I've been slacking. I've got big ideas for this place. Not this big, though. Right now, we are all touching the sun. I knew it!
Dec 25 2011
Whatever this day means or not, it has as great a chance as any other to be a time of presence, reflection and love. Maybe it has more, just for all the tradition and memory that is here with it. Whatever it has been, whatever it will be, whatever it's supposed to be; it can be just like a baby that was a mysterious surprise in arriving, bringing with it wonder, maybe even worry, so many emotions... and bringing nothing so much as a present that is is real as it gets. A gorgeous, infinitely possible present. May yours be merry and bright, silent and holy, beautiful and happy, with time for joy and time for cheer. This-mas time is here.
I'm getting on a plane to the UK. We played somewhere there once, I remember. With Aereogramme (however that's spelled) on the bill too, I think. We played lots of places. We made some really fun noise from Hellfest to Hollywood. You let me ride on the bus with you when we toured, if I wasn't chasing you in a rental car. I'd irritate that one merch guy of yours to no end, selling my little mess of stuff sliding-scale next to the mountains he took care of, talking to people for way too long and clogging up the merch area. He'd laugh, though, and he'd always help out when I took a break to go play. You're definitely the band that I always felt the most at home with. You endured the implosion of a scene and an industry with grace and creativity; humble wants, high ideals. I kind of sidestepped all that by touring smaller and smaller. You had the infrastructure of a band to handle, both personally and logistically speaking. You stuck with it. You stuck with each other. I will miss seeing your name on the posters of cities I travel through. I hope that I'll see you all individually; on stages or in studios or in homes. As far as this Rock weirdo is concerned, you did it right. Yea, you stayed true.
This is what passionate, reasonable and real looks like.
"As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.
As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.
They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one's skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers' healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.
They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people's lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.*
To the people of the world,
We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.
Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.
To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.
Join us and make your voices heard!" - Oct 2011
There have been a lot of movements/trends/scenes that I've been reticent to really get on board with. Most of them seem exclusive, extreme and other things that don't jibe with my idea of community/democracy. This feels different.
I love that it's exactly what it says it is: The vast majority of us simply announcing ourselves, announcing that we're aware that we're a vast community working together on solving problems we all know are there: Unchecked corporate greed, rising income disparity, the destruction of the working middle class, failing infrastructure, badly compromised systems of education and justice, hypocritical foreign policy... We know it in our brains and feel it in our bones. We are taking responsibility.
I love that there is no discernible 'focus'. Media folks are whining about this. I think they're doing so because they don't get it and/or it makes it hard (impossible) to define it, caricaturize it and marginalize it. I say the shapelessness is the greatest strength of the movement.
I love that it's decentralized and seemingly happening naturally all over the place.
I love that there is no recognizable 'leader'.
I love that it's bringing out people and ideas of all shapes, colors & sizes. Whether you've got no money or plenty of it, you are the 99%.
I love that it gets to include me and people that I may not agree with on any number of specifics. I'm optimistic that this will lead to truly productive consensus and action that will benefit all of us. We may not get our individual utopias right now, but those entitled insta-utopias are part of the problem anyway.
I love that it's encouraging us to be the active, inspired electorate (that means people that get to help make choose stuff) we have the right and the responsibility to be.
(Rosh Hashanah = Jewish New Year)
"Everything that we do on the days of Rosh Hashanah (this Thursday and Friday) is meant to assist us in planting the right and best seeds for the blessings that we want and will need in the coming year.
Another beautiful teaching is that on this day everything is renewed. One of the greatest sources of unhappiness is that everything ages and becomes old. Usually we are more excited and in love in the beginning of a relationship than 10 years into the marriage. Many of the gifts that come into our lives are exciting and fulfilling in the beginning, but then they become old. Even if we still appreciate them, it is not usually with the same joy and vigor as in the beginning. But it does not have to be so. We can and are meant to renew ourselves, our relationships, our lives, and our blessings at least once a year. One of the gifts available to us on Rosh Hashanah is the ability to draw the energy of renewal to the important areas of our life. Think about the areas of your life that have become old, and blessings that you want to fulfill with the energy of renewal. Through this consciousness you draw the energy of newness into every area of your life.
There are many tools that we can use during the two days of Rosh Hashanah but there are two important connections that we can all make. The first is to take time during these two days and think about our past year, the good, the better, and the not so good. Then ask yourself, “What do I want to change from last year?”, “what do I want to make better?” Also, “what blessings do we want to draw for ourselves and our family in the next year?”
The second important connection is how we think and behave during Rosh Hashanah. We should act in only ways of sharing, forgiveness and care. No anger, no doubt, no jealousy, no sadness, at least for these two days. How we are during these two days will influence the next 363.
May we all be blessed with a wonderful new year and endless blessings for ourselves our families and the world. Shanah Tova."
- Michael Berg, Kabbalah scholar and author.
Sad symmetry for me this morning between the apparently inexcusable execution of Troy Davis in Georgia and the breakup of REM, a band from Georgia that sang and spoke so passionately about so many issues for 30-ish years. They were definitely a band that woke me up to the idea of music as something beyond entertainment, and as something that anyone could make. As for Troy Davis, he seems to be a classic casualty of our (very) flawed justice system. Aside from my many general ideological concerns about the death penalty, just the simple fact that we get it so wrong sometimes and end up killing someone unjustly seems enough of a reason to abolish it. As if imprisoning someone unjustly for years isn't awful enough, killing them is obviously something else entirely.
For anyone offended by me mentioning a band breaking up and a man dying in the same breath, I really do understand that even the most transcendent music isn't like someone being put to death. Music isn't real life. That said, if you're like me, music has been the most simple and profound way to process stuff that defies comprehension and articulation, whether it be really sad stuff or really happy stuff. REM helped me with that. If they were still on tour, no doubt tonight they would sing something -- maybe their version of 'Red Rain' by Peter Gabriel, which is itself a stunning tune, and maybe the most popular song speaking out against the death penalty ever made -- they'd sing and say something, and if I were there, I'd probably get to mourn Troy Davis, feel for his family and wonder about all of us in ways that I might not figure out without them, their music, in that moment.
In anticipation of the new Pearl Jam documentary by Cameron Crowe (one of my favorite directors making a movie about one of my favorite bands, and I just found is his favorite song of theirs is my favorite song too?!?), I realize it's time to finish this ridiculous ramble about my memories of this oddly iconic band that's meant so much to me. A necessary disclaimer before this gets going, though: There is pretty much no way to talk about my love for Pearl Jam without talking about my own zig-zags through making money making music. It's their 20th anniversary of being a band, and it's my 20th of trying to make music for a living. So, apologies in advance for all the self-referential stuff. Overall, it's also important (to me) to emphasize that I don't feel at all 'cool' telling you about this stuff -- in fact, I feel a little embarrassed. It's the kind of shame, though, that I've always taken as a sign to keep going in that direction, to try not to worry about being perceived as an overly enthusiastic schmuck, to just be my dorky self, and let that be as close to 'cool' as I ever get…
I'd moved to Sacramento in 1991 to start talking about forming the band that we eventually called Far. We'd played a handful of shows and made a demo tape. That February, when they were still listed on the flyers as Mookie Blaylock, they played their 14th show at the Cattle Club in Sacramento (http://goo.gl/5L97b), where all the local bands would play (touring bands, too). They were opening for Alice In Chains. Drop Acid was on the bill, too. The singer for that band was Kevin, who is also the singer for 7 Seconds, a band that Ed likes, so I've always figured that was how that happened. Anyway, there they were. And there I wasn't. I was in Claremont, finishing school. When I next came up to Sac for a show or something, someone gave me a cassette. It was in a tan cardboard sleeve, with a little scribble of a character, arms wide open, and all this completely unnecessary information scrawled on it. I loved that they covered a Beatles tune ('I've Got A Feeling') with weird, maniacal intensity. I loved the other rock punk (as opposed to punk rock) songs on the tape. Mostly, though, I was fascinated by the storytelling in the printed handwriting. It was the same kind of gesture that I'd come to love in artists from Zeppelin to Prince to Rickie Lee Jones to U2, pretty much any artist I really loved… Artists that seemed in their art and promotion to enjoy a conspiratorial, intimate relationship with anyone that liked the music; an invitation to a community. I got Ten (Pearl Jam's first album) soon after, and it quickly joined my late-night, lights-dimmed, lyric-reading rotation. 'Release', the last song on the album, was my first deep connection to them. It's still my most intense. Here was this guy, singing so simply, singing such obtuse lyrics, then so painfully direct. Singing about his father, about holding pain, about opening up. I remember the room so well.
So at some point, they were officially called Pearl Jam. Ten was out, they kept on touring, the secret started to spread. But not really. There were plenty of people that didn't feel the same pull that I did; just about all of my friends thought they were overblown, not punk, not cool, whatever it was. The people that did like them really loved them, though. They were mostly geeky little music zealots like me; people not real interested in the latest hits, but also a little confused and turned off by indie elitism that seemed to revere bands for being distant, ironic, abrasive. The early fans that I met were hyper-idealistic and romantic about music that reached and yearned, melodies that stuck with you, sincerity that seemed to be for real. The word about the live show was good. They were coming to the Troubadour (http://goo.gl/UCIls). I'm not sure who I went with. I do remember all the promo stuff stapled up around the club, being a bit put off by it, the band being put off by it too. Ed biting the hand that fed the whole set, climbing all over the place, the band leaving the stage seemingly grumpy about the whole industry-tinged affair. It didn't look like they were coming out for an encore. Then after a while, Ed came out onstage alone. I had the feeling he'd wanted to do the encore, but the rest of the band didn't. I forget what sticker he'd had on his shirt the whole show, some old punk band I think. He peeled it off, and under the sticker, it was a U2 shirt. That juxtaposition still defines them for me, and further endeared them to me in that moment. Then Ed sang an a cappella version of 'Suggestion', a song about sexual harassment and assault by Fugazi, and walked off the stage for good. Weeks later, I would take that sparse, combative arrangement and paraphrase it at a benefit show for House Of Ruth (http://houseofruthinc.org).
From that Troubadour show forward, I went into ultra-geek mode. A woman that worked at Tower Records with me, Kari Necker, was similarly hooked, so we became PJ buddies. Two women from Seattle called Tracey and Melissa were in our little gang too. We all followed them around so much that when Ed went out to the field where the first Drop In The Park (a free show) was to have been (on May 20 at Gas Works Park), to apologize to the stragglers disappointed by the sudden cancellation due to some city council screwup, he asked someone somethin like, "um, you aren't with, um, Jonah, are you?". Bless Tracey's preserving heart, there's actually a YouTube vid of a muffled VHS tape documenting this surreal moment:
(right at the beginning, then around 2:30ish again). When the show was rescheduled (http://goo.gl/wc8tV), of course we drove 14 hours to get there and I nearly killed us all trying to learn to use cruise control.
Ridiculous fan-boy that I'd become by this point, of course I decided to write Ed a letter. I'd always loved mix tapes (still do), so I wanted to make him one. I wanted it to be full of stuff that he may not have heard, but that if he really was the kindred spirit I was imagining, he'd love as much as I did. I remember putting a few tunes by this wacky, thoughtful, noisy punk band called Victim's Family, and a lot of stuff by this brilliant, mercurial songwriter called Rickie Lee Jones. The letter talked about all the different bands and songs, along with who-knows-what else. The first song on the tape, I think, was also the first song on my favorite record of hers. It was called 'We Belong Together'. It's a truly incredible song, full of indelible images and phrases ("…the only angels who see us now watch us through each other's eyes").
In the weeks and months after I sent the letter, PJ really did start to blow up, along with that whole Seattle scene. They still seemed to be the misfits of the scene; not punk enough for Nirvana-lovers, not spooky-glammy enough for Alice In Chains folks, not rock enough for Soundgarden heshers, still just a bit too vulnerable and ballad-y. Perfect for me, though, and perfect for more and more people. I pretty much figured that my letter was long-lost in the mounting deluge of fan mail. I was okay with it, if a little crestfallen.
Then came MTV Unplugged. For gazillions of people, it was the lightswitch that 'Release' had been for me. The band playing with such abandon and passion, the setting perfect for showcasing their particular songs, sentiment and style. There were two moments that came out of the TV and nailed me to the couch. One was Ed scrawling 'Pro-Choice' on his arm during that epic take on 'Porch'. The other was near the end of 'Black', the lovelorn, instant-classic anthem that would play such a part in their attempt to retreat from fame when they famously refused to make a video for it a few months later. As Ed howled the 'I know someday…' bit (one of so many bits near the end of songs that became as important and memorable as any chorus) and the energy built, he started singing, "We… we… we belong together! Together!"
For so many people, this was the moment they found out about and/or gave in to Pearl Jam. It would have been incredible no matter what, but after the letter and the tape and all, I was literally frozen in my friend's living room thinking, "Either he loves Rickie Lee Jones as much as me, which means we really are long-lost brothers, or he got the mix and the letter and loved it and that song so much that it made it into that moment and…" at which point my brain pretty much short-circuited. All I knew was that I had to figure this out.
The next step up for them was places like the Warfield, a 2,000 set venue in San Francisco. But by the time they were getting to the venues on that tour, they had outgrown them, so it was very, very sold out (http://goo.gl/GSxvb). The opening band, by the way (along with a weird South African trio called Tribe After Tribe), was Rage Against The Machine. Rage's first album wasn't out, most people there hadn't heard them or even heard them. They utterly decimated that place, absolutely conquered it, more than any opening band I've ever seen, by a longshot. In their 30 minutes onstage, Zak (RATM's singer) raised dramatically my aspirations as a rock singer and frontperson, forever. Anyway, before that, back outside, way before the show started, I was wandering the streets around the Warfield in a Drop Acid shirt. I found the Pearl Jam bus, asked Jeff Ament (PJ's bassist) if anyone in the band liked Rickie Lee Jones ("yea, she's great!")... but no Eddie. Then, walking away, there he was, walking with his girlfriend Beth, right towards me. I showed him my Drop Acid shirt as a would-be icebreaker.
"Oh cool," he said, "I lost mine in Detroit."
"Wanna trade?" (He was wearing a DRI shirt).
"No, that's cool, thanks."
At which point I tumbled into some ramble trying to let him know that I'd sent a letter, with a tape, and what about that moment at the end of 'Black', and did he…
Somewhere in my incomprehensible mess, he stopped me by saying, "Oh my god, that was you" and giving me a big hug and a tough, tender kiss on the neck. He said some stuff about how much it meant to him or something, but for all the other details that are still so clear up to that point, I honestly don't remember much. In those moments, my most goofy and romantic of ideas had actually made sense to someone else. Someone doing exactly what I was trying to do, doing it so well. Anyway, at some point, he and Beth ambled off, and I collected myself enough to get inside the show. I immediately bought a PJ shirt, took off my shirt, balled it up as well as I could, and right as they walked onstage, I hurled it towards them. It flew right past Ed and slid under the drum riser. Tons of stuff followed as the set went on, all sorts of would-be gifts, band demos, who knows. The roadies would cross the stage periodically, cleaning it all up. My shirt lay hidden, though. It stayed that way for the whole show. At first, I was really happy about this, thinking that someone in the band would find it. Then, as the show neared ending, I started to realize that no one at all might find it til well after the band was gone. During the last tune, Ed jumped into the crowd as just about always, and came up out of the crowd with his shirt half-ripped off, as just about always. The band went offstage before the inevitable encore, and finally, during the last stage-sweep, a roadie saw and grabbed my shirt. I was kinda dejected, but still glowing from the day and the show. Then, when the band sauntered back out to play some more for us, Ed was wearing the Drop Acid shirt. The perfection of that moment is right up there with anything before or since for me.
So, while there are so many other stories and memories… Them opening for Nirvana and RHCP New Year's 1991 (http://goo.gl/VKsQz), Kari and me flying to New York on New Year's Eve 1992 (http://goo.gl/cQy86) with no tickets to a relatively tiny show and having a pair given to us by the singer from (I can't for the life of me remember!!!!) -- then, once inside, somehow scaling up to the booth where Ed & Beth were watching Keith Richards, giving them a Far t-shirt and CD… After their first Bridge Benefit show (http://goo.gl/IyEyI), where they played 'Daughter' live for the first time, just after Vs. has sold a million in its first week, hangin out with Dave (their drummer at the time) in his hotel room at The Phoenix, talking to him about their burgeoning fame, having him play us that first Christmas single tune… Far being on a compilation with Henry Rollins, knowing Ed loved him, giving Ed the comp with a letter at their Warfield show that Rollins was the opening act at (http://goo.gl/0TKdC), bawling when they opened that show with 'Release' straight into 'Animal', having Ed reference the letter onstage before singing 'Blood'… Ed recognizing me ("hey, Jonah from Far") while walking around in the crowd at Lollapalooza 1992 (http://goo.gl/MxYtY)… Far getting signed by Immortal/Epic (Pearl Jam's label) at the height of PJ's popularity and wanting nothing more than all the PJ promo stuff they could find, cherishing my basketball picture-disc of 'Ten'… saying hi at the Grammy afterparty in 1997, thinking Ed seemed pretty sad… Hearing 'Given To Fly' way before Yield came out in someone's office at Epic, laughing about how much it sounded like 'Going To California'… 2002 in London (http://goo.gl/a995K), backstage only because my friend Scott worked for Epic (Far had broken up, I was touring solo by then), purposely not booking a show because he could get me into theirs. We ran into Ed walking through the halls under the venue. After years of not seeing him or anything, he recognized me immediately and I had to awkwardly introduce him to his own label rep. Then, later that night, everyone was standing around after the show. Ed was giving Mark Arm (singer for Mudhoney) shit about his microphone coming off the cable when he was swinging it around. I mentioned that I'd hear a great story about that same thing happening to Eddie Money. All of a sudden, Ed's eyes lit up and he launched into a story about Eddie Money. He grabbed me and stood me in front of him, saying, "Okay, you're Eddie Money and I'm Eddie Money's bodyguard, telling you about all the people you're meeting at the record label party..." I just stood there, smiling and shaking my head, not even trying to be cool, just soaking up the fan-boy moment.
All those indelible memories aside, though, that Warfield day & night is still the one.
Again, I really don't feel 'cool' telling you about any of this. Quite the opposite really, feelin pretty self-conscious reading through it and trying to edit typos -- it's just fun to share this with anyone that's ever loved a band this much; my particular tales of how much one band meant to me as an artist, as a person. I think of the people who have sheepishly said sweet things to me over the years, how I've thanked them profusely, assuring them that I'm as big a geek as they ever were. Here's the proof.
They're pretty much the last band that I really loved in that teenager way. My arc through making a living making music is now seemingly waning, in a way that feels complete and healthy. I let my Ten Club (Pearl Jam's fan club) membership lapse, rejoined, let it lapse again. I'm not particularly into much of theirs after Yield, though 'The Fixer' and some other very recent softer stuff has gotten me pretty good. I don't even listen to any of their stuff particularly actively. When my last band Gratitude was looking for a drummer and I got to play music with Dave Krusen (PJ's first drummer) for a couple hours, my head didn't explode (but it was really neat). I haven't gotten jaded or anything, I'm still a total geek for them and music and life, but I guess they're more just a part of me now, rather than some entity I'm goofily obsessed with.
The last time I saw them live says it perfectly. I didn't try to get backstage or anything else. I just went to some shows. They were at the Bill Graham Civic in San Francisco for a few nights. Yea, I went to all three. On the last night (http://goo.gl/Lbor7), near the end of the show, when they were deep into a great extended freakout in 'Crazy Mary', I found myself welling up with pure love of the band, the music, the moment, as I so often have at their shows. At that instant, I looked to my right and there, up in the cheap seats with me, was my original PJ fan-friend Kari, who I hadn't seen for who knows how many years, similarly lost in the moment. Our eyes met and we both completely lost it, just reveling in the serendipitous PJ world we'd both grown up in. We hardly spoke, and hardly have since. Didn't have to. The music did it for us.
Speaking of the music, how cool is this (http://www.pearljam.com/music/songs)? A database of every song they ever played, how many times they played it, the lyrics... So ambitious, so complete, so neat.
An epilogue to the preface. So glad I wrote what I wrote before seeing the movie. Won't even try to articulate that further. Yea, just sitting here not typing. What's left out of what's written after this is all the inarticulable stuff, stuff I felt listening, seeing, reading. A me that's gone, and so still here.
Here's some broken lines from just now: