I very rarely don the various sports jerseys and hats that so many others willfully do when attending a sporting event. It's not for a lack of passion, but rather the fear of being shamed by others less tolerant of unabashed team fervor. Taking all of that into account, it speaks volumes that I am here in the heart of Los Angeles, at the epicenter of scrutiny and arrogance, proudly showcasing my Eddie Vedder silhouetted t-shirt. I think it's vital to point out that this shirt is also red. Not the kind of muted red that seems so prevalent these days on the backs of hipsters and wannabes alike. No, this is a bright red. The kind of red that begs you to stare.
But rather than being shunned, the opposite occurs. It starts with a few nods, the kind of nods only guys do when they want to show their acceptance while still maintaining a sense of distance. Forceful nods. Occasionally, I get a few "nice shirt" utterances. All in all, my shirt is going over well; whereas in other parts of this city, I'd be scoffed at.
But this is a Pearl Jam crowd, and this is our night.
I have tried to convey just exactly what Pearl Jam means to me, and every time I do, I am constantly thwarted by the doubts in my head. I've alluded to their importance in my life in other blogs, most notably my love letter to the shuttering of Chicago's Rock Alternative Station, Q101. To this day, that piece continues to generate positive feedback of which I'm grateful for. And no question, a lot of that has to do with the words I wrote inside regarding Pearl Jam. But writing a real piece on my respect and admiration for who they are as both muscians and artists is futile at best.
Sometimes, music captures you in a way that can't accurately be described. Pearl Jam is such a case for me. I don't expect you to understand, because I'm sure you yourself have a deep connection to some band or musician that I don't quite get. That's the beauty of music and the emotions it can evoke.
Suffice it to say, it was an odd night of emotion for me.
For starters, I almost didn't make it to PJ20. My close friend, Baron Nightwing, had a surprise gathering for his birthday. Of course, I had to be there. Unfortunately, I had already bought a ticket to PJ20 and it's not like I could go the next day. It was one night only, and the theater was packed with rabid fans like myself. But--and this is a great statement on friendship--Baron also knew I couldn't NOT go see PJ20. To not go to PJ20 would be an insult to him, as an absence to that show would mean a misunderstanding of the dynamics of what our bond is. I had to know he wouldn't be upset, knowing all too well how much those two hours meant to me.
And thus, I spent a few hours with Baron, and onward to Pearl Jam I went.
The lobby was unusually quiet when The Angel and I entered from the familiar front doors of the Arclight. We made our way to the bar and quickly ordered a drink. For a moment, I thought perhaps I had missed something regarding the time. It was empty, and conversation was easy. This struck me as odd.
Then, in what seemed like an instant, the bar and adjacent lobby was full. It wasn't like fans trickled in over time. We literally turned our heads away for a moment, only to return and find the brown Ikea-like booths swarmed by black and red Pearl Jam t-shirts. A metaphor for their own meteoric rise to the top for sure.
That's when the buzz started. The room hummed with anticipation, and unlike other rock bands, we were all in this together.
Adding to the emotional context of my mindset, my high school best friend Matt McLemore had joined us. Matt McLemore; the guy I spent 15 years hanging out with in just about every setting possible; the guy I had fought beside; the guy I had occasionally fought with (like any set of brothers do); the guy I had discovered Pearl Jam with; and the guy who I had only recently got back into contact with after a two-year sabbatical that left us both better for the wear. Matt was there, and our own adolescent musing on where we were going at age 18 was surely to swell up upon seeing Eddie Vedder rip through "Release" for the first time tonight.
It wasn't just Matt though.
PJ20 is directed by Cameron Crowe.
To give you some semblance of what those words mean to me, I have written thousands of words in both screenplay and essay form. The most influential thread in those words is without question the spectre of Cameron Crowe. If you read my work, then you know how I loathe the casual way in which we throw the word 'genius' around. In saying that, I think Cameron Crowe is a genius.
He finds a way of capturing human emotion at its heights, all under the umbrella of sincerity. It's not a stretch to say that I've been trying to write Say Anything and Jerry Maguire for my entire creative career.
If you ask me what type of screenplays I write, I usually shuffle my feet and attempt to throw a few adjectives together in a seemingly abstract way of defining what my work is. What I really should say is, I try to write like early John Hughes and Cameron Crowe, though with my own personal style.
Of course, if I said that, I'd sound like an absolute moron. I probably already do...
But really, I take great offense at someone who describes Say Anything as a romantic comedy. To do so is to demean what that movie is. When I think of romantic comedies, I think of a film involving some flavor of the month blonde and a shirtless Matthew McConaughey. Or a really bad Katherine Heigl movie. What I don't think of is the layered brilliance of Lloyd Dabbler and how perfectly it captures young love and the influence our parents have on us.
And for the last few years, I've dealt with the constraints of an industry that continually tells me my work is valid, only that it needs to be more extreme. One producer once told me, "If Cameron Crowe was a 33 unknown right now, he wouldn't get an opportunity to make Say Anything."
I found that sentence appalling, and it struck a nerve in me that continues today, egged on by others like Kevin Smith and Ed Burns. If they won't let my voice be heard, then I suppose I'll find my own way. Say Anything came out in 1989, which means Crowe was just about 33 years old. John Hughes directed his first film around the same time, and by all accounts neither really had any idea what they were doing when they decided to direct.
Certainly, at 33, a year away from hopefully shooting my own first film, I feel a bit of self-induced pressure that I can make something even half as decent as what they did in those first films.
I tell you all of this for context.
We have the love of my life next to me. My former best friend lurking a few rows in front of us. My current closest friend just down the street. The band that means everything to me. And the director who subconsciously swirls around nearly everything I write. I'm just saying, it was a heavy night.
Right from the onset, PJ20 took me back... back to the sweaty corridors of Jacobs High School, to a time when I thought All 4 One was an amazing musical act.
Then I heard "Alive", and my world forever changed.
Before there were digital downloads, bootlegs of every show, and an internet channel filled with every video every recorded of any artist you could want, there were questions. You would hear stories, and unable to verify their authenticity, you'd let your mind wander. McLemore and I saved our hard-earned money, the kind of dollars you receive bagging groceries at the local supermarket, and we happily spent them on Pearl Jam imports. Only with imports could we hear "Sonic Reducer" and some new track called "Better Man."
Let me be clear, Pearl Jam forced me to grow up. I was no longer a wide-eyed kid going about the world. Adult themes began stirring inside me, angst and indifference being foremost amongst them. Pearl Jam didn't create this frustration inside me, it only brought it to the surface. And thank god they did, as belting out "Porch" was surely a positive release to the obvious alternatives.
Twenty Years later, I was ready for what Crowe had prepared us.
And what unspooled on the screen in front of me was nothing short of a complete and personal mind-fuck, and I mean that as the highest compliment.
Viewing the career of Pearl Jam, all condensed into a two-hour beautiful portrait, was like reliving the last twenty years of my life. The heartache. The jubilation. The pain. The awkwardness. The love. The scars. The fun. All of it.
So many different people in my life flashed on-screen in the form of musicians and fans I've never met.
I don't know if Crowe set out to make a movie which forces those of us who know the history of PJ to reflect on our own lives, but that's assuredly what happened to me and many others last night.
It was wonderful.
And through the process of maturing, the band survived. Which is how I felt watching them. I had survived.
We had survived together.
And that is what I most took away from this movie. We can all look back now and smile. That includes Eddie himself, the charismatic lead singer who has often shunned the spotlight in favor of artistic expression. I saw Vedder smile more than I ever knew capable while watching PJ20, and I was so thankful Crowe captured that side of him.
Pearl Jam is a band intent on earning their integrity, and they've done so in their own way.
And moreover, they've created a community intent on sticking beside one another. We were there at the onset, and we were there through the growing pains. And we sure as hell are here now, one united in celebration.
Not to be trite, but we were all still alive.
Whether you get that or not, we don't care.
We get it.