Column: Music memories remain strong over the yearsBy HASKEL BURNS,
A couple weeks ago, our own Wes Brooks wrote a column about the Pearl Jam song “Given To Fly,” from the Seattle band’s 1998 album Yield.
That was the first thing that got me thinking about Pearl Jam again.
The second thing: Our editor, Beth, brought in a canvas wall-hanging a few days ago and hung it next to my desk. It’s got pictures of the old-school typewriter keys – you know, the round ones that were imprinted with things like “Shift Lock” and “Margin Release” in addition to the letter keys – and it immediately reminded me of Pearl Jam’s 2009 release, Backspacer.
I know, it’s strange that a writer by trade would think of music instead of typewriters upon seeing that picture, but those old typewriter keys are featured prominently in the album art for Backspacer, so that’s where my mind went.
At any rate, Pearl Jam was one of those groups that I immediately liked when they came on the scene in 1991 with their debut album, Ten. The singles “Jeremy,” “Alive” and “Evenflow” absolutely blew up the music scene at the time, and most of Pearl Jam’s fans followed along with the group’s second album, Vs., two years later.
But after that second album, some people – myself included – seemed to drift away from Pearl Jam, and missed out on much of the band’s work after that.
And that’s a shame.
It wasn’t until a few years later when I realized just how deep, meaningful and dynamic Pearl Jam’s music really was. And as great as those first two albums were, the ones following them showcased – in my opinion – some of the finest songs ever written.
I guess it must have been around 2000 or so when I was sifting through CDs at a music store in a mall – I want to say it was in West Monroe, Louisiana – when I came across Vitalogy, Pearl Jam’s third album. I might have been familiar with maybe one song on there, but the album was mostly unknown to me, so I picked it up and gave it a try.
Eighteen years ago, that album blew me away, and it still does today.
Songs like “Nothingman” and “Not for You” may not have made waves on the radio, but I’m here to tell you that Vitalogy is a masterpiece. “Last Exit” and “Corduroy” are two of my favorite songs – not just by Pearl Jam, but by any band – and the raw emotion in them gets me every time, without exception.
And not for nothing, but that album is dark – lyrically, thematically and artistically. It’s not an uplifting or joyful record in the least, but man, is it powerful.
So after I got Vitalogy, I made sure to get my hands on the rest of Pearl Jam’s catalog (at least what was available at the time). I think the next album I picked up was No Code, which, to me at least, was just as big a departure from Vitalogy as Vitalogy was from the first two albums.
And I absolutely loved it.
From the relationship-tinged “Hail, Hail” to the pensive “Off He Goes,” that album was a perfect representation of my life at the time. And the last two tracks on the record – “I’m Open” and “Around the Bend” – are you kidding me? If you can listen to those two songs and not do a little bit of introspection, you’re a stronger person than I am.
From there it was Yield and the aforementioned “Given to Fly” (I skipped all around their catalog, chronologically speaking). I’d tell you about how great that song’s lyrics are, but Wes has already done that for me. Two more of my all-time favorites, “Faithfull” and “Push Me, Pull Me,” are on this one as well, and “In Hiding” has always spoken to the introvert in me.
Around the same time, I got really into Binaural, which was released in 2000. Eddie Vedder has said that he went through writer’s block while writing the material for the record, but if that’s the case, I sure can’t tell. “Sleight of Hand” is one of the saddest, most powerful (I know I keep using that word) songs that I’ve ever heard, and if not for “Last Exit,” it might be my favorite Pearl Jam song.
After that it was Riot Act, which was a fantastic album, and the tour for that record marked the first time I was able to see Pearl Jam live. From top to bottom, Riot Act is a fine album – I’d put “I Am Mine,” “Thumbing My Way,” “Can’t Keep” and “Love Boat Captain” in line with some of the work on their earlier albums.
In 2006, the self-titled Pearl Jam was released, followed by Backspacer. I’ll admit I didn’t get into Backspacer at first, but an acquaintance urged me to give it a second chance. I’m glad I did, especially because of “Just Breathe” and “Amongst the Waves.” Don’t let anybody tell you this isn’t a good record – there’s some killer stuff on here.
That brings us to Lightning Bolt, the band’s latest studio album, released in 2013. For whatever reason, I never bought this one and never really took the time to listen to it.
But I’m not going to make the same mistake twice. Now that Pearl Jam’s been on my mind in recent days, I’m going to make it a point to grab Lightning Bolt and give it a spin, along with the rest of their stuff I haven’t heard it a while.
I’d encourage anybody else to do the same, because if you haven’t heard Pearl Jam since Vs., you don’t know what you’re missing.
Haskel and his fiancée, Heather, live in Oak Grove. Heather’s favorite Pearl Jam song is “Save You,” despite Haskel’s insistence on “Last Exit.”