend I was for actually doing so), and I jumped at the chance. I bee-lined over to the park – I don’t even remember walking there, it was like I was on a tether and being pulled only in his direction. I may have looked both ways when crossing the road, but I doubt it (sorry, Mom). There was a line of similarly awed teens in flannels waiting to talk to the man himself and I was there. In that line. About to meet Eddie Vedder. Rock icon, man of my dreams, Eddie Vedder. What was I going to say? I had to be cool, but not too cool. I couldn’t faun over him or jump him like part of me wanted to do. I tried to breathe. I must’ve breathed because I didn’t pass out, but eventually, the wait was over and it was my turn. I walked up to him and shook his hand. I croaked out, “Do well.” My voice had escaped me and left me standing there feeling meek and less than the outgoing unstoppable young woman I was. He had a pink pen and he wrote his name on my arm. He thanked me and I smiled awkwardly, and turned and walked back to join Christa back in line. I felt like I completely flubbed it. “Do well?” Seriously. That’s all I could muster?
Even now that I’m much older and my life no longer revolves around music and Mtv and going to shows, I still pause if I hear Pearl Jam on the radio (outside of Pearl Jam Radio on Sirius, for obvious reasons). Steve instinctively knows not to change the station, and he’s even encouraged my obsession over the years. One of the first gifts he got me was two tickets to see them at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin. It was cold, but I only remember that because Eddie remarked that it was, and we were outside and Steve was there with me while I reveled in the music. If he had known then….