Everytime a Pearl Jam album comes out, my life tends to be in flux. For the past decade, a new Pearl Jam album has been connected with change. And perhaps, that is why despite the fact that they can be incredibly brilliant and also incredibly frustrating, I keep coming back to them.
When Binaural came out in 2000, I had just started my freshmen year at college. I had trouble adjusting to college life, and making new friends. Everyone seemed to have their own little cliques, and I never seemed to be part of any of them. When I wasn’t studying for my classes, I was usually listening to music as I always was, and still do. 2000, was the year that PJ beginning issuing their bootleg series, and I must have bought at least 8 that fall. While their performances were awe-inspiring there was a certain sadness in the new songs that spoke to me. I wasn’t sure what “Nothing As It Seems” was about, but that’s how I felt about college – “it’s nothing as it seems.” “Light Years” may have been about a friend’s death, but to me it represented the old life I left behind before college. I actually find it hard to listen to Binaural to this day – I like many of the songs, but those feelings I had in college come back whenever I hear that record.
Fast forward to 2002. My junior year in college was probably my favorite year. I finally made friends, and I also turned 21. Riot Act, is probably my least favorite Pearl Jam album though it does contain some great songs. But, much of the album was very political, and at the time, Pearl Jam was one of the few outspoken artists against the Iraq War. As one of the few students on a Catholic campus who was against the war, I knew how they felt. I was alienated by some fellow students because of my stance. I felt like the narrator of “Save You”: And fuck me, if I say something you don’t want to hear, fuck me, if I care.
2006’s Pearl Jam was supposed to be a return to form for the band after years of weird, strange turns. In a sense it was. It was the most direct music they had made in a decade. So here I was, I had just finished my first semester at Grad School, and having trouble learning to use Adobe InDesign. My program was a combination of writing and graphic design, and I was more used to writing. “Life Wasted” pretty much summed up my outlook: Oh, I erased it, a life wasted, I’m never going back again. It took a while, but I eventually did learn the Creative Suite, and went on to graduate this year. And I actually enjoy design as much as I do writing. Perhaps, it was a return to form for me as well.
So Backspacer came out last week. I might be the biggest changes and challenges in my life at the moment. (Or perhaps it might not seem that way in a few years.) I have to search for a new apartment, I’m in between jobs and things just to seem to be piling up. But again, Pearl Jam comes out with something I need. “The Fixer” is all fixing your own self, and being positive with being cheesy. It’s unusual for Pearl Jam to be happy, but I’ll take it.
Pearl Jam aren’t my favorite band, but one thing is for sure: They are always there when I need them. When I put on any of their albums, as Eddie Vedder sings: I’m gonna see my friend, I’m gonna see my friend.