by Susan Cohen
There was a time in my life when I went through a severe and humiliating Pearl Jam phase. I was 14 years old. That probably doesn't sound that embarrassing at first glance, but I'm easing you into my shame: I was 14 years old in 2001. That's 10 years ago, and 10 years after Pearl Jam released their first album, Ten, and, really, 10 years after a Pearl Jam phase was societally appropriate.
And it was a real doozy. We're talking owning all of the band's albums, the concert DVD Touring Band 2000, a VHS of the mini-doc Single Video Theory, and two of the 70-plus official bootlegs (Jones Beach, N.Y. and West Palm Beach, Fla.). We're talking buying a T-shirt that was four sizes too big for me at a pseudo-flea market just because it was a Pearl Jam T-shirt, then wearing it many times, awkwardly tied back with a hair band.
Then not even two years later, somewhere on the cusp of 16, I stopped caring, because Conor Oberst suddenly became much more important than Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, and Matt Cameron. And all those CDs, the DVD, the VHS tape, sat in a desk drawer until I was in my 20s and decided to see if I could sell them to a used record store.
This infatuation, while it lasted, spilled over into my other developing aesthetic tastes, like film. I'm not sure if everyone knows this, because I am sure that not everyone was as big a weirdo as I was (and still am), but Cameron Crowe - he of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything, and Jerry Maguire - was total BFFs with Pearl Jam, personally and professionally. His film Singles was necessary viewing. The story of couples canoodling in early-'90s Seattle, the movie's soundtrack is one of the go-to albums of the grunge era, and Pearl Jam isn't just on that record. They - Vedder, Gossard, and Ament - are in the movie. They have lines. Jokes, even. Conveniently, my Pearl Jam fandom was around the time that Almost Famous came out, and for a year golden god Crowe could do no wrong. Until, of course, he made the piece of crud known as Vanilla Sky, ruining a good Spanish movie with too many pop-culture references. It's been downhill from there, "it" being Elizabethtown, which I never bothered to see. (Orlando Bloom is no John Cusack with a boombox.)
It's no surprise that Crowe would be the one to helm Pearl Jam Twenty, the anniversary documentary chronicling the band's history and impact. It will premiere locally at Cinebarre on Wed. Sept. 28 and will also be shown on PBS on Oct. 21 as part of American Masters.
The year that I got into Pearl Jam, SPIN published a comprehensive oral history of the band, using interviews with the guys, other members of the grunge scene, and even Crowe. PJ20 offers a visual and aural context to this story, plus another 10 years. Having their legitimacy challenged by their peers, being famous while rejecting the traditional constructs of fame, surviving the dwindling grunge trend, reeling from the deaths of nine fans at the Roskilde Festival in 2000, becoming political pundits, and so on and so forth while using archival video footage and recordings - there's a lot that's going to have to be covered, and the film is only two hours long.
Crowe is obviously better known for his features, but PJ20 isn't his first foray into documentary filmmaking; he made another one recently about Elton John and Leon Russell recording The Union. His next big release, We Bought a Zoo, looks like a schmaltz-fest, so when the trailer for PJ20 opens with Vedder being interviewed by David Lynch, I can't help but wonder what kind of roller-coaster ride it could have been if that director had made the film instead. Lynch is already very familiar with the Pacific Northwest setting, and there would certainly be some weird mystery involved, with nothing as it seems. Which is actually the name of a Pearl Jam song off of 2000's Binaural.
Like a true fan, I've still got the trivia deep in my brain somewhere.