September 2011...My first Pearl Jam concert and at a "crossroad" in my life. I had to write about, relay the astounding impact this band has had on my life. It is lengthy...
The moisture in the air is thick and clings to my lungs as I breathe in. I was worried about the rain, at first. But as I continue to drive, it bothers me less and less. It is the random pattern that I find soothing.
Sue, my oldest sister is my cohort for the evening. It is more natural for her to accompany me than my husband. It was not clear whether he wanted to go with me…it was with relief, I think, or at least interpret, that he could decline attending. This was okay as this was for me only, anyway.
Reflections of my life are always connected with a musical score. In so many ways, my life did not begin until the 1990’s. How relevant and perfect for the voice of Eddie Vedder to arrive with force during that decade. Perhaps it was his angst that matched mine. The sound of his voice caught, and still does, in the back of my own throat. We speak the same language and have often shared the same perspectives. Vedder’s voice contains and conveys what mine cannot. 20 years worth of music, lyrics, protests, life, stage climbing, voice droning, hair – every style, color, and length, Ament’s hats, memories – Mother Love Bone, Chris Cornell, too… too much to think about but it all comes back.
The rain is perpetual as we pass through Milwaukee. Mukwonago offers some relief in terms of the precipitation. Sue and I stop for food and a bathroom break. Alpine Valley is only 13 more miles ahead and the realization filters through my blood and heart that I am finally going to see one of my favorite bands, Pearl Jam.
Thinking back, I recall hearing earlier this year that Pearl Jam would only be visiting ONE state in the whole of 50…really? Wisconsin? Damn! I am so lucky. Egocentric, yes, but this concert IS for me – everyone else is consequential.
This is it, exit to the right. Parking…follow the light held by the yellow caped man, woman? The windows are steamed and the rain is flitting and I no longer care what I look like. No umbrella but my flowered Wellies replace the sandals. I am betting the place is a mudslide. Sue carries the waterproof seat liner – we may need the lengthened shelter if it pours again.
Following the herd, we fall into line. I am making my personal pilgrimage to my holy land. I am propelled forward by my expectations, my need for internal healing. This concert is the prescription I need. Our casual talk, Sue and I, is of previous concerts, remember whens, remember who, and “Oh my God!” Yeah, we remember.
Through the gates – I want a t-shirt – proof – tangibility that I was here. BUT…first there is security. Pat downs. I raise my arms and proclaim, “Go ahead, give this old lady a thrill!” The embarrassed security guard, all of 20 something is terribly shaken by my proposal – no sense of humor but Sue laughs as she snaps pictures of the PJ 20 flags and banners as we enter what will be my paradise (been lost too long?)
Rows of port-a-potties line the perimeter and it occurs to me that I should pee before the concert. There, however, in the distance is the vendor for t-shirts. Destiny over nature and I want my damn shirt! Taking our place amongst those like us, I notice that we are all a mixture of ages. The line moves more quickly as I absorb all of the dialogue around me:
“Yeah, I’ve been to EVERY one of their concerts, well, in the U.S. “
I look over to the voice and see it is owned by a man about my age. Soon we are asking where everyone is from: New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon. Others are making their pilgrimage, too.
Persistence urges me toward the front of the crowd – I choose the PJ20 within the emblem of the Green Bay Packers only to be told that there are no size XL’s left – I lean forward toward the young man behind the counter, “Really?” I ask.
“Really, totally serious,” he replies, leaning forward with a tilted smirk on his youthful and handsome face. He is absolutely and totally cute – long hair, “girl hair” Sue would say, held back by a headband. He proceeds to share with me what shirt styles he has left in my desired size. Simple. Black (Ha!) with PJ20 in red letters – cities and dates on the back – perfect.
Thousands of people – packed – ubiquitous – drunken droves – perpetual movement of feet – the hill of Alpine Valley is slick with mud. Sue and I ingest it all with silent smiles. A bikini clad girl hula hooping with a glowing hoop – her male counterpart hulas several glowing hoops along his arms – we trod and search for a place to stand and receive our sacrament, our blessing of Pearl Jam.
Inching closer toward the stage, we make it to “the point of no return” which is where the seating ends and the standing will remain. Darkness. The aromatic wafting of pot. Beer cans roll down and clink on the cement below. Jumbo trons overhead advertise nothing of importance.
Piano, keyboards, tricky keys– Boom Gasper is there as an introduction – Metamorphosis, softly resembling the sound of a stream… he plays. A guitar is heard, barely audible but gaining in intensity – the stage is enveloped in the dark hues of purple, midnight blue and mauve. Strategic use of lights illuminate the back drop – PJ 20 – reflecting and glinting on those of us who wait and yearn – a burst of “paparazzi.” It appears to be created by a mass of speakers The scene is broken not only by what is heard, but with whom I see, dimly lit: McCready, with his totem pole arms of tattooed artwork. Gossard (LOVE him) with his slight pull of a grin, eyebrows framing those deep, concerned, eyes, Cameron with stick enhanced limbs, rolling off the high hat, and Ament, stable and talented, my Montana boy - they are all here, sharing, if even for a few hours, my state, my atmosphere, my home, and my life. I drink them in, consume them, and allow them to penetrate my every pore. Exhalation makes room to breathe in the music. I do not know if everyone experiences music in this manner – music is emotional for me and its effect is ethereal.
It is a gradual hum that erupts in to a peal of vocal exultation as Vedder appears and completes the group. With a wry grin on his ageless face and his body draped in flannel, Vedder’s voice emerges as a low and steady growl. It is this guttural tone that draws me in to his world. It is as if I can feel that voice on my skin, lighting and spreading out like flood waters, filling in the imperfections, the holes and certainly, the scars. I am whole again despite what lies underneath. For this time, these hours, I am healed.
As Eddie makes his way to the front of the stage, I lean forward, hoping to get that much closer. Release – resonated perfection as Vedder sways gently, holding his arms in an angelic O above his body. Eyes closed, the words that mean so much to me are vocalized along with thousands of others – we know this and it is the lyrics that move our emotions and bring them to the surface from the raw core of who we are.
All voices are drowned out by the perfection of these men. Cameras are flashing, phones are recording, my mind is reeling. Someone very close to us is exhaling from their joint and I find myself breathing in and holding. Sue and I share a look that sends us both back to the years of our youth. No longer are we able to freely ingest the chemicals of mind alteration – but the memories are there.
Arms Aloft and they are, thousands of them within the air – slowly waving – rippling through the mass like wind rustles winter wheat. It is a beautiful almost sensual sway of humanity. We are all one in the same as age, culture, and creed are insignificant – it is our mutual admiration for these men that takes precedence and I am ever so grateful for their willingness to share themselves with me.
The hard intonation and declarations of Do the Evolution follow – a song that makes me genuinely smile – how can it not when “I’m the first mammal to wear pants” is part of the lyrics? These words are not just the result of frivolity, but of serious contemplation of what it means to BE human in this f’d-up world. It is this ability that has kept this band together for 20 years. Very few associations and contemplations last more than a few years let alone relationships. There are certain entities we never fall out of love with – our dogs, favorite authors, and bands. In this respect, love IS forever. This evening’s phenomenal song list lends itself beautifully to the pensivity of my mood – in the back of my mind, heavy contemplation of my own relationships and associations, however, glossed over by Got Some, In My Tree, Push Me Pull Me…
And then with the first note played, Setting Forth brings forth my own voice – which is usually known only to my dogs and me and generally in my vehicle – Sue notices immediately the change; it is this particular song that has connected me to the world of Christopher McCandless – and within the confines of my mind, transcends me to Bus 142 in the wild of Alaska. Tears rivulet and create streams down my flushed cheeks – with each ragged breath I am reminded of how my own personal sense of self is tied so tightly to that bus and to McCandless – had he lived, he would be my exact age. Sometimes there just aren’t words to explain or relate, and sometimes, it is the water-like flow of musical chords that define the “it” instead. This simple but beautiful song ties all facets of my life together, past and present. Standing there upon the slanted earth of Alpine, toes gripping the inside sole of my boots, I realize this is a perfect metaphor for life – hold on with whatever force available, enjoy the moments of perfection, and right now, the sensory gift of music.
Most unexpected – Breath – and I am grateful for it as I often listen to this song at school during my preparation period. Meditation, contemplation, rejuvenation...A Breath and a…..
With each song, the band becomes more real to me in my existence of non-fiction – I experience it all within each song played as music is the culmination of notes & chords along with words – I cannot help but connect each song to a genre of writing –it’s just what I do -existentialist, dystopian & utopian, philosophical and even political – the most encompassing of any – historical – 20 years! My history, my life story, is inextricably and tightly woven within each member…within each song.
The band themselves are taken aback when Better Man becomes so loud as we, the mass, push our voices into the densely thick air – Eddie stops singing to listen to us. His face deeply etched with the enormity of the presented situation – he shares a look of pleasant acceptance with Stone who lifts one side of his mouth in affirmation. How I have longed to see and hear these men, to watch them, observe them, memorize them – I know it will not be long enough, just enough, a touch really, until next time…
Encore SURPRISE as Chris Cornell joins the band for some Temple of the Dog. Hunger Strike brings us back to the beginning – a youth we all had though the experiences were different. To think of the awesome potential then and experience the band now – essentially, we grew up together. Our lives are enmeshed together though we have never “met.” A testament to the quality and diversity of this band – they have literally provided the sound track to thousands of lives and I am not exempt.
Inevitably, as night’s end descends, I feel renewed and somewhat whole – my heartbeat is felt in my throat and I so do not want this to end…the finale and I am revived by the cover of The Who’s Love Reign O’er Me a favorite of mine made better by Vedder. It seems a fitting closure to this evening of emotional tumult. Prior to the concert, I had been thinking of how much I wanted to hear I Am Mine, Alive, Low Light, or Just Breathe but it is not disappointment I am filled with, rather, I am filled with a feeling I have not felt or experienced in some time, serenity and self-acceptance. Only so many songs can be sung and performed in a three hour span. Being here tonight, with people I have long admired, my sister Sue, Stone, Jeff, Matt, Eddie, Mike, and Chris, I feel as if this were a reunion of sorts – within my mind and memory, I revisited places, saw old friends, past loves, and recalled youthful aspirations. I am emotionally spent as I was not prepared to think about what traversed through my head. Without the expectation of it, I am more prepared now to take on what had receded into the depths of my past.
As we walk back to the car, discussions of song the list, comments on Cornell swirl around with the smoke of cigarettes. Sue and I are silent. I am afraid to utter anything because it will become clear that my evening with Pearl Jam has ended. I want to hold on, tightly, to something, a piece, to keep me grounded. Inside of my flesh, I can hold the memory – the pictures, the guys, their affect, their beauty, their sound and it is then that I know, that I realize I may never meet them, therefore they will never know how they have affected my life. BUT because they exist and because I can literally pull them into my world at any time, they are a part of me and as real to me as the blood that courses through my veins. I am a better person because of this.
Music is a universal language that we can all understand.