Coral Sky Amphitheater, West Palm Beach, FL • September 22 and 23, 1998
‘You’re still alive’, she said.
‘Do I deserve to be?’
“Alive,” Pearl Jam
The answer is this. Grunge isn’t dead. It’s just become Classic Rock.
With chants of “Ed-die! Ed-die,” twenty thousand people singing along to every song at the top of their sweaty, sticky, stoned lungs, and seeing the errant cigarette lighter flailing in the stagnant air, you can’t argue otherwise.
The concept that You’re Getting Old is difficult for people of any age to grasp. A natural part of aging is finding ways, no matter how ridiculous, to hang onto your reckless youth. You pierce yourself despite having a five-year old. You jump out of airplanes and drive fast cars. You buy albums from bands you loved when you were a kid even if they’ve passed their prime. We 20- and 30-somethings may be more likely to flock to crazy sports and loud music because although we look young, we feel old. You’ve never fought in a war, old fogies might counter; but we’ve seen friends waste away from AIDS, brothers and sisters shot in the streets, seen the needle and the damage done.
If my parents taught me one thing, it is that whatever the problem, whatever the stress, you can always take shelter in the waiting arms of rock and roll. Color your hair, mosh, pogo, twist; sing your anthems, take your drugs, light your lighters, escape.
Ten years ago, when I needed an anthem the most, I heard Ten. And now “Alive” has become my generation’s “Freebird.”
It comes as no surprise to Pearl Jam that they’ve become Classic Rock. In fact, I bet they couldn’t be happier. Like their rock forefathers before them, they are obliged to carry on the grand tradition of getting fucked up (i.e., Eddie falling over during “State of Love and Trust”) and making loud ass rock and roll that everyone can sing along with.
And no one in rock history did that better than the Who. Until Pearl Jam.
Whether it be drugs, death, or discord, Pearl Jam has had the good sense to stay together and put out an album every once in a while — including a couple of mediocre ones — while their competition has fallen by the wayside. If anything, the “death of grunge” has enabled Pearl Jam to (pardon the pun) still be alive. Inevitably, they will still be here for rock and roll when Aerosmith and the Stones are bedridden, when Courtney’s too busy being “it,” when Billy Corgan’s become a suburban dad. They will outlive a thousand Third Eyes and Bushes, a hundred Mansons and Zombies and Bizkits — even Matthews Bands and REM’s — because they bring to rock what rock hasn’t had in a very long time.
A reigning, flourishing, living king.
We thought it would be Kurt; but it takes a strong man to be king. The greatest kings don’t lead by iron fist or by destroying themselves, they lead by example. By being proud of the title. By not being afraid to push around his authority. By not being afraid of the position. By surviving any and all adversity.
If you were at either one of the West Palm Beach shows — or if you’ve ever seen Pearl Jam live, sweaty, and in person — you will not disagree with my proclamation that Eddie Vedder is the King of Rock. To watch him perform is to see a man who has learned well from the masters. Vedder evokes as much Morrison as he does Daltrey and Plant. You can see the Mick and the Steven, hear the growl of Stevie… and if you look closely enough, you can see the ghost of Andy Wood; the one who never got the chance, swirling in his head. Eddie wears the crown proudly, as Kurt couldn’t.
When I saw the Rolling Stones last year with my parents, I will never forget the look in my mom’s eyes as she watched Mick Jagger prance around. My mother is a very young woman and always has been – but I’ve never seen her as young as I saw her that night. She was eighteen years old, her hair in braids, a little sundress and straw purse, drinking cheap beer at a dive bar on the North Shore.
Although I dress in clothes worthy of Grunge Spice these days, when I hear Pearl Jam, I am wearing ripped jeans crusted in fluids unknown with a faded black T-shirt. A red flannel hangs around my waist and combat boots are glued to my aching feet. My hair is long and a strange shade of purple. I am swirling and thrashing in a mass of humanity, screaming to the world that I’m still alive.
I am young again.