I lost interest in Pearl Jam after Vitalogy, though I bought No Code and Binaural, and never felt a need to revisit the Seattle band. They were always admirable in their political stances, and Eddie Vedder is probably the least embarrassing of all the Great White Frontmen, but everything after Vs. (which is an outstanding record and far better than Ten) sounded a little generic for me. Like their albums should be in no-frills packaging with “Rock Music” printed on it.
Perhaps it was the drummer thing. Spinal Tap–as always–got it right with the revolving-drummer bit: with very few exceptions, bands that stick around a while always have one position that they can’t keep filled. Dead couldn’t keep keyboardists alive, KISS has had 19 lead guitarists, Sabbath has at least a half-dozen vocalists that weren’t Ozzy or Dio, etc.
But Pearl Jam swapped out drummers, and a drummer is not a keyboardist: the drums matter. If the piano player doesn’t show up, then the show must go on; if the drummer flakes, then the crowd gets a refund. The backbone of TotD’s Theories of Rock (all Rock Nerds have Theories, and all of them capitalize the words just like I do; it’s just that they won’t admit it) is this: all Great Bands have great drummers.* If you’re going to have a sound that’s your own, then you need a great drummer.
And PJ might have had a great drummer, perhaps five or six, but they all got fired or quit or eaten by flannel shirts; it doesn’t seem to matter to their fans, and they are plentiful. Pearl Jam still sells the fuck out, and not the small rooms. People still pony up for a night with them, and–more importantly–they show up for their shows; they’re not a heritage act.
Pearl Jam will not, however, be showing up to their show in Raleigh, NC, on the 20th. Like Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr, they have cancelled their North Carolina appearance in protest of HB2, which has been called the “bathroom bill.” In reality, the bill is about bathrooms in the same way that the Watergate scandal was about a hotel.
The band released a letter written in a lovely hand:
Needless to say, I applaud this decision; it is the morally correct one and I hope that other acts follow suit. Harrumph harrumph.
As always, I was unable to stop myself from watching the conservatives on Twitter tell the same joke over and over (“Pearl Jam’s still around?”) and make specious arguments, but there’s a new silly argument, and from the left this time.
This is from Pitchfork, and I shouldn’t be surprised at its vapidity considering the source, but just read this paragraph. I’ll set the scene: Duran Duran has chosen not to boycott, and Simon Le Bon has a prepared statement for the crowd:
[…] Le Bon was comfortable—riveting, even—in taking this stand. He went off script several times, riling the crowd into great paroxysms. “There it is again—just plain, old-fashioned prejudice, fear and oppression, the same old kind that’s blighted humanity in varying degrees for all of its history,” he said. “Duran Duran is opposed to bigotry and discrimination in all of its ugly forms.” He ushered a representative from the nonprofit Equality NC onstage, read and signed a petition directed to the North Carolina General Assembly, passed it around, and asked everyone who agreed to let their cell phones light up the night sky as the band played “Save a Prayer.” Turning my back to the stage and seeing that sky of beams on the amphitheater lawn, I felt reinvigorated by hope, by solidarity, by the strength of a collective statement.
Boycotting, as the author explains later in the article, is a “passive activism” that pales next to the real power that people have: raising awareness through the use of Rock Stars. We can defeat hatred by being charming at it. Marshall the armies of egotistical Brits in leather pants, and let us turn night to day with our iPhones. (I have developed a new app specifically for holding aloft while Rock Stars read political speeches; it is called Protestr. I am disrupting social justice.)
There was invigoration and solidarity; awareness was raised so high that it got scared, and started to cry; and then Duran Duran gave North Carolina–specifically the government that passed this law that so blights humanity–around $105,000. (PNC Center holds 15,500. Hundred bucks a person for tickets and merch sounds fair. Sales tax in NC is 6.75%)
This is the failure of awareness: it’s not worth as much as money. Money’s so valuable that many societies use it as currency. It can buy you love, or happiness, or immortality. Money is a balm, a lubricant; is it water in the desert, and it is also a fierce weapon, most lethally in its denial.
And this is how money should be used in this situation: turn off the taps, and tear the copper pipes out of the walls for crack money. Leave awareness to awarewolves. It’s money that matters.
*First person to bring up The Beatles gets banned.