Even Eddie Vedder is in Kurt Cobain's shadow in some ways. It's a bit disheartening to realize, but it's not entirely surprising. Ask Mick Jagger what he thinks about John Lennon, I guess, not that I'm putting either Eddie or Kurt into that stratum--and it's worth noting that I think there are more similarities between the Beatles and Pearl Jam and between the Stones and Nirvana than the other way 'round. But even in a rather lengthy documentary about Pearl Jam, we have to take the time out to talk about Kurt. There's even stock footage of Kurt's own conflicting feelings about Eddie and about Pearl Jam. And Cameron Crowe felt the need to include bits of that Andy Rooney segment from just after Kurt's death that made me so very angry at the time and still doesn't fill me with great joy now. I admit that I tend to chalk Kurt's death up to "you shouldn't medicate for depression with heroin," but that's more effort at understanding him than Andy Rooney put in.
First, there was Green River, back in the '80s. After Green River came Mother Love Bone. When Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose, there was no more Mother Love Bone. Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament then joined up with Mike McCready, whose own band (Shadow) had fallen apart. They were looking for a singer, and former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons sent a tape of some of their instrumental tracks to San Diego-based Eddie Vedder, who wrote lyrics and sent a tape of himself singing them back up to Seattle. And then, there was Pearl Jam. (Okay, then there was Mookie Blaylock, but then, there were fears of copyright infringement.) For more than twenty years now, there has been Pearl Jam. There was [i]Ten[/i] and [i]Vs.[/i] and the battle with Ticketmaster. There was the cover of [i]Time[/i]. There was Kurt's death and the fallout. There were conflicts within the band and within themselves. And through all that, there has been music.
Yeah, okay. I've always been a huge Pearl Jam fan. I've written a found poem of Pearl Jam lyrics, in fact. (Maybe I'll post it over on Deviant Art.) This is because, as powerful as the music is, the lyrics to me have always been poetry. Even when I don't know what they mean, they feel right--"She dreams in colour she dreams in red," for example. For a couple of years in high school, I had some friends who called me Jeremy, because I'd had the song stuck in my head for like three weeks. I think the music that sticks with you most is the music you listened to when you were figuring out who you were. For me, that covers about six years--figuring out who I was took longer, but I didn't listen to the radio much after that. What I was listening to was the copy of [i]Vs.[/i] my first boyfriend gave me, among other things. The music I had already connected to. So, no, I don't listen to new music much anymore, but I still listen to music. I still listen to this music.
Actually, this documentary helps put a better picture on the Kurt Cobain thing than any of the various documentaries about Nirvana that I got through during "N." (It's odd that there's so much more in the library catalog for Nirvana, but I guess that's because Eddie Vedder is still alive and surly and Kurt is dead and surly.) These guys start with acknowledging that, yeah, Kurt brought some of it on himself. And he wasn't always a nice guy. And, yes, there are some really great things about being a rock star. (And while they don't say it, it's still true that music is a hard business to be a real success in without going under the microscope; the band didn't participate in the [i]Time[/i] story that got Eddie's face on the cover.) But you can't speak out about the problems without being patronized. When the band was testifying to the Department of Justice about the Ticketmaster monopoly, someone actually just pretty much called them "darling boys." How can you take life seriously after that?
The band is still together twenty years on. They aren't as huge, but hardly anyone is as huge twenty years on as they were when they first became stars, no matter what kind of star they are. I think in many ways, it's because they've taken the advice that Neil Young wanted to give Kurt. They worry less about what people think about them. After all, it's let Neil Young survive in the music business almost as long as Eddie Vedder's been alive. There's no nostalgia to the days when they were selling out arenas the world over; those days weren't as fun as just getting together with the guys and playing good music in a smaller venue, I think. They don't worry about it anymore. It's not a bad lesson, though I'm not sure it's one Kurt was capable of learning. Eddie Vedder has his issues--though I note that the recent convert footage of "Alive" has him changing the word "daddy" to "father," a change of which I approve--but his don't seem to be biochemical. It's easier to deal with that. Also, I don't think he's ever been a heroin addict.