The Best American Band: Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam in concert

Pearl Jam in concert

Pearl Jam is another American band that has known tremendous popular success. It apparently has sold more than any other band of the ’90s. I was blissfully unaware of the group because it rose to prominence during a period when I wasn’t really paying much attention to new music. After being prodded by Dr. Science to start to listen to “new music,” however, I soon heard Pearl Jam. I think the first song I heard was Daughter. I was immediately struck not only by the fine music but also by the interesting perspective of the lyrics, which seems to shift between third person and first person storytelling as the music shifts between acoustic and electric. I went out and bought the Ten CD and was stunned by the consistent high quality of the songs, with Evenflow and Alive and Jeremy and ending with the hymn-like Release. Keith Richards once supposedly said that an album was “a single and 12 tracks of shit.” Ten was directly contrary to that theory of music-making. It has to be one of the best rock ‘n’ roll albums ever recorded.

When you talk about Pearl Jam I think you have to start with Eddie Vedder’s vocals, because they are so good. Vedder has an evocative, emotional voice and does a terrific job of assuming the different personas of the subjects of Pearl Jam songs, whether it be the poor, forgotten woman in Elderly Woman Behind the Counter or the reflective first person in Black. As good as Vedder’s vocals are, however, I don’t think they should overshadow the skills and capabilities of the rest of the group. Pearl Jam, after all, played on Neil Young’s Mirror Ball, which is one of his best albums of the past 30 years. You also have to give the band credit for taking a stand against Ticketmaster. Rock ‘n’ roll bands have a long tradition of pursuing anti-greed crusades — if I recall correctly, the Beatles’ formation of Apple records was motivated by that same impulse — and I commend a successful group that doesn’t just try to maximize their own bottom line. Tilting at windmills is an important part of rock ‘n’ roll.

I obviously am a big fan of Ten, but I think a lot of the Pearl Jam recordings are Ipod-worthy. The selections include Wishlist, No Way, Come Back, Daughter, Release, Jeremy, Black, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter, Alive, and Indifference.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!

A Fan Of Hurricane Camille

I am a big fan of Camille Paglia, whose most recent column is here. Why? First, she is independent-minded. Her column always reflects her own views, not some distilled and recycled conventional wisdom. She obviously doesn’t feel the need to be a shill for anyone, and is willing to criticize the actions of politicians whom she supports. I have tremendous respect for that characteristic. Second, her interests are wide-ranging. Her columns often address political issues and feminism, but equally often discuss music, performers, and other popular culture issues. She has the self confidence to express thoughts on topics that actually interest her, without self-editing because she worries that some observers might view her as a lightweight. Third, and most important to me, she is an extraordinarily gifted and powerful writer. Anyone who can appreciate quality — and as a devotee of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I think that includes just about everyone — will recognize that her prose reflects the pen and mind of a true craftsman. Her column appears monthly on and is not to be missed.


There’s a lot of whining on the right about the favorable treatment President Obama receives from the press. This article reflects that perspective. I don’t think we need to scratch our head about this phenomenon, nor do I think it is attributable to some broad-based, outright political bias on the part of the news media.  If it were the latter , all Democrats would receive fawning coverage from the press, and that just isn’t the case.  Most journalists I know from J-School days are liberal in their outlook, but also cynical about all politicians and committed to objectivity in their reporting.

I think the reality is that the press desperately needs to sell papers, or attract viewers, and they believe that President Obama helps them to accomplish that essential goal. Why else would Time repeatedly put the President, or The First Lady, on the cover? It also is true that the President pays attention to the media, sucks up to them, and presents a photogenic personality who seems more intrinsically appealing than many other politicians, such as John McCain. If you had to choose between featuring some cool, smiling apparently laid-back guy and some cranky AARP member, who would you select as more likely to appeal to your readers or viewers?