Friday, December 21, 2012

Improving Pearl Jam - Add a Sack

Blogging about "Jeremy" got me thinking about Pearl Jam. Why weren't they bigger as a band and stay relevant longer? They were very arena rock early on and decided to go a bit more odd starting with Vitalogy. The whatever happened to alternaive nation series points out that Vedder (as well as Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain) seemed to reject the idea of being a rock band front man with all of its perks and baggage. They couldn't grab the conch and hold it high in victory. "I am a golden god" would never leave Vedder's lips. It wasn't just his attitude because it seemed to infect their music. It might just be that Vedder was a mangina-ish, giant fricking douche that drank too much from the liberal fountain. Let's improve Pearl Jam to grab the ear of Gen X + Y men for a bit longer.
Don't say Pearl Jam was wicked awesome for long enough and also say Guns 'n' Roses didn't have staying power. GnR's run was from 87-91. Pearl Jam's peak run was 92-98 (if you include Yield), but by '98 most fans had moved on from surging to record stores when the new Pearl Jam album was released. Their peak run was probably 92-96. Hell, they had lost a lot of fans with Vitalogy. Mainstream white kids dove headfirst into rap and the Korn-Limp Bizkit side of rock. There is a reason Offspring wrote "Pretty Fly for a White Guy"; their fans had abandoned alt rock for rap. It was a great FU to those lame fans. I liked "The Offspring" thoughout the '90s. Did the fans have a point? Maybe Pearl Jam and some alt rock bands were a bunch of whining manginas, and young men got tired of listening to songs written about old ladies, daughters and abused women. Part of the problem was who Vedder was and what he sang about.
Vedder himself was a douche who claimed to be an outsider as a kid when a little bit of Rolling Stone 'research' dug up how he was well liked at his school and voted as most likely to be famous. It was an act to appeal to disaffected youth and sharpen that image of alt rock outsider. He was so alt rock that his band had their debut album released by a big record label. I can't stress this enough, Vedder was a douche. Vedder stopped the label from pushing "Black" as a single because it was an emotional artistic moment, yet it is still on radio stations 20 years later without the label promoting it. Self sabotage. Vedder was also your standard liberal douchebag. Pearl Jam was part of rockers for choice (yes, male rock bands that were pro-choice, sounds like rockers for gay marriage now, right?). Vedder wrote on his arm at their Unplugged a pro-choice slogan during their performance of "Porch". Wow, what a fucking rebel. Like men will care if PJ is pro-choice. Songs off their first 3 albums like "Glorified G" mocked gun owners, "WMA" focused on white male 'privilege', and "Betterman/Nothingman/Daughter/Why Go/Elderly Woman Behind" were vagina centric, which last I checked is not going to win you male fans unless nudity is involved. I recall many male friends of mine being bothered that PJ didn't have many 'rockin' songs on Vitalogy and No Code. They missed songs like "Go", "Animal", "Once", "Alive" and "Porch", which I like to call angry young male rock. "Go" was the warm up song for my high school b-ball team a few years after it's release it was that energetic + acceptably fierce. What those fans didn't recognize was that PJ's mangina flower blossomed on those albums but the seeds had been planted as far back as Ten. PJ were like proto-SWPLs who didn't relize that they had ahuge non-SWPL audience.
Let's change a few songs. Just contemplate if these changes would give the male fans of PJ something to rock out to without feeling a bit weird that they are moshing to a song about a dyslexic little girl or hospitalized woman.
"Daughter" - Change to "Mother" or "Son" and keep the same narrative just change the focus of the song to a mother-son relationship. The learning disability lines apply just as easily to boys as to girls. Considering how many guys in Gen X + Y were raised by single moms, divorced moms or in broken homes, how frickin easy would it be for male fans to identify with and bond to this song? "Won't call you mother, not fit to, the picture kept will remind me" or "Dont call me son, not fit to" and "He holds the hand that holds him down, he will rise above". This would echo the vibe of Fight Club a few years later. Lay up.
"Betterman" - Change to "Better Dad" and instead of an abused woman the song becomes about an abused son, and the weird love/hate relationship that often exists between an abusive parent and child. I've got plenty of friends who had abusive parents who say "Rearview Mirror" was their anthem during the years their dad/mom beat them before they had their growth spurt. Funny how many abusive parents stop hitting their kids once the kids get as big as or bigger than them. "He lies until he still loves him, can't find a better dad". Lay up.
"Why Go" - Just change this from an isolated woman in a psych ward to a young man medicated and manipulated by psychiatrists in schools or suggested shrink sessions after his parents' divorce. The song is pretty fast paced, and Vedder sings with some power and fake rage. Power and mock rage is what immediately comes to mind with daughters of divorce >dismissive wanking hand motion<. This song becomes much more relevant and even prophetic focusing on a medicated young man. Starting in the '90s, you had plenty of young boys doped up on ritalin, prozac and other brain altering drugs just to get them to 'sit still' in class. Tell me young men aren't moshing to that song for a decade. Lay up.
Get rid of "Glorified G" and "W.M.A" - I had friends who hated how "Glorified G" had peppy instrumentation but dumped on people like their dad the deer hunter and gun owner. No one listened to "W.M.A.", but once they did they made that "WTF face". I rolled my eyes at that song at 13.
Do these changes prevent the mass defection of white male listeners? I think it changes the mass defection to a smaller, slower flow like many huge bands experience. Papers like the NY Times constantly mention the need for books and movies to reflect minorities to get them interested in reading books or watching films. While this is not as glaring a problem as the Times makes it, there's a kernel of truth to it. It is easier to project yourself into a protagonist if the character does look like you (think of porn casting). If that is the case with movies and books, it should also be the case with music. In a post this week, I wrote how every '90s teen at some point felt a little like "Jeremy". That is part of why the song was so successful and endured. Change the songs listed above and you have a few more anthems for Gen X/Y sons raised by bitchy single moms, beaten by their dads, guys who tried hard to overcome a learning disability for demanding parents before special ed really took off or fought against a system of psychiatry that was doping them against their wishes. Pearl Jam could've been an angry voice that provided rocking tunes and social commentary for a generation. They rejected that role. They failed us. We walked away.

5 comments:

PRCD said...

"Pearl Jam could've been an angry voice that provided rocking tunes and social commentary for a generation. They rejected that role. They failed us. We walked away."

I think Slayer filled this role.

I never bought a Pearl Jam album because they always seemed like dirty 'bags to me. I got into hardcore but that was more suburban Gen X/Y angst in a different form. The entire genre caters to kids of suburban divorcees (mis-targeted anger, boring slogans and ideas, failure).

I listen to a lot of different crap now.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Slayer, awesome. By '94, PJ was sinking and by 98 they were an afterthought. People rip on Guns n Roses quick collapse, but in reality, PJ collapsed faster.

My parents and in-laws have both said how they knew alternative would never last because it was full of whiners and no one builds a following on whining.

Carlos the Bunny said...

If you want to see the essence of mangina Eddie Vedder, watch the youtube clip of them accepting a grammy in 97. The band get up and all wait for king eddie to lead them to the podium, whereby he says the award doesn't mean anything to him, but it would have meant something to his father who abandoned him or something. The rest of the guys seem normal, but Eddie is a a self-righteous prick inside and out. He's a try-hard rebel.

GNR and Mr. Rose have by far a more loyal and larger fanbase than PJ because GNR was RNR. How many rock stars have ever used the word nigger derisively in a song as did Mr. Rose in One in a Million and not be crucified and disappeared from the mainstream forever.

Pearl Jam, much like Nirvana and other anemic bands that spawned in the 90's, reflected the revolutionary white self hatred that had been cultivated in public schools and media for the previous 20 years.

Anger self directed (PJ) is never going to be as inspiring as outward directed anger (GNR).

Another interesting angle would be to look at the high levels of drug abuse, suicide and depression among rockers from that self-loathing Seattle school of rock. Mr. Cobain, Layne Staley for instance.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Vedder was such a poseur. Their first drummer bought a hot car once Ten went big and Vedder went ballistic on him for buying it. He was a douche. He told MTV not to release their Unplugged performance as an album because it was a "personal and emotional experience".

Very smart comment on Seattle's drug scene. Cobain, Hoon, Staley all died from heroin as did the lead singer of Mother Love Bone who's death made the slot that Vedder filled. Staley died as a recluse after a long spiral down. There won't be a great book on that Seattle sound until the players have all retired, and people come forward to explain 'where the bodies are buried'.

PRCD said...

GNR was Slash and Axl. The two did not get along after awhile, possibly b/c of Axl's egomania. Axl has been known for spurning everyone, including the guys in Avenged Sevenfold who really looked up to him. By contrast, Slash has been willing to play on stage with A7X.

GNR's meltdown was pretty spectacular, but I bet you can blame most on Axl. The band all came from similar backgrounds as the grunge rockers but, for some reason, were more masculine.