"It's amazing how much he's changed." I say aloud to Viv as we head
to the car. And how much he has stayed the same I say to myself.
mean, can you remember the awkward, insecure, almost shy dude from the MTV unplugged show?" Hat on, spinning on the stool, covering his arms
with political epitaphs, unsure of how to act beneath his massive new
"It makes me wonder, that if he has changed so much, then we must
have changed that much too. But I don't feel that I have changed that
much. Do you? It's confusing." Viv nods noncommittally indicating that he
understands, but I am not sure if either of us do.
I have seen Pearl Jam perform countless times across the years in as many varied venues. Even when I am not actually in the same city
or arena as the band, I track their set lists through a tour to
see what they are playing. I have written ad nauseam about Pearl Jam,
and for fear of repeating myself, I will once again confess, early in
this piece, that Eddie Vedder is my hero. An idol, I have respected and
for lack of a better word, an artist I have loved for most of my life. So there was
little question that I would fly from Singapore to Perth for a whirlwind
trip to see him perform a live solo show this past weekend.
Lifting up an empty cup, I ask silently
All my destinations will accept the one that's me
So I can breathe...
Recently, I have been watching some Youtube clips of shows to see
how he and the band are holding up. Surprisingly, part of me has been
slightly disappointed by the fact that my hero has changed to the point
of not fitting into the tight carefully crafted box into which I have placed him and would prefer for him to stay. I think back to that MTV
Unplugged show and am reminded of the change and the growth that Vedder
underwent in subsequent years from VS, Vitology and into No Code.
On stage, gone was the overly timid and tortured introvert who I
saw as a mirror for myself, and in his place stood and glared and sang
and raged a man who had learned the power of his own voice, both
literately and metaphorically. And either through my own life experience
or through the power of his music, I too had brought upon my own
metamorphosis-- from bashful boy to…well something else.
and free and determined never to sit quietly again. Someone demanding to
be heard. Someone with a confidence boarding on violence, but rooted in
the humility and honesty of the voiceless. Vedder helped us give a
voice to everything we had always been told to hide. In the early years,
he helped to show us how to transform shame to rage and would
eventually teach us show to change it again into something less
volatile. Something I dare call happiness? Wisdom? But at what cost? Can we
look back and observe this transformation as anything but depressing. A
fading of a light? Of growing old. Of domestication?
reminds me of a jovial slightly drunken uncle. He seems to wear the
same clothes every day, jeans, t-shirt and button-up shirts make up his
uniform. And his short hair, awkward dancing and onstage antics are more
akin to Bruce Springsteen than say Ian Mckaye. In short, he has grown
old and slightly dorky. I compare clips from the nineties to the
present and worry that perhaps, the man I felt would always be my
barometer of cool, might not be anymore. (I do not want to beat you over
the head with the parallel story I am telling here, but please remember
the earlier mirror analogy I began this story with. Am I too becoming
old and irrelevant and uncool?)
A mind full of questions, and a teacher in my soul
And so it goes...
So if I can observe a domesticated joy in Vedder, does mean that
others notice it in me too? The songs from the early years, as I have
repeatedly noted, are still a crucible of emotion for me. A catalyst of
transformation and a place where I go to remember and relive the pain,
the suffering, the change, the growth, the renewal. When I watch old
footage and look into his eyes, I am reminded of the fire that forged the man I am today. In a way, I need him to always be the source
of that fire, for this nostalgia is necessary for me to keep my fire
stoked and burning. Or is it? Is it possible, that I too am ready to
allow the flames to grow warm and simmer. For although we have both
grown old, the fire has done its job. The metal has been forged. Perhaps
it is time to enjoy the heat in different ways.
What can one really tell from a Youtube video? How can one feel the passion
of one of the greatest rock bands in history, through a three minute
clip on a tiny screen? I needed to see for myself. I needed to make
certain that Eddie Vedder was not becoming some depressing old lounge
act, rehashing old hits for his adoring yet faithful fans. I needed
to be certain that I was not getting old. So off to Perth I went.
From the second he took the stage, before he said a word or
played a note, I knew that he was more relevant now and more important
to me than he has ever been. I realized that it had been unfair to hold
on to what I needed him to be--a beacon of my past, a symbol of my pain,
a well for my rage. I was being unfair to both of us. Heroes if they
are to be true, cannot remain stagnant. He cannot be a romantic yet impotent nostalgia.
I've got my indignation, but I'm pure in all my thoughts I'm alive...
Wind in my hair, I feel part of everywhere
Underneath my being is a road that disappeared
Aging is a slow process. It is not sudden or painful in
the way that one expects. It is a low moaning ache that one feels in his
joints every time he wakes up. Growing old is an ongoing revelation of
ones successes and failures. A daily balancing of the ledgers of the
promises you made in your youth. A cashing in of promissory notes. Have you become the person you wanted
to be when you were young? But the reality is that when you are young,
you have no idea about the possibilities and choice of the people you could become as you age. And these new choices can be excited. Dare I say
So while the younger me could not imagine an Eddie Vedder
singing love songs on a Ukelele on a stage lit by artificial starlight,
he also could not imagine a future self sitting calmly in his seat
nearly crying because of a tender awareness that made the night so
perfect. Gone was the sweat and the need to mosh and crash into other
lost young men to prove something not one of us could name. Gone was the
ferocity and rage that kept us all, audience and band, chained
together. And in its place the graceful honest aging of men and woman
stewed in the same cauldron of celebration. There no longer seems a need to attack.
Please don't get me wrong, Eddie has not become fat Elvis. The
intensity and veracity with which he approaches his art has not
diminished in the least bit. In fact, it has been carefully honed and
perfectly crafted. It was funny to watch Vedder the man, still bumbling
incoherently through stories and uncomfortably addressing the crowd.
Still the timid troubadour unable to express himself in anything other
than song. Vedder is still the awkward introvert when not shielded behind
the walls of his songs. But oh the songs! Stripped down and laying
vulnerably naked on the stage were the perfect mirror I needed. The lyrics
part spiritual hymnal, part philosophy are still all the religion and/or
therapy I need.
Leave it to me as I find a way to be
Consider me a satellite, forever orbiting
I knew all the rules, but the rules did not know me
Life works in stages, in chapters, in verses and acts, and the actors
must know the needs of the characters. As I approach forty, on the precipice of an inevitable mid-life
crisis, I am thankful I have an idol, a rock-star role-model, a man who is
once again a few steps ahead of me scouting the landscape and warning of
pitfalls and sharing with me the joy of maturity. And since I have
built a relationship, not with the man, but with his songs, he has
gained my trust. By never letting me down and not allowing me to
pigeon-hole him, he has forced me to acknowledge my own transformation.
He asked that no one record the show as he wanted us to enjoy the
moment and enjoy the privacy we had earned by being in the room, so I
cannot share with you any Youtube clips of the night, but trust me the
clips would not have done justice to feeling of sitting fifteen rows back,
dead center, watching your hero do what he does best- allow people to
understand themselves and each other through the elegant
simplicity of song.
The complete set list and official poster:
Walking The Cow (Daniel Johnston), Picture In a Frame (Tom Waits), Better Man, Wishlist, Speed Of Sound, Can't Keep, Without You, Light Today, You're True, Hide Your Love Away (The Beatles), Driftin', Setting Forth, Far Behind, Guaranteed, Rise, Long Nights (with Glen Hansard), Just Breathe, 4th Of July (X (the band), Porch
Encore: After Hours (Lou Reed), Immortality, Lukin, Sleepless Nights (Bryant, with Glen Hansard), Society (Jerry Hannan, with Glen Hansard), Falling Slowly (Hansard, Irglová, with Glen Hansard)
Encore 2: Rockin' In The Free World (Neil Young), Hard Sun (Peterson)
Sixteen years old and you are madly, wildly, uncontrollably in love. In love like no one at any other time has ever been in love before. All you can do is to think about and dream about and think about, did I already say that, well I’ll say it again— all you can do is to think about this girl. For the first time, there is a girl who says she loves you too. And while neither of you have any idea what this could possibly mean, you both know exactly what it means. It means you are IN love and you love THAT too.
And with this new, fresh, never-been-expereinced before love there is touching and kissing and deep stares into soulful eyes. There is hand holding and hugging and rubbing and other new frontiers that only a love so pure and profound and unique could unlock. Nobody else could possibly feel this deeply enamored and obsessed with another human being. You are adults now and your love is proof. These are not emotions for children. What child could handle a love like this?
It is heavy and volatile and hard to handle. Sometimes it blows up and leaves you painfully scarred and damaged and hurt and confused, but this is okay, because this love is so fecund that you know that all you have to do is wait it out and you will be in love again, usually more so than before.
This love will make you cry— alone or in groups. Sober or drunk. It makes you yearn and reach out and reach in. It makes you share and expose and it leaves you pleasantly vulnerable. It helps you build intricate shells and masks and invisible defenses. Teaches you to break them down and lay naked, waiting to be drenched once more.
Bruises tender and the low-moan-ache— in the car just the boys (men) Talking bases, and fingers, and conquest, to cover up the pain. How far did you get? After the braggadocio and bravado subside. In the darkness of the waning machismo. There is a silence. Each of you sits alone with the memory of this new found love.
Ari, put the Don’t Cry single in. Four boys (men) driving to Tahoe listen in silence. You miss her already.
It’s funny how a song can not only take you back in time— allowing you to relive moments you felt had faded or worse vanished, but sometimes if the right song is matched with the right period in a life, a person can be made to regress emotionally and possibly feel the same emotions that one worked through, albeit not gracefully, the first time. And no other song, when I was in this state of fluctuating ecstasy and pain, could mirror my emotions, no other song could touch and soothe every raw nerve like this one:
It's been a while since I recorded and shared some music. I have still been playing on Wednesdays, but recently two friends have been joining me on bass and drums. It has been a humbling experience to say the least. It is so hard to sing and play and keep time, but I am slowly learning I guess. We have a few songs I can muddle my way through. Hoping to maybe play some kind of set at some point in front of a few people.
But tonight neither Jeff or Joe could make it, so I was back to my solo antics, and it felt pretty damn good. It has been a while so I was just belting out the tunes. I was able to record eight songs! From Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Grateful Dead.
Broken Down Palace by The Grateful Dead
Mad World by Gary Jules
New York by Blind Pilot
Sweet Caroline by Ryan Adams
Like A Stone by Audioslave
Bird On A Wire by Leonard Cohen
Journey To The Past by Neil Young
Four Walls of Raiford Lynyrd Skynryd
Feeling pretty good a bout a few these. I need to do some research and find an open mic soon.
Sometimes, more often than not actually, I think that maybe after eight-and-a-half years of sobriety, I might be able to throw in the towel on the teetotaling, and enjoy a nice robust Chardonnay with the rest of the civilized people of the world when I go out to eat dinner on a river in the fading glow of a well-spent day. Or maybe, I too can "grab a cold one," with the other parents as we watch our kids frolic and swim in the pool with the pregnant South East Asian clouds simmer overhead threatening rain.
I'm laying in bed, my fingers covered in grease, half the bag gone before I take my first breath. I hear that all familiar voice over the tender crunching of chips, "Man these are good. Can we eat them faster? There is no point in stopping now, there are not enough left for a satisfying session next time. You are more than half way done. Just finish the bottl...bag."
Addiction is about that voice. The one that pretends to be you, but really is only manipulating you to do the things you know you shouldn't. It's a familiar voice no doubt, one I hear every time I over indulge on anything: chips, batch of cookies, a vegan chocolate bar. I have never been able to moderate or negotiate with that voice. It's all or nothing.
As my vices dwindle with age, I am left wondering why I have to abstain entirely from the things I want. How do normal people just have a few chips? Or one or two glasses of wine, without the need to inhale, annihilate, devour, and.....see, just talking about it gets me excited.
Perhaps my problem is that I know the voice too well. We have been through so much. He has saved me from many a painful realization, all the while making dousing me with shame and regret. Food for me, as of now, is harmless, so I will quell the voice with a bag of chips now and then, but I am still distrustful with the glass of wine on the river.
Sometimes at a party, while getting my wife a glass of wine I will discretely smell the aroma wafting from the glass. Fruity and light, the glass lightly moistened with condensation. It smells like a tart fresh apple with a hint of pear and, is that..... yes some pineapple sweetness. That is when I hear the voice, "You could drink that entire bottle in one sip like a cool Snapple and just be getting started."
I hand the glass to my wife and reach for a cold glass of water and think about later in the night when I will binge on a bag of chips. Keeping the voice satiated once again.
I've been thinking again. Damn. Will it ever stop? Been thinking about creativity and nature and kids and toughness and grit. Been thinking about how to teach and learn about life while knowing that life can never be taught or learned. Been thinking about climbing mountains and escape, about digging-in and living. Been thinking about the state of my soul and the embarrassment I feel when I use the word soul publicly-- as if somehow the romantic sentimentality of the notion of an inner-spirit will lose me whatever elusive street-cred I falsely feel I have accrued.
These errant thoughts have roots in other fleeting thoughts. Like a cluster of tangled floating kites, my mind tries to untangle from itself, I hope that maybe someday soon I might land. Maybe take some time to unravel the lines and set them free. Free to float and become ensnared again.
Some knots I have been trying to untie: Can I fully live in the present moment, in the situation I have created and not perpetually be waiting for some alternative future? Can I enjoy nature in a city? Can I be creative while working a full-time job? Can I feed my sense of adventure and wanderlust with a family? I have been thinking about many of these things since the beginning of this term, but things have been coming to a head after reading The Circle by Dave Eggers, a student trip to Chiang Mai and most recently after watching 180 South.
Take a look:
After sharing my now predicable (cyclical) boredom with the Internet and humanity in general, Adrienne, suggested I take a year off and do something about my need to.... I am not even sure I can name it. The idea of taking a six month trip to (insert anywhere) sounds about as plausible as taking a trip to the moon.
So what? I just sit and stew?
From pretty early on in my childhood I have had contact with the Green Gulch Zen Center. And for just as long, I have admired and respected the beautiful kind people who live and work there. I have often contemplated what my life would look like, if I lived at a Zen monastery working on a farm and meditated every morning. And now, after watching 180 South, I am left contemplating what my life would like if I was some bearded mountain climbing, surfing adventurer. If I was single and had made some very different choices, perhaps I too could enjoy life affirming freedom and adventure by surfing off the coast of Easter Island, but that is not my reality.
I am the proud and happy father of two amazing kids, I have a job that I absolutely love and a wife and partner who loves and supports most of what I do, think and feel. My point being that I cannot just drop everything and move to a monastery or take a six month trip to Patagonia. Part of me has always thought of those lifestyles as a sort of cheating. I mean, anyone can be Zen master when surrounded by a sangha. But what about those of us, that for whatever reason are living "normal" lives? Are we to be deprived of the marrow of life, if we simply go about our business and raise families and do our jobs?
More questions: How does one bring Zen to daily life? How can I be adventurous while living in a city? How can one satiate a soul while bound my the trappings of a life consumed by materialism? Important questions? No? I have friends who are quitting their jobs to become Dive masters or Outdoor Ed facilitators. And I have nothing but respect for them and their choices, but apart from radically changing my life what can I do? I do not want to live off the grid, so how can I make the grid work for me?
I thought I had some ideas and more answers, but this post might just be a series of questions. Looking forward to some of your suggestions and thoughts. The comments are yours. Let me know what you think or wise friends.
There is a trend forming here. One that is becoming abundantly clear to anyone who has been reading these Pearl Jam posts. I have spoken often and repeatedly about a nagging sense of anger and angst. Post after post, song after song writing about a yearning to lash out and be heard. Songs like Why Go, Alive, Porch, and Blood were all carved from the same scars caused by the painful events described in my Rearview Mirror post. Each of these songs speaks directly to the transformation of victim to healer. Abused to savior. Each song an anthem of angst and rage. And ultimately hope.
While the album Versus, begins to explore new sound-scapes unheard on Ten, the song Leash both in sound and content, is from that earlier era. Leash could easily have been a track from Ten, as is evidenced my footage of the band playing the song as early as 1991. And like the songs mentioned above, Leash was another prayer in my hymnal in the early days of my twenties. One to which I often turned in times of confusion and hope.
The song Leash is a cocktail of emotional tension and release, and so warrants a line-by-line breakdown. I have always understood the opening line as a call! A gathering of tribes.
Troubled souls unite we got ourselves tonight
There is no salvation beyond suffering. No help beyond our own tribe. Only those who are broken and have faced pain can mend and heal that pain. But there is power in healing. Because our pain is not our own to bare alone-- it is a tool we can use to help others. As we, the troubled souls, share the weight of our suffering and make clear to others that we too have been there, our own load lightens at the same time as those whom we are trying to help.
I am fuel you are friends we got the means to make amends
This song is the ultimate in self-sacrifice. The singer confused as to whether he is the saved or the savior. I often felt Vedder singing these lines to me, but on those occasions, alone in a car or a dark room, when I was the singer of these lines, I felt invincible. Empowered to use my scars to mend others.
I am lost I'm no guide but I'm by your side I am right by your side
I have always loved the humility of that line. Keep in mind that by this time Vedder was seen as the spokesperson of a generation. A sort of messiah for the disenfranchised, but here he is saying that he doesn't have any more answers than those who have placed him on a pedestal. It is in his vulnerability and ability to stand by us that we should find comfort, not by any answers he may have. Again, when singing this song, I find his humility empowering. To this day, I feel the notion of being a lost guide in everything I do. In my writing, teaching, and parenting. I don't know where I am going, but I will stand with anyone who is willing to move forward.
Young lover I stand It was their idea I proved to be a man
This is one of my favorite Pearl Jam lines of all time. It so perfectly highlights the tenacity of survival. The ambiguity of "their" is perfectly situated to separate them from us. Society and the troubled souls. The abusers and the abused. The dead from the living.
Take my fucking hand It was their idea I proved to be a man
And then to repeat it! Building that tension both in speed and tone, the song heads toward climax. But then suddenly the melody softens and takes flight. Adding a layer of complexity to the crescendo which begin on the first note.
Will myself to find a home a home within myself We will find a way we will find our place
Back to the theme of self-reliance and community. Vedder reminding us that only we can help ourselves. And only then can we help others. That if we band together and cherish our youth, we will find our place. All we must do is to demand from those that control us to:
Drop the leash drop the leash Get outta' my fuckin' face Drop the leash, we are young Oh, get outta' my fuckin' face Drop the leash, drop the leash Get outta' my, my
The song finally breaks into a hopeful lift, a chant, a calling for release. A demand to be set free! Weaving guitar solos usher in an ending filled with howls to:
Delight, delight, delight in our youth
Leash has got to be one of my top five Pearl Jam songs of all time. Where does Leash take you? What stories or lessons have you dug out of this song?