September 26, 2013


I remember having a TV in 1993, but I don't remember having TV. The actual device sat in our tiny living room, but I never remeber watching it or having cable. Between the drinking, the working and swimming in the coagulating soup of rage, malaise and ennui, who had time for television. How could Frasier or The Nanny compete with long smoky nights contemplating existential angst beneath the safe umbrella of music and Anthony's friendship? You did not move into your own apartment at nineteen to watch TV. You moved on your own to find out who the hell you were meant to be.

So where did I first watch the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards? It was September and Vs had only been out a few weeks, but Pearl Jam was up for an award and they were to perform a song from the new album. After the success of Ten and the turbulent effects of fame, this was to be the first time we would see the band in months. It must have been at our apartment, but I can't be sure.

I had already absorbed the new album. The constant rotation of the songs at our pad had prematurely reduced the paper case into shreds. Something about Vedder's "primal take on human disconnection," was very appealing to two young dudes living on their own behind a restaurant in their hometown.

The first thing I remember about their set was the stripped down red background. Anthony and I  would see a similar stage a few months later at The Greek theater and The Warfield. The powerful simple red of the stage, stood in stark contrast to the typically flashy VMA acts.  Add to the crimson banner, Vedder's army jacket and this performance was meant to be a message-- Five against one! Us versus them! I for one saw myself as part of the us. Unsure exactly who the them could be, I knew that I'd rather be with an animal too...

The sound of feedback in the darkness sets the scene, and like on Go, an amped up rolling tribal guitar, bass and drum intro set McCready and Jeff Ament bouncing on the stage, while Vedder unmoving, eyes distant and closed, begins his declaration of defiance. Exuding a tension filled rage, he sings with the calm of a bomb about to explode.
One, two, three, four, five against one
Five, five, five against one
Said one, two, three, four, five against one
Five, five, five, five, five against one
A statuesque shorter haired Vedder almost looks bored on the stage. Gone are his antics of climbing the rafters and flinging his body about the stage. This man means business and he is pissed. Snarling and grunting the same refrain over the rolling cacophony created by his equally intense band, one cant help but notice the primal effect his words are having on his demeanor. He just might have become an animal. The band exudes such an intense element of wildness that Jeff Ament is literally attacking his bass! While a crew-cut Stone Gossard, keeps the rhythm in shorts and a T-shirt.
I'd rather be,
I'd rather be with,
I'd rather be with an animal
 In just a few months, these guys had really changed. They had grown.  And so had I. This album then and to this day symbolizes my assault on the world at large. Nearly every song on VS, but Animal in particular is a declaration of war to anyone who dares stand in the way of our individual freedom.

Vedder's performance reminds of an early Pearl Jam line, "He can't help when he's happy looks insane." That far off stare, the nearly exploding bomb, the white knuckle clinched and ready to punch, wrapped in an almost zen like calm defined much of my life in my Twenty's. For nearly a decade much of what I thought, how I felt and how I acted began from the performance of this song on this night and to a larger extent the album as a whole.

As if this performance weren't enough, the band stayed on the stage and were joined by Neil Young for a seven minute performance of Rockn' In the Free World. A multi-generational anti-corporate FU right on the most corporate venue possible, the VMAs. Neil Young nearly has a seizure though his guitar. The set ends with McCready and Vedder destroying the stage in an apocalyptic sound scape. Vedder sips a bottle of wine as they leave the stage. Pearl Jam is back with a new album and nothing in music will ever be the same again.

It is perhaps uncool and a bit immature to talk about idol worship as a grown man, but as a young man in search of heroes, this man and these songs filled a void that little else in my life has done to this day. I didn't need religion or therapy because I had Pearl Jam. Hell at times I didn't even need friends. I made it on my own. "It was their idea, but I proved to be a man." But wait, that song comes later on this album.

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