Sunday, October 30, 2011


My wife and I had a little Pearl Jam film festival this weekend, watching Eddie Vedder's Water On The Road concert film, and also Pearl Jam 20, the documentary about the band by Cameron Crowe. I thought Cameron, a long time fan of the band, did a good job. It was really interesting to see Eddie, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament and Mike McCready talking about their entire history. Well, almost.

I kept getting hung up on the fact that none of the band's ex-drummers were mentioned until well after an hour into the film. First, Mike mentioned "Jack," referring to Jack Irons, and a few minutes later, Mike went into an explanation of the former drummers (Irons, Dave Krusen, Dave Abbruzzese and even interim drummer Matt Chamberlin). It really bothered me that none of them were interviewed for the doc.  In contrast, in the recent Foo Fighters doc, the former members got to have their say, I felt that it hurt PJ20 that the drummers were almost an afterthought to the film (ironically, as Eddie Vedder at one point says that a drummer is a band's heart). Also, longtime keyboardist Boom Gaspar was the subject of a 5 minute extra, but there was no real explanation of why Vedder thought he should be in the band, or what the band thought of him joining.   I was also interested in hearing more about the conflict in the band, when Eddie was touring in a van trying to be a "D.I.Y." as possible while the rest of the band traveled together in a bus. Mike McCready asks "Was he embarrassed by us?"  I would have liked to have heard Eddie address that. There was definitely a time where he seemed to be chasing some weird indie-rock credibility that is kind of impossible for a band whose debut album sold ten million copies. It was obvious that it was creating tension with the rest of the band: especially as Jeff and Stone had been though so much with their former bands, Green River and Mother Love Bone.

At the core of the film is Stone's desire to run the band, and Eddie's increasing influence.  McCready insinuated that Stone wasn't totally into having Jeff in Pearl Jam, Stone admitted to thinking of it as his band until Eddie Vedder took over.  I imagine Stone calls the shots in Brad, but even in Brad, the singer Shawn Smith is kind of the main guy in the group. Stone has done a solo album - which was kind of ignored. I wonder how Stone made peace with the fact that he's better in a band, and a band needs a good frontman. Meanwhile, I would have liked to have heard more from Eddie about the importance of the other guys in the band, and how he interprets his influence in the group.

I realize that the band's manager Kelly Curtis was a co-producer, and the the goal of the film was to celebrate the band as it currently exists, not necessarily to be a comprehensive documentary, and Cameron Crowe is close with the band.  Maybe a documentary like Metallica's Some Kind Of Monster went a bit too deep and provided too much information, but I feel like PJ20 didn't go far enough.

I did enjoy the doc. I loved seeing Jeff at home in Montana, and Eddie's story about meeting Jack Irons for the first time:  Jack was playing in Joe Strummer's band, Eddie worked at the venue for a show where they met, Jack later introduced Eddie to Stone and Jeff.  While telling the story, Eddie is looking a picture of he and Strummer from that show, and he muses, "It all really comes down to this picture." Of course I loved where the band talked about Neil Young's influence on them, not just musically, but career wise.

I remember in the early days of the band, I found myself annoyed at Eddie Vedder for his indie obsession, which I felt came from (among other things) Kurt Cobain slamming the band in the press.  And while I've always loved Nirvana, Cobain's comments made me lose a bit of respect for him. It was fascinating to me that Stone admitted that Eddie's decisions sometimes didn't make sense to him at the time, and sometimes took a decade to make sense, but they were the right decisions.  And also that Cobain's comments kept the band on their "best behavior" and keeps doing so to this day.  I never thought of it that way.  Those were great moments the really added weight to the doc.

I really enjoyed that Stone talked about the fans' belief in the band keeping the band alive even when they weren't sure about themselves.  I never "moved on" from the band: I've been down since almost day one (I bought Ten the day it came out, because I loved the Temple Of The Dog album, which I bought because I was a Soundgarden fan, and to a lesser extent, Mother Love Bone). If my cheers, concert attendance, purchasing of their albums on release day, was a small part of the larger group of fans that never lost faith, I'm glad. I'm also glad that the band remain a relevant force to me to this day.  I can't wait for the next album, and yes, I'm willing to forgive the flaws in this documentary.

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