“If nothing is everything, I’ll have it all.” (“Gone“)
– Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam)
The journey home to Los Angeles on the railroad tracks began in Vancouver at 6:30 AM. While the first leg to Seattle only occupied 4 hours of time, it occupied 25 years of total recall commencing when I was 17 & 18 years old. Epic guitar riffs and soul connecting lyrics played in my head. As the passing scene politely waved its ‘welcome’ hand and at the same time said its goodbye, tracks of a different kind hummed nostalgically. Life altering events flashed. Reconciling memories from concerts attended in rain, in arenas and stadiums across the US. to the sole reason I picked up an acoustic and learned guitar when I was in college. For me it began in Atlanta, it really all began right here. In Seattle’s sound. One band.
“Dream the dreams of other men, you will be no one’s rival.” (“Unthought Known“)
Each of us has a favorite band, one that connects with us in ways we can’t explain to someone else. For me it’s been at least 10 years since my last visit to the Emerald City, but my relationship with Seattle dates back to the fall of 1991 when music videos on MTV were still a thing. The black and white imagery, the wave starting to lip and crash, the incredible opening guitar riff, the credits read “Alive” by Pearl Jam. And for nearly five minutes I was transferred to someplace I had never explored before. Soul connecting music. Reflecting back twenty-five years ago, it’s hard to believe today that I began my self discovery then and it continues its developing identity to this day. Most of my friends were melting into Nirvana, Guns & Roses or Metallica when Pearl Jam tightened their grip on me. And while the angst and insurrection type lyrics of the former bands appealed to me as a rebellious teenager, it was Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder’s lyrics that captured, nurtured and ignited my passionate soul. The passion in his voice screamed of a troubled and confused youth. The bands edgy melody and harmony resonated with me. But why? Because I had a troubled youth and could relate? Quite the contrary. I was raised by two loving parents, grandparents who were unbelievably compassionate, steadfast in love and school teachers and administrators who actually cared about how their students behaved. My brother, the model of a good student with a quiet, shy demeanor, rarely if ever had any discipline issues at school. However, I did. My disciplinary problems probably aged my parents well beyond their then mid 30’s to mid 40 year old lives.
“Me, I figure as each breath goes by, I only own my mind.” (“I am Mine“)
My mother once was told by my preschool teacher that “Derek is most likely to end up in prison one day.” Who the hell would insinuate to a young mother at a parent-teacher conference that their 4-year old problem child would one day end up in a 4 x 6 jail cell getting 3 squares, a cot and an exposed squatter to relieve yourself? My mother did place me in Nashville Children’s Theater so that I would channel my misbehaving in elementary school toward something positive. After a move to Atlanta, I put my parents through proverbial hell as I would literally come home each day with some detention slip or misconduct paper for them to sign. I never was the type to damage property or harm anything, I simply would be disruptive and rejected authority of any kind. Due to my actions my father was on a first name and pretty much daily call basis with my Vice Principal. My father wrote me a long letter when I was 13 essentially telling me that if I don’t straighten up, tough love would see me kicked out of the house when I turned 16, as the law would allow him to do.
By 1991 I had turned the corner and was on good behavior, well beyond receiving disciplinary actions at school and had a very good group of friends. Some good influences, some bad. One fall weekend as a group of my friends and I had met over at one of their houses, the group entertained a bit of mischief while we listened to music. Nirvana blared, Sound Garden rocked, Metallica wailed but. . .Pearl Jam appealed. To me. I saved up $22 to purchase the “Ten” cd from Turtle’s (major record store in Atlanta) and pretty much listened to it endlessly over the next couple of months.
Mike, Stone, Jeff, Dave’s (at the time) and Eddie’s music and lyrics resonated with me mainly as it helped me with introspection and finding a connection to something at an age where many of us yearn for self discovery. Much of who I am to this very day shaped itself over the roughly 6 months from when I saw Pearl Jam’s first video, Alive, on MTV (Does MTV even play music videos any longer?). As I would drive to RacquetHouse to workout in the lead up to spring break 1992, the Ten album cassette tape I had dubbed from the cd of one boombox to another got my blood flowing. But let’s face it, there is no other reason a teenager who is not an athlete should work out except for the weeks leading up to spring break. There are way more important things to focus on than getting your ‘swole’ on when you are between the ages of 13-18. Favorites from that album, which I still believe is the best album in rock and roll history were Alive, Once, Even Flow, Oceans, Porch, Release. . .and the one that eventually would cause me to want to learn how to play guitar. Black.
Fast forward to April 1992, Panama City bound in Kip’s Toyota 4-Runner we cranked the radio as all the bands mentioned herein blared. Youth was sprung. Ready to spread its unchaperoned wings. Ready to get wasted on the Redneck Riviera’s beaches and in the over occupied hotel rooms and condo’s we all would be crashing in over the course of what was going to be an awesome week of fun in the sun. The fun in the sun lasted all of 2 days. And this, quite honestly is where my attachment to Pearl Jam was cemented. After hugging and high fivin’ goodbye’s to another group of my friends while we had partied in our condo, one in particular and one of my best friends at the time, wandered off into the night by himself. The why we have never been quite sure of. Headed to University of Florida on an academic scholarship in 5 months, the world was his oyster. As he slipped int the night and headed to his hotel he died tragically as he tried to cross a busy 4-lane road. We wouldn’t learn of this horrible accident until that afternoon once we had scraped the sleepy from our eyes, popped a few aspirin and finally made our way to the beach, coolers in hand. The disbelief and sadness that day palpable. Not that we needed an additional reason to drink, but drink we did. I recoiled. And drank.
We had invited any and all of our high school friends from all different cliques to come over to our condo as a sort of therapy session of just being united together to console one another and grieve. Remembering. Just as it seemed the moment was coming to an emotional eclipse, as if all of our past and present sun’s and moon’s were being recognized by the universe, a song poignantly began to sound through the speakers of the cd player. Alive. It was a seminal moment for me. For it was then, I knew Pearl Jam and I were connected forever. At that moment, subconsciously or maybe even consciously, my view on life was highlighted. Go Live. Tomorrow is promised to no one. So live for yourself for no one else can live the life or forge the path you desire. I know the words to Alive have absolutely nothing to do with this philosophy but it was the simple fact of hearing the words repeated over and over throughout the song, “I’m still Alive, ayyyyyye, I’m still Alive.” I don’t want that to sound selfish in any way as I know it can to some people. Simply, I heard it to say, ‘Go live your life. Life can change in a heartbeat. Squeeze all the juices out of all the fruits you possess. Drink from the fountain of abundance. Start today.’
“it don’t seem fair…today just disappeared
your light’s reflected now, reflected from afar
we were but stones, your light made us stars
with heavy breath, awakened regrets
back pages and days alone that could have been spent, together..
but we were miles apart
every inch between us becomes light years now
no time to be void or save up on life
you got to spend it all..”
Eddie and Pearl Jam were also there for me a couple years later when I learned how to play my first song on a Gibson guitar a friend in college sold to me. It was my Christmas present to myself in 1994 and a gift I still cherish all these years later. While that guitar is no longer playable, it was the lessons that guitar taught me, how the chords and rhythms played that catapulted me into feeling a deeper connection with the band that would have such an effect on the majority of my life. To this day, when someone sees my guitar and asks me to play something I laugh and say, “hope you like Pearl Jam because that is pretty much all I play.”
In 2008, as my wife (at the time) and I traveled around the world for our extended honeymoon we had a traumatic and life changing event happen to us (sadly 99% to her). At the time, I was listening to the audio book version“Into the Wild” and I was thrown into the lyrics of the soundtrack Eddie wrote. They would have been perfect on their own had nothing happened to her. But a special meaning was attached to them as we dealt with so much together often in really remote areas of the world. We were set to backpack for a planned 4 month trip spanning 4 continents.
Disconnected at times from modern Society, the Hard Sun is now leading me Into The Wild of sorts. I sold my Santa Monica condo in October, lightened my possessions by about ninety percent and now I am planning an extended around the world trip. A journey of entrepreneurial endeavors and simply discovering more of the world I have always wanted to explore. Pearl Jam will surely accompany me to familiar lands as well as those I’ve yet to get a passport stamp. To me, they are simply the best band on the planet.
All friends have asked one another this question, “If you could meet and hang out for one day with anyone who would it be?” My response is always the same. Eddie Vedder. He and the band have meant so much to me that the universe would lovingly and kindly light up if the opportunity ever presented itself to meet and talk face to face. On their Sirius satellite channel they select fans to play “Wishlist” as they honor those like me who have had some connection through their lives to the band. They love their fans. Their fans love them. Attend one of their shows, love abounds. From the stage to the rafters. Love Reigns.
“I know it’s already been sung,… can’t be said enough. Love is all you need,.. all you need is love.” (“Love Boat Captian“)
I have now seen them in five states, 8 shows. Epic shows like this past August at Wrigley. I am a fan club member. My best friend has attended two shows with me. The opening shows at LA Coliseum, November 23, 2013, which Cecil wrote a blogpost about and the opening show at Wrigley August 20, 2016. Follow Cecil. His writings and musings are incredibly insightful and uplifting. Talk about “Love Reigns”.
The shows I’ve experienced the raw and unbridled passion of Eddie, Stone, Jeff, Mike and now Matt and Boom are:
- New Orleans, LA, September 17, 1995 (my 1st show). The Ramone’s opened, the rain fell. After my Auburn Tigers fell to LSU in Baton Rouge on a last second INT in the end zone, we drove to New Orleans to spend the night before attending the show.
- Atlanta, GA, September 1, 1998. Being a member of the fan club, I was lucky enough to have front row seats and as Eddie was being pulled into the raucous mosh pit crowd, he leaned over, grabbed my hand and I helped to push him back up so he didn’t fall in.
- Irvine, CA, June 3rd, 2003 with my good friend Chris. We drove there in his self-assembled, silver Shelby Cobra.
- Las Vegas, NV, June 6, 2003 with my good friend and colleague Troy at MGM.
- Los Angeles, CA Nov 23, 2013 with my best friend Cecil. Sadly they didn’t play his favorite song, Better Man, that night. But we rocked out to an incredible set list.
- Los Angeles, CA, Nov 24, 2013 with a girl I was on a date with. Should have taken my good friend Kyle. But had fantastic seats along the side of the stage.
- Chicago, IL Aug 2o, 2016 with Cecil. We had tickets to the July 2013 Wrigley show but had to sell them to attend his brothers and our best friends dual bachelor party in LA. I was absolutely thrilled they played Wrigley again (having lived in Chicago for over 2 years) and I jumped at the chance to get the 2 ticket max to both Wrigley shows when they made them available to the Fan Club members. Inside Job was played which is top 10 songs for me. The intro from one of their biggest fans and former NFL Safety, Steve Gleason, was an incredible touch.
- Chicago, IL Aug 22, 2016 with Devi who I met at my other best friend, Brian’s, the afternoon of the first Wrigley show. Brian couldn’t go due to an early morning flight to NYC. It was at this show where I met Steve. One of Cecil’s long time friends and a huge Pearl Jam fan. Seventeen years in the making came together at our favorite band’s closing tour show. Epic.
Coming soon, my 10 favorite Pearl Jam songs that help any mood I am in.
Pics from LA show. Wrigley 2016 shows is featured image.
VanCity to Seattle on Amtrak
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