I got home last night from Cameron Crowe’s rock documentary “Pearl Jam Twenty” jazzed by what I had just seen. To me, it was obviously an intimate perspective from the inside (therefore inherently reverential), but the treat was the access, the footage, the chance to assemble two decades of material into a film that comes away somewhat objective because it’s built from on-the-record material.
And yet, when I pulled up the few reviews available from the film’s Toronto Film Festival bow, I was met with a wave of sighing and belly-aching over what many critics, clearly unimpressed by the band to begin with, saw as subjective fandom and vacant worship. Even those with positive takes seemed too careful to let their thoughts go to print without touching on this. Well, respectfully, I think they missed it.
This is a movie split in two, really. And, consciously or not, that structure is nicely reflective of the subject. Pearl Jam is a band born from tragedy. It’s a collective risen from the ashes of Seattle post-glam titans of their scene, Mother Love Bone. The tragic death of that band’s front man, Andy Wood, combined with San Diego surfing crooner Eddie Vedder’s own sense of loss regarding the “family friend” he didn’t know was actually his father until he had passed, formed “the psychic pain that bonded the band,” as my colleague Melinda Newman puts it in her review.
That synergy made for almost instantaneous success. Six days after getting together, they were playing their first show — and killing it. The meteoric rise is the most exhilarating element of the film, capturing rather well the dizzying excitement and the “drug” of live performance (a drug so powerful it put them off of concept music videos in the beginning.)
Post-“Jeremy,” as the band found new life touring with Neil Young, desperate for freshness amid a “grunge” scene that had become flavor of the month, the film starts to shift. The story slows down as Vedder becomes the driving creative force behind the band more so than guitarist Stone Gossard. They fought Ticketmaster and lost, but gained respect from a new core of fans. The tragedy of Denmark”s Roskilde Festival in 2000 was their personal turning point. The natural maturation of the men finds its way into the film here, and I appreciate it for that. But I really think the first half is special for its sheer burst of electricity and mimicry of the head trip that is rock star success.
This coming Saturday, by the way, is “Nevermind Day,” as I’ve been calling it. September 24, 1991 was the release date of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album. Surviving members Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl recently talked about the approaching anniversary and I noticed Sirius Satellite Radio’s aptly named Lithium network has been upping the Nirvana airplay the last few days. And that band, too, is getting the memory lane treatment this year.
Next Tuesday, a deluxe edition of the album will hit stores, accompanied by a first-ever DVD/Blu-ray release of Nirvana’s 1991 Halloween show from the Paramount Theatre in Seattle. The concert — which was immortalized in the “Lithium” music video — will first air on VH1 Classic Friday, September 23 at 11pm ET. You can bet I’ll be glued to the tube for that and first in line for the spoils on the 27th. I just listened to my old bootleg of it again yesterday. So. Good.
See, I grew up during this stuff. So maybe it’s just my thing. Add it all to Soundgarden getting back together this year (and putting on a show at The Forum in July that is literally the best I’ve ever seen, one that I drove back to Los Angeles for in the middle of Comic-Con) and you have a perfect storm for fans of this music. But to circle back to “Pearl Jam Twenty,” I respect the movie for being a document, and I respect Crowe for eschewing chilly distance in favor of understanding that the friendship and intimacy was a virtue for the material.
(The band also pops up in Jonathan Levine’s Seattle-set “50/50,” by the way, as “Yellow Ledbetter” plays over the closing credits.)
Following yesterday’s one-day theatrical engagement in select cities around the world, “Pearl Jam Twenty” will open in select markets this Friday, September 23. It will be available On Demand from, well, “Nevermind Day” this Saturday, it airs as part of PBS’s “American Masters” series on October 21 and it hits DVD/Blu-ray four days later. Here are some details on the soon-to-be-released soundtrack.
Any favorite Pearl Jam or Nirvana tracks out there? I’ve always been a “Black”/”Yellow Ledbetter” and “Lithium”/”Negative Creep” fan.