Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thoughts on Eddie Vedder

I just texted my friend Doug. Like myself he appreciates the important things of life: church, stouts, coffee, music, etc. There is however one thing that we just don't seem to agree on. It is the all important argument for a select few of us who know this argument exists. Ten or Vs.? If there was a "classical" view of this argument it is Ten is the superior album. Doug is planted firmly in this camp. I am one of those that contends that Vs. is actually a much more mature album. You could really see the development of Pearl Jam on Vs. And I guess that is really the point of the argument. Is it development or just raw talent that matters?

Pearl Jam has transformed itself over the course of the past twenty years. That's right, grunge, alternative, Seattle sound, whatever you called it, is now over twenty years old. Most of the bands from the early 90s are gone. Quite a few of the musicians are actually still around, just doing other projects. And Eddie Vedder has recorded an album featuring just that grumbly baritone voice and a ukulele.

When I was in middle school/early high school I idolized Vedder. I still think he is pretty amazing. "Jeremy" was really the song that turned me onto modern rock. That song was so unlike anything I had ever heard. I think it made the older generation of our family nervous that we liked such angry sounding music, particularly a song about suicide. But "Jeremy" was processing anger in an artistic, and I would say healthy manner. Pearl Jam was talking things out instead of simply reacting.

Pearl Jam transcended the music of the early-90s. They weren't just angry. They told stories. They took on social issues. They went acoustic on their second album. That break in format could be seen as a sellout to their roots, but I just saw it as a band experimenting and ending up with something great. And that is why I loved Vs. so much. Two of my favorite PJ tracks came from that album: "Daughter" and "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town."

The songwriting on Vs. blew me away. Vedder wove words in a way that riveted me. The stories he told were brilliant.

I swear I recognize your breath
Memories like fingerprints are slowly raising
Me, you wouldn't recall, for I'm not my former
It's hard when, you're stuck upon the shelf
I changed by not changing at all, small town predicts my fate
Perhaps that's what no one wants to see
I just want to scream...hello...
My god it's been so long, never dreamed you'd return
But now here you are, and here I am

That's one of my favorite lyrics by any band, any album, any song. On the surface it's just...I don't know, seemingly not that special. But when you slow down, read the words contextually, you can almost see this little, aging lady processing through life and gaining recall of who that person is in front of her. It also touches on that small town angst I talked about in my post about home.

Fast forward to seminary and I see a trailer at the Laemmle for a movie called Into the Wild. Turns out the entire soundtrack is by Vedder. That excited me, since after Vitalogy I hadn't listened to much PJ. The soundtrack was fascinating. The political discourse. The oddly counter-cultural messages that lined up with my theological leanings astounded me. Now. I don't know a lot about Vedder, but this I feel I can definitively say...the boy ain't a professing Christian. So, hearing a song like "Society" and reflecting of my own faith and their congruance was a great experience.

I kept the Into the Wild soundtrack in the rotation as I moved from Pasadena to Tuscaloosa, AL. It is just great music. Then one day while living in the mansion I watched the documentary Buck. If you haven't seen it. Stop reading. Go watch it. Come back and finish this post.

Welcome back. Wasn't that good? That movie was so emotive. The story of Buck Brannaman is beautiful. And as the closing credits start, you hear something familiar...Eddie Vedder. The song was new and about as simple as you can imagine. Turns out the song was by Pearl Jam and not a solo effort by Vedder. All the better!

That song was "Just Breathe" (you can watch the video for this below). And it somehow transcended the normal "secular" song and broke into my quiet times. Yeah that's right, a man not professing faith somehow became a part of the sacred moments of my day. There is just something that Vedder and the boys tapped into that was beautiful and in a holy way.

There is this term that I loved to throw around while at seminary. "Natural revelation" is this idea that there are certain ideas of truth, beauty, etc. that can be seen without any special help from religion. So, for instance, the majesty of the Rocky Mountains is a reflection of the strength and beauty of God. Or, the state of Alabama is the hotbed for all of American football.  Those types of things. I think there is something in the music of Vedder, in the movies of Wes Anderson and in so many other places that fall into this category. There are these unexpected voices that can teach us things when we learn to listen. And Vedder has been one of those voices for me. So, I'll leave you with "Just Breathe," which has become a reminder of love, life and joy.


  1. I'm with you. I think Vs. is the better album, though I have probably listened to Ten more. Ten is great, but when compared to later albums, it's pretty clear that Pearl Jam didn't know who they were yet. Talented musicians getting together for the first time go on long jam sessions, which is what we hear on Ten. It's only after working together for a while that bands start writing tight songs. (Notable exceptions include The Grateful Dead, Phish, and DMB.) I love Vs. raw, tight sound. It's a band with a better sense of identity, even if they were seeing themselves as against the world. They have a better idea of what they want to sound like. Don't forget that years later, they reissued Ten, taking out the reverb and stripping down the production. For my money, I like Rearviewmirror and Animal.

  2. I will have to check out the reissue. That sounds pretty great. I also like your point about the band really growing with time and experience together.