Out of all the bands that constituted Seattle’s class of 1991, Pearl Jam stand alone. Somehow they have not only managed to stay together, but have thrived over the past two decades. As the new Cameron Crowe film Pearl Jam Twenty makes abundantly clear, it has not been easy. The group have persevered through battles with their record label, the concert industry, and rock n’ roll’s biggest foe: time. By staying true to their ideals, and developing a deep bond with their fans, Pearl Jam have managed the rare feat of aging gracefully.
That is not to say they have mellowed however. Watching them gleefully tear into “Bu$hleaguer” in front of a hostile crowd is proof of that. This type of rare and unreleased live footage is a major factor in the film. Pearl Jam Twenty is more than simply a celebration of their 20-year anniversary though, for there is a one hell of a story behind this group.
Stone Gossard (guitar) and Jeff Ament (bass) were part of what many consider to be the very first Seattle grunge band, Green River. When they split in 1988 over "creative differences" Gossard and Ament went on to form the unabashedly rock-ist Mother Love Bone. Vocalist Andy Wood was already something of a local legend, treating shows with an audience of two as if it were Madison Square Garden.
MLB caught on quickly. Not only was the music great, but they had a riveting front man in Wood. On the eve of the release of their major label debut Apple, Andy was found dead of a heroin overdose. It was the first time this young community of musicians had to face such tragedy, although it would certainly not be the last.
As a way of working through their grief, Stone and Jeff wrote some music, and informally passed it around. The tape wound its way to Southern California, where a young surfer by the name of Eddie Vedder heard it and was inspired. He was dealing was some things in his life, and wrote lyrics to the tunes. After recording his vocals to the tape, he sent it back to them. The results stunned everyone. Eddie Vedder was immediately invited to Seattle, and he never really left.
With Vedder in place, things began to happen for the band. They played their first gig (as Mookie Blaylock) just six days after his arrival. The first album, titled Ten, was written quickly, and they were soon signed to Epic Records. Ten was released August 27, 1991, and was a moderate seller at first. Then Nirvana's Nevermind came out September 24, 1991, and all things Seattle exploded. Ten blew up, and suddenly there was a “feud” led by Kurt Cobain questioning Pearl Jam's authenticity. Fortunately, Kurt and Eddie worked out their differences before Cobain took his own life in 1994. It was an early example of how PJ's intentions could be misunderstood, even by their peers.