The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

A beginner’s guide to Pearl Jam

with 21 comments

pearljamtwentyI became a Pearl Jam fan about twenty years after everyone else. It probably sounds a little bit strange. They were huge back in the days, I’m close to them in age and their music is exactly the kind of rock that I’m into: full of guitars, energy and heart. How could I miss them out?

It was probably a matter of bad timing. As Eddie Vedder was climbing the rigs like a chimpanzee, diving into the audience in the beginning of the 90s, I was preoccupied giving birth to and breastfeeding my two daughters, one after another. The hours I had to myself were few and far between. If there ever was a quiet moment, the last thing I wanted to do was to put on some rock music. With two toddlers in your home, the most enjoyable sound in the world is silence.

Fortunately for me, they’re still playing after all these years and I haven’t given up hope that I’ll see them live one day. Although you might suspect that the now 48 year old singer doesn’t climb as well as he used to. But while waiting for the opportunity, there’s plenty to catch up with – a ton of records, but also the documentary Pearl Jam Twenty, made for their 20 year anniversary in 2011.

The Criticwire survey
I’m not sure I would have gotten around to watch it as soon as I did if it wasn’t for the topic of the Criticwire survey this week. They wanted to know which rock documentary that was the greatest of all time.

It’s a tricky question, isn’t it? I’m reluctant to appoint “best of all time” in any category of movies, but particularly so in this genre since my knowledge about it is so lacking. Compared to how many of those movies there must be out there, I’ve only seen a fraction, and in several cases it was such a long time ago that I don’t remember them very well. How could I possibly decide which film is the best one?

I also had problems with how the question was phrased. Film criticism is always subjective, but even more so if it’s a movie about a rock band. I think it’s difficult, not to say impossible, to not be affected in your judgement by how much you like the music. Regardless how well the film is put together: if I hate every song played in it, it will be hard to enjoy it. And similarly: if I love the band playing, you’ll have to work really hard on your crappiness to scare me away from it.

For a while I thought about skipping to answer the question altogether, but then I got to think of Pearl Jam. Hadn’t I seen it mentioned somewhere that there was a documentary about them that was worth seeking out? And shouldn’t this be a pretty good time to do so?

And this is how I ended up watching Pearl Jam Twenty, a decision I don’t regret. For a newbie Pearl Jam fan, this documentary serves as a perfect introduction to the band.

Catching up
In two hours I caught up with the twenty years I had missed. I learned the story of the band from their humble origins, through their success in the 90s as well as their darkest moments to the point where they are today.

And I loved it. Oh, how I loved it. In fact I loved it so much that I watched it twice in a row just because I could.

Is this objectively the best rock documentary ever made? I guess someone might raise objections against it being so obviously benevolent. It’s clearly made by someone who loves the band and who probably never would go into places that the band doesn’t want him to go into. I sense that there are shadows that never are explored, untold stories hanging in the air.

But I don’t need to pry on those things and I don’t crave for sensations. Because all the honesty and intimacy I ever could ask for is already there, in the music and in Eddie Vedder’s naked voice.

My children don’t need my attention as much as they used to and I’m free to pick up listening to the music I love again. And my relationship with Pearl Jam has barely begun.

Pearl Jam Twenty (Cameron Crowe, US 2011) My rating: 5/5

Written by Jessica

March 4, 2013 at 12:57 am

Posted in Pearl Jam Twenty

21 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. This is a great documentary. It definitely captured the band’s history while giving them a chance to make it funny and not fall into the tropes of usual stories about bands that often fall prey to the cliches of Behind the Music. Plus, I think Pearl Jam should be more regarded as one of the key pillars of rock. Unfortunately, every rock band in America hasn’t gone past their first album as they still borrow from that album endlessly and water it down for the masses where it only raised the question about rock’s existence in today’s world of popular music.


    March 4, 2013 at 1:22 am

    • It’s definitely got a lot of fun stuff with it, alongside with the darker sides and the great music. For instance I loved the passage where they make a little silent movie piece about their frequent changing of drummers in the first years.


      March 4, 2013 at 7:24 am

  2. One thing I think the documentary effectively conveys is something that I have always appreciated about Pearl Jam – that is, they represent one of the very few “working rock bands” (harkening back to the 1960s and 1970s) left. In the dawn of the grunge era (1992), there was this constant comparison with Nirvana, who were a little more alternative and “original (although sounded suspiciously similar to the Pixies the first time I heard them), whereas Pearl Jam was more AOR-friendly. In the grand scheme of things, Pearl Jam managed their success and persevered through hard work – artistically, physically, and emotionally. And two decades later, on my iPod, I have a hell of a lot more great Pearl Jam tunes than Nirvana.


    March 4, 2013 at 5:30 am

    • Yeah I get it from the doc that they got so popular that they got frowned upon. But it doesn’t appear to me that they ever sold out, so who can blame someone from getting popular? As we all know hypes like that pass over and the crowd moves on. Which in their case seems to have been a good thing. They stuck to their thing, it appears that they’ve made some very good choices, and here they are after all those years, still going strong.


      March 4, 2013 at 7:27 am

  3. I’d really love to see this as Pearl Jam have always been a favourite band of mine. “Vitalogy” is among the best albums I’ve ever heard. Must see this film.


    March 4, 2013 at 7:31 am

  4. I haven’t seen this documentary, but I sure will. I have had my eyes on it for a while.

    Back in 1993 an unkown band called Pearl Jam was billed as the supporting act to my musical hero Neil Young, for the outdoor concert at “Sjöhistoriska” i Stockholm. I picked up PJ’m debut album Ten, and the rest is historiy as they say. Ten, Mother Love Bone and Cameron Crowe’s film Singles (where Pearl Jam plays the musicians behind Matt Dillon in Citizen Dick) were a great trio goodness.

    PJ has never been able to top their debut album, if you ask me, but they still hold a special place in my record collection.

    The concert? Yeah, it was great. The opening act was crazy wild. And later Neil was glorious. The speakers even caught fire during the extended guitar solo of Down by the river. One of the roadies climbed up and put it out with his gloved hands. The guys in Pearl Jam joined Neil on stage for the last encore and they performed an unforgettable Rockin in the free world. Neil played/abused his guitar until all strings were gone. Stone, Mike and Jeff looked at Neil in amazement while they played along, shaking their heads smiling. Memories.


    March 4, 2013 at 7:32 am

    • Thank you for sharing those memories! Awesome story! You really should see the documentary. There were so many concert sequences in it, but I don’t think Sjöhistoriska was among those. However Neil Young appears in the doc.


      March 4, 2013 at 7:38 am

  5. This film is a fantastic way to become acquainted with the band. But you’ve got to see them live if you ever get the chance.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    March 4, 2013 at 9:53 am

    • I hope I will. Sadly I missed their recent visit to Sweden, but maybe one day, provided that they’ll keep going.


      March 4, 2013 at 10:17 am

  6. PJ are my absolute favourite band and I love this documentary. I saw it in the cinema at a one-off showing and it was absolutely packed. It was great watching it with so many people who genuinely wanted to watch it and were fans of the band. I’m a little bit jealous of you, to be honest. I wish I was still discovering their music. They have so many wonderful songs, it’s a mystery they aren’t regarded as highly as some other bands. For me, Eddie Vedder is one of, if not the best songwriters of all time.

    • Yay! High five, what can I say? I’m a little bit envoious of you for watching it in a theatre. But yes, I’m lucky to have so much greatness to catch up with at this point in life!


      March 4, 2013 at 10:18 am

      • I actually saw PJ in Stockholm last year and they were unbelievable as usual. It was the first time I’d seen them outside of the UK and it was great. So cool to hear Eddie try his hand at some Swedish!

        • I’m definitely going to keep track on their touring in the future. Right now they seem to be up for some concerts in South America and I’m afraid thats a bit too far away for me to travel to see them.


          March 4, 2013 at 9:12 pm

  7. Jessica, I was 15 when Ten came out in 1991, so Pearl Jam was front and center for me at that point. We have most of their albums at home, but I haven’t been as interested in them recently. A friend gave us the Pearl Jam Twenty DVD as a gift because my wife used to be a big fan, and I was stunned by how much I liked it. It reminded me about how good they are and particularly how interesting Vedder is as an artist. It helps that it was directed by Cameron Crowe, who’s such a music fan. After seeing this movie, we went to see Vedder when he came in town last year. It was a solo tour based on his ukulele album, but it was still a great show. It’s so hard to say what’s the “best” music documentary, but it’s definitely a strong choice.

    Dan Heaton

    March 4, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Glad to hear I’m not the only one to be stunned by it and tat you think I made a good choice. Vedder is fantastic and one of the big reasons why I love Into the Wild so much.


      March 4, 2013 at 6:10 pm

      • I definitely agree about Into the Wild. I picked up that soundtrack after seeing him do some songs live, and it’s great even when taking apart from the movie.

        Dan Heaton

        March 4, 2013 at 6:59 pm

  8. Had the pleasure of seeing them live a few times and they put on a great show. Would love the chance to see them in a smaller venue. Have not seen this documentary yet but will have to add it to my list of films to check out.


    March 11, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    • Lucky you! If you’re such a fan that you’ve seen them multiple time I would definitely recommend this film.


      March 11, 2013 at 7:57 pm

      • I was young and honestly pretty altered at the time I wish I had paid more attention. 😉

        will try and check out this doc.


        March 11, 2013 at 9:19 pm

  9. […] A beginner’s guide to Pearl Jam ( […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: