Pearl Jam for the Soul

As the first chords of “Release” rang out across the Stadio Olimpico, low and dissonant, tears ran down my cheeks. Tears of excitement, of pure emotion. Tears that are pricking my eyes now again, a week later, just thinking about it. Tears from a part of myself long dormant.

And by the time that epic 9-minute long song built to its—who are we kidding—almost orgasmic peak, I was tingling and wired and rapt and just so fucking there. In every brooding chord and every solo and and especially every note coming out of Eddie Vedder’s lips. And every girly “whooo” coming out of mine.

Yep, I’m going to try to weave some deep story out of a Pearl Jam concert. Readers who knew me in high school probably won’t be surprised.

Obviously, it was an amazing gig. A 3-hour long, high energy, thumping, beautiful concert, with plenty of “old stuff” and classic rock covers and two encores and a Pride flag with the slogan “Fuck Trump. Love Life” scrawled across it. These guys tear up the stage, they’re such pros. They just love it.

And it came in the middle of a 3-day escape to Rome with a close friend—leaving kids and jobs and partners behind, momentarily. What a luxury.

But it was more than that, for me. Layers more.

The first layer probably has a lot to do with the fact that I don’t get out so much right now. And that’s okay, I love my family and my work is important to me and I usually make it to yoga once a week; there’s understandably not so much room for rock-related engagements. And so being out with thousands of people, none of whom were relying on me for sustenance or guidance or cleaning or attention, just Having Fun in capital letters—that’s a standout experience for me right now.

It didn’t used to be, though.

There was once a me that went to concerts every week. Local bands, alternative festivals, big events like this one. I camped out to get the best tickets, snuck out of the house if necessary, spent half the week with my ears ringing. I had Dr. Martens and a purple mohawk. I was young and cool and I knew everything—including all the words to every song on “Ten” and “Vs.” and “Vitalogy.” And when “No Code” came out it became soundtrack to those high school years, spinning countless times around my Discman, giving voice to my angst, wrapping melodies around my soul. It was with me through acid highs and weed lows and my parents’ divorce and my first love and my first breakup and stupid amounts of Jim Beam.

I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life

I know you’ll be star

In somebody else’s sky

But why can’t it be mine?

– Black

And a few years after that, onto the next boyfriend, there was more freedom, and different drugs and a mini 4WD with a zip-off roof. And instead of rock concerts at the Metro, weekends were for raving and clubbing, for bouncing up and down to happy hardcore tunes for hour upon amphetamine-fueled hour. DJs replaced rockstars, but not all the time. As “Yield” and “Riot Act” came out, Pearl Jam still felt like home. For spaced out Sundays, coming down and talking shit. For studying for university exams. For singalongs with my three siblings on the way to family dinners, all of us wading through our own shit, separately and yet together.

By the time the self-titled album and “Backspacer” were released, I’d grown out of the raves and the eccy, and moved myself over to the other side of the world, from Sydney to Jerusalem, to try out another new me. With a new language and new friends and youthful, liberal idealism and piles of hash and a new national beer. And yet as I got to know Israeli rock, and American hip hop, and the British jungle scene—depending on whose iPod was on shuffle as we smoked up—Pearl Jam was always my contribution to the playlist. While living with flatmates and then by myself being oh-so-grown up in Tel Aviv, and finally meeting this man who changed everything, these songs were being fused more and more into that vague concept that is “me.” Of self-identification through the whirlwind of time and experience and love and drugs. Of life.

I cannot stop the thought

I’m running in the dark

Coming up a which way sign, all good truants must decide

– Immortality

And so while I was right there, at the concert in Rome last week, moment by moment, through song after fucking brilliant song, I was also in my head, in the past. In flashes. In memories that only music and smells can dig up. Being all these past me’s again. Remembering who I was and who I was after that and after that. Mourning it in a way, sinking into this deep, longing sense of nostalgia for a me who had these dramatic, sensual, substance-fueled experiences on a regular basis. For a me who was cool and happy and carefree.

But was I really? I mean come on, what the fuck was a 16-year-old girl doing drinking hip flasks of Kentucky bourbon and punching bongs every other night. It’s not exactly a picture of contentment. And cool? Well maybe, but that mohawk certainly wouldn’t look cool on me now, so what’s to mourn?

This longing, for my past self, it’s not new. I’ve felt it often over the past 5 years, since I stopped drinking and smoking, settled down, started a family. It’s like everything changed too abruptly and I’m still catching up. Finding my peace with the addictions and lifestyle that I supposedly got over, but really still lurk within me, looking for different outlets and expressions.

But somehow, this longing felt different.

There was a moment, just before the concert began, when I suddenly thought, fuck. Do I even like Pearl Jam anymore? Did I ever?

Come to send, not condescend.

Transcendental consequence.

Is to transcend where we are.

Who are we? Who we are.

– Who you are

These songs have been with me the whole time, crooning to my soul, to my struggles, to my heart. It’s all me. I’m that fucked up 16 year old and I’m a raver and I moved across the world and I’m a mother and a wife and a writer. I like rock music and drum and bass and hip hop. And sometimes even happy hardcore.

I am myself, like you, somehow.

I’ll wait up in the dark for you to speak to me

How I’ve opened up, release me

– Release

And now as I work through this, back on my couch, in my beautiful house, surrounded by the sprouts of the life that we’re cultivating here, tears sting my eyes again. I feel it in my chest. It’s all welling up, all of those hyper-color experiences that built me and ripped me apart and pushed me onto the next phase, and the next, to now. And on that backdrop, the tingly rush of serotonin I felt during the concert last week showed me that despite my relatively new-found sobriety, it’s not over. Those highs are still accessible to the me of today, and they feel just as good as they did for $50 a gram.

My baby keeps waking up while I write this—nothing more rock ‘n roll than worms and teething, right?—and with Pearl Jam lyrics spinning around my head, I feel healed. More whole, somehow. Like something has released. Like reliving these phases of my adult life with one unifying, powerful soundtrack and a natural high has helped to integrate them. All of these me’s, different and yet the same.

I think it might be time for GG and Little A’s Pearl Jam education to begin.

To bring the rock into the mundane, unapologetically.

Rockin’ in the (drug) free world


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