06 May 2011

Parting Ways

Does anyone else have music that they love, but for one reason or another it's really hard to listen to it?

I've got a bunch of it.  Mostly, it has to do with nostalgia of one kind or another.  For example, I've got several albums that I listened to A LOT in the fall of 1993, that I so intimately associate with that time in my life, that I find it very hard to listen to them without taking myself back there.  Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream is one, along with The Posies Frosting On The Beater and to a lesser extent Pearl Jam Vs. (the latter not as much, because I was a huge PJ fan for so many years that I don't associate the album with that particular time so closely).  That was a good time in my life, I was 20 and a junior in college, and had a great group of friends both at school and at home, and the world was really opening up to me and so much was possible.  Still, it's not a place I like to go in my mind, and I'm not completely sure why, although I've always felt sad about my lost past and simpler times, from the time I was a child and first felt the burdens of responsibility.

The Posies - "Burn and Shine"

There are other beloved albums that I have associations with that are more negative, the most striking being Soup by Blind Melon.  Blind Melon was my favorite band, and for those who only know them from "No Rain", let's just say that every one of their other songs is better than that.  This was a great, great band, where each musician was very talented, and they played together in a fluid way that all bands wish they could and few do.  In addition, it's really the only band that every one of their songs resonated with me in a personal way.  At that time in my life, they were where I was at.

Their second album was my most anticipated album release to that time, perhaps ever, and when it came out in August 1995, I listened to it over and over and over again until I knew every note.  I have strong associations with listening to it in a hotel room alone in Montauk, where I was fishing with my dad for a week, waking up at 5:30 every morning to go out on the boat, and just crashing out after dinner to this music.  I really loved where this band was going with this second album, and I was already eager to hear where they would take it next.  They obviously had so much more to say.

And then Shannon died.  I have never before or since been as hurt by the death of someone I didn't know personally, perhaps because I felt like I did know him. 

So, I find it very hard to listen to that album now...

A couple days ago, I heard a song on my mp3 player that struck me in that same way, but for a totally new and different reason.  The song was "Given To Fly" by Pearl Jam.  It's far from my favorite song of theirs, but it holds a special place in my heart, and now I think I understand why.

GTF was the lead single from their 1998 album Yield.  The single was released in January, about a month ahead of the album release.  I had just started using the internet that previous fall, and it was mostly because of Pearl Jam, and my search for rare recordings after hearing a low-gen tape of songs from my friend Gary that I'd never heard before, and I thought I was a hardcore fan, with bootlegs and b-sides and all that sort of stuff.  The internet was still relatively young, and mp3s were the new big thing in music, as for the first time there was available a format that could keep most of the sonic integrity of a CD and could be downloaded on a dial-up connection in less than a year, and stored on the tiny 1 or 2 GB hard drives that were the norm back then.  Plus, there were fan communities and news websites beginning to show up, and suddenly I was "plugged in" to my favorite band with breaking news and inside information as never before.  It was all very exciting, and GTF and Yield were the first new release of this era for me.

One thing that was very cool about this release, and it is something that could NEVER be done today, is that there was a "secret" b-side on the single.  Everyone on the internet knew about the first b-side, "Pilate", which it was also known would be an album track, but it wasn't until people started picking up the album in stores on release day that anyone, even those supposedly the most "in the know", found out there was a second b-side, "Leatherman", which incidentally has never had any other release besides this now rather rare single, and which holds some personal significance itself due to the subject matter.

Yield became, and continues to be, my favorite Pearl Jam album.  It was around this time that I started collecting their concert recordings, and I saw them live twice on their tour that fall.  They firmly cemented themselves as my favorite band, but (from as objective a place as I can speak about this) they also reestablished themselves as the greatest rock and roll band in the world at the time.  And I felt like I was a part of it.  The Beatles were not only the biggest band of their era, they were also the best, and at that moment in the late 90s, Pearl Jam was approaching that sort of status.  Not quite as big as they'd been five years earlier, but definitely better, and those of us who really knew the band knew that we were experiencing an extraordinary time in rock music history.

So why do I feel weird about "Given To Fly"?  It really has more to do with my relationship with Pearl Jam's music and the band in the time since 1998.  For me, 1998 was the band's peak, and all bands that last have a peak at some point where they never quite reach that level of greatness again, however you may measure greatness.  Their next album, 2000's Binaural, left me kind of cold, but at the same time the band was doing what was perhaps the coolest thing any band had ever done.  They announced they would release every show from their 2000 tour, unedited, on CD, and also announced that they didn't really care if you traded them with your friends.

Unfortunately, every subsequent album has left me feeling colder, and each business and marketing decision by the band has left me feeling further from the band that once seemed to truly care about their fans more than any other.  It's hard to believe that I have soured on Pearl Jam to the extent that I have, considering how devoted I was at one time.  It's not that my life has changed so much that I can't still be a huge fan.  I'm still just as devoted to my Neil Young fandom, and in fact much more so, it's that Pearl Jam has ceased to be the band that was so important to me, and to which I felt a closeness.  I've changed, they've changed, and we've grown apart.  So, like seeing an old friend who you once cared deeply for but who has somehow drifted away, it's a little painful to hear a song that epitomizes the time when you were at your closest.

This year, Pearl Jam is celebrating their 20th anniversary.  I'm just not feeling it.  I didn't buy the reissues of the first three albums that have been released in the past couple years, and even though I did download the new Vs. and Vitalogy special editions, I haven't been able to bring myself to listen to them yet, or even to put them on my mp3 player.  It's strange to feel this way.  I'm even questioning whether to renew my Ten Club membership, which expired today.  I've got a pretty low number, being that I've been a member continually since 1999, but since the band hasn't played a show within 4 hours of my home since 2003, I haven't even been able to take advantage of my seniority for fan club seating.

Fittingly, this performance is from Benaroya Hall in 2003, which is about the last time I felt the closeness.

Behind her eyes there's curtains,
And they've been closed to hide the flames. 
She knows their future's burning

But she can smile just the same. 

And though her mood is fine today,
There's a fear they'll soon be parting ways.

Standing like a statue,

A chin of stone, a heart of clay. 

And though he's too big a man to say,

There's a fear they'll soon be parting ways.

Drifting away. 

Drifting away. 
Drifting away. Away. Away.
Drifting away. 

Drifting away. 
Drifting away. Away. Away.

I'll always remember how it was, even if I don't really want to.  Thanks for the music.

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