Pearl Jam 20: Staying true to their art

Usually you will read stories of debauchery in American rock bands that have become bigger than life. This documentary shows much more than just the usual band antics.

Pearl Jam was one of those bands that came to my attention after I saw their music video Jeremy back in the 90s. The song jumped on me instantly. It was a story of a boy who shot himself in class–a tragedy that left a lasting impression on Eddie Vedder who wrote the song.

The documentary is perhaps the only one that captured what the band was like before (when they were at the height of their popularity) and now that they’ve grown older and smarter.

What made this band great was they stuck to their art–they didn’t want to be labeled–just like Led Zeppelin. They also did a lot of crazy stuff, including Eddie Vedder jumping off from a high place into the crowd. A band that was born in Seattle, Pearl Jam was lumped into the “Grunge” era of rock music. Pearl Jam’s influences were varied. So if you listen closely, their sound is unique–it’s not punk and it’s not glam. It’s Pearl Jam.

It also revealed the artist in Vedder who was self-conscious in the beginning. He has this mystique–this inner voice–that conjures lyrics, or even poetry made into a song. Just listen to “Black.”

Hey… oooh…
Sheets of empty canvas, untouched sheets of clay
Were laid spread out before me as her body once did.
All five horizons revolved around her soul
As the earth to the sun
Now the air I tasted and breathed has taken a turn

That’s great songwriting!

Pearl Jam 20 includes never-before-seen video footages of the band and its members. Cameron Crowe, a rock journalist and writer and director of this film, has indeed captured the band’s soul. And to this day, the mystique remains.