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Seattle Decisions: Part 1 - Pearl Jam
The Grunge explosion was felt in Cork City, Ireland.
Opened in 1921, The Pavilion in Cork City was one of the first Cinemas in the Irish Free State. In the 70s and 80s it traditionally hosted the Bond movies, and in 1983 I watched ‘Octopussy’ there, the sixth in the Roger Moore series of films. That movie shaped certain ideals in my mind that would forever fix. Namely:
Any movies featuring clowns or faberge eggs will be full of mischief.
All nuclear warheads can be defused quickly if you keep your cool.
Comedy in Bond movies should be largely absent. (Roger Moore dresses as a clown, as a gorilla, and does a Tarzan yell in the movie)
One day in 1992, at the age of 14, the Aquanaut stood in what was originally the foyer of the aforementioned cinema. It was then, and has been ever since, a music shop. I was about to make a decision that would shape my musical influences forever. This was the era of the Tape. The CD was quickly catching up as the preferred format for music production and had already outstripped vinyl, but cassette tapes were cheaper and when you were a teenager you could easily buy three or four cassettes, for the same price as two CD’s. That day I could only afford one cassette. I was torn between two. The two albums dominated the back wall of what was then HMV (now Golden Discs). Row upon row of cassette copies of ‘Nevermind’ and ‘Ten’ took up the wall space. Random copies of Red Hot Chilis Peppers and The Doors were mingled in (The Doors movie had been released the year previously and many still dreamed of
Jim Morrison Val Kilmer with his shirt open).
I reckon it took me about an hour to make my decision. I purchased ‘Ten’ by Pearl Jam. Later I also had a copy of ‘Nevermind’ in my possession, but ‘Ten’ went straight in my walkman that evening and went on repeat.
If I was faced with the same dilemma today, I would simply save both albums to my library in a streaming service. I would have been able to listen to both albums, side by side. Instead, I lived inside of ‘Ten’ by Pearl Jam for several months. I inhaled it and exhaled it. It permeated every fibre of my being. It re-wired my brain at a sub-atomic level. From the gentle fade in of ‘Once’ to the identical outro of ‘Release Me’, I memorised every gentle percussive blow, the riffs of the twin guitars, the slinky bass lines, and the epic, booming voice of Eddie Vedder.
It seemed the media tried to hype up rivalry between the two bands, but that was really only noticeable a few years later. In 1992 and 93, the videos to Pearl Jam’s singles were played alongside those from ‘Nevermind’. Soon, they were in the mix with albums from The Cure (Wish), Alice in Chains (Dirt), Tori Amos (Little Earthquakes) and Red Hot Chill Peppers (Blood Sugar Sex Magik). Metallica had released the Black Album. If you want to know how bat-shit crazy the UK charts were, you can take a peek at the fantastic blog This Week in the 90s.
The singles Alive, Even Flow, and Jeremy were all hits in the US and the UK. They also became anthems that are still played on radio worldwide to this day. For me and a whole generation it gave an identity and a look.
I rocked a red plaid shirt, Pearl Jam t-shirt, and a green knapsack (with a copy of ‘Ten’ in it) for years later.
The lyrics to the songs were to be discussed and disected, at length with friends at school, with young barbers, in music magazines, and on radio.
Rock was dead. Grunge was king (though we all kind of new in a way that what the grunge bands were doing had much in common with the Glam Rock and Punk bands that preceded them)
Grunge was SERIOUS. It was about SERIOUS topics like where you came from, isolation, leaving home, and stuff.
As a teenager this gave you a secret knowledge about the world. Nothing was as it seemed (apparently), living in the moment was key, and being real and genuine was the destiny of humanity.
All of the above could be unlocked with flannel shirts and
rockgrunge music. And Metallica and the Chilis.
I’m pretty sure I still have that cassette I purchased that day. It’s probably at my parents house and worth very little to collectors (there were millions of the things after all). The early bands I had listened to, like Motörhead and Bon Jovi, had blown me away. But Pearl Jam were like a vitamin. I felt renewed, refreshed, and whole after consuming them.
Next post: I take a look at another album from Seattle of that era. This one was to influence my taste in music in my thirties. And it’s probably not the one you think it is…