Push Me And I Will Resist, This Behavior's Not Unique
October 6, 2019 12:23 PM   Subscribe

25 years ago, Pearl Jam never meant to be the biggest band in the world. Somehow their first two albums sold something close to 20 million units between them, and the band was a global force, and was feeling unmoored. For their third album, Vitalogy, the band went deliberately experimental and obtuse, exploring punk and sound collage and, just to prove they could, included three of the best songs they've ever written. Named after an archaic medical volume [Google Books link] Eddie Vedder found at a yard sale, the full album [56m] tries to dissect relationships between people and other people, fame, substances, music, and offers up a message about struggling to find meaning in the midst of personal chaos. The accompanying booklet of lyrics and liner notes (an entire art project unto itself) was paid for by the band rather than passing costs along to their fans. Pearl Jam refused to make any videos for this album. Division One: Last Exit, Spin The Black Circle, Not For You, Tremor Christ, Nothingman, Whipping posted by hippybear (27 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I've never seen a bigger middle finger being thrown out by a massively popular band at its audience. It's possible that making this album allowed Pearl Jam to become Pearl Jam and not some parody of themselves. Any fan that stuck with them through Vitalogy and No Code is probably a fan still buying their material and going to see them. And there's a lot of us out there.

I love this album so deeply. I hated it so much when I first heard it, except of course for The Sacred Three (Nothingman, Corduroy, Better Man)... but as I struggled to understand it I came to love it for all its bizarreness and direct challenge to me as a listener.

There is so much built up around this album, from the interpersonal problems the band was having during its production to the fact that some of its tracks have never been played live (even Bugs has had 3 performances!)... There is a lot of reading I could post, but I think the album speaks for itself.

I wish I had a good link to the booklet. There are .pdfs of it out there, but they all require a login to download. That booklet along is a total stoner liner-note-reader dream, complete with cross referencing between subjects and pages that gives it more depth than just reading it through. Glorious!
posted by hippybear at 12:23 PM on October 6, 2019 [7 favorites]

Mandatory link to PJ's set from Self-Pollution Radio containing some excellent "live" versions of many of these songs, plus a few earlier tracks.

I still find myself skipping past some of the more noisy / experimental tracks on Vitalogy, but I respect them for putting them in there at the height of their popularity. Music doesn't always have to be pleasant for the listener to be worth making. I am glad the band found a happy medium between enjoyable for the listener and sending the message they wanted to send with some of the later records, though -- No Code was just very taxing on the listener for not much reward at all.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:55 PM on October 6, 2019

No Code previously.
posted by hippybear at 1:01 PM on October 6, 2019

I'd be curious to know what tracks you skip over, tonycpsu... I don't skip any of them when I'm listening to the album.
posted by hippybear at 1:21 PM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

No Code was just very taxing on the listener for not much reward at all
huh, I think it is a great album and not taxing at all. you sure you're talking about No Code?
posted by evening at 2:13 PM on October 6, 2019

I think middle finger is about right. I don't see how a band puts out "Bugs" or "Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me" as anything other than a middle finger to fans. I still remember the disappointment that I had spent hard earned money on Vitalogy. If they intended to drive away fans because they felt too popular or mainstream or whatever... Well, it worked on me.
posted by jzb at 3:14 PM on October 6, 2019

Eddie Vedder's voice, his instrument of communion, the way he shapes sound, his perfect vibrato, his sometimes harmonica like resonance, this, driven by his elan, is a gift to time and the all. He is a perfect instrument.
posted by Oyéah at 3:34 PM on October 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Loved this album. Never felt like a fuck you to me. Felt like evolution (baby)!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:18 PM on October 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

I mean, I skip over Bugs and Stupid Mop but there's still a lot of good stuff on this album. I dunno--I feel like the idea of a a "middle finger to the fans" mean something different in 1995 than it might now.

I was only 14 when this came out, so what did I know, but at that time putting out fan-friendly music for the sake of it would have come with its own stigma of being a sell-out--of producing the same old safe stuff, whereas producing music that might have been perceived of as more "difficult" meant you were more legitimate and in it for the art.

Anyway, yeah, I wouldn't take this as a middle finger at the fans, but it was certainly a more challenging album for a part of their fan base that Pearl Jam reportedly and maybe notoriously had some of their own difficulties dealing with--the fat boys and bros, I guess.
posted by synecdoche at 4:22 PM on October 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

We had some poetry assignment in high school English which resulted in me in front of the class reading Bugs by Edward Severson III.

I still like Vitalogy a lot.
posted by dumbland at 6:24 PM on October 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I loved this album when it came out. I bought it as soon as it was released and listened to it obsessively. I'd won a copy of their Live at the Fox Theatre CD which had Better Man, Satan's Bed and Whipping on it before the album was released, so I was familiar with some of the songs already. Corduroy and Tremor Christ are still some of my favourite Pearl Jam songs. I'm with tonycpsu on No Code, but I did like Lukin. This did prompt me to listen to No Code again for the first time in over 20 years though. Still meh.
posted by Kris10_b at 7:05 PM on October 6, 2019

If you ever get the chance, the DVD of Immagine in Cornice is a fantastic concert (though it is peppered with Vedder giving out 'rockstar thoughts' on the tour bus that... well, he's a good singer, really, but it was verging on Perry Farrell-esque). The standout, for me, though, is Vedder doing vocals for the opening band, My Morning Jacket, while they play A Quick One While He's Away.

I have liked Pearl Jam since Ten, but I'll always think of them as the worlds best The Who cover band.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:18 PM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this album confirmed my suspicions that Pearl Jam had been holding their best stuff back.
posted by not_on_display at 11:36 PM on October 6, 2019

It’s more of a middle finger to record executives than to fans, I think. But then, a guy I used to hang out with said, “If you told me your favorite Pearl Jam album was Vitalogy, I’d kick you in the fuckin balls.”

My favorite Pearl Jam album is probably still Vs., so my balls remained unkicked, but I thought Vitalogy had a lot to like. Still do. It’s a good album to fall asleep to while feverish and stuffed with benadryl. Immortality is probably my favorite thing on there, but I haven’t listened to it in over twenty years, and tastes change, so who knows? Maybe a listen today would yield a new favorite.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:55 AM on October 7, 2019

Pearl Jam driveby anecdote not related to much of anything musical in particular:

I once busted Eddie Vedder and his crew smoking some weed outside The Five Point in Seattle. I'm not sure who else was with him or if there were any other band members there but it sure looked like most of the band and a few others in about an eight to ten person group. There were a number of tour jackets and patches in effect and I sure recognized Eddie because it wold be like one fo my boomer parents not recognizing The Beatles.

For the purposes of this story the reader may find it helpful and reassuring assume that I look like someone who would know who Pearl Jam is, hadn't seen a barber in over a year, might reasonably know where the best weed is and possibly owned more than one flannel shirt.

And they were trying really hard to be stealth and utterly failing at it by standing down inside the pool/pit of the Chief Sealth fountain and monument that's in that plaza.

This is silly because it's like 3 feet deep and leaves the upper - and more importantly smoking - half of your body in plain view while suspiciously standing around in an empty fountain in a tiny, grassless paved urban plaza that's facing one of the highest traffic intersections in Seattle continuously rolling by just 20 feet away.

But hiding in the fountain was also dumb because the locals really didn't care and this was after recreational cannabis was legalized in WA state, and it was just uncomfortable and weird. Many fat joints and bowls have been openly smoked while casually and sitting around the tables in that plaza like civilized humans even before recreational cannabis was a thing, but especially after legalization.


Thankfully they laughed and relaxed and stopped standing around like a bunch of furtive high school stoners looking like they were up to no good, because that shit was just silly. For fuck's sake they were all well over 40 to 50 and some of them probably could have bought the whole block.
posted by loquacious at 2:24 AM on October 7, 2019 [12 favorites]

and this was after recreational cannabis was legalized in WA state

So this was since Dec 2012, then.
posted by hippybear at 5:06 AM on October 7, 2019

I was a Pearl Jam fan briefly after Ten (which I listened to obsessively), because who wasn't back then? But I was always more drawn to Soundgarden, and this album just pushed me back that way.

I might give it a relisten now that I have a more Lemmy-esque approach to music appreciation ("there's only two kinds of music: the kind you like, and the kind you don't").
posted by biscotti at 5:09 AM on October 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

It sure as heck was a middle finger to anyone that owned a CD rack.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:19 AM on October 7, 2019 [12 favorites]

The important thing to consider about this album was it was written and recorded between November 1993 – October 1994. So just prior to and after Kurt's death. That had a huge impact on the band, the songs on this album, and how they viewed fame.
I was "lucky/unfortunate" to see them when they played Virginia the day they found Kurt. Ed said they wanted to cancel the show but the more they thought about it, the more they needed just to play. Ed said during that show "if it hadn't been for Kurt none of us would be in this room right now."
On a current news side, yea the band hasnt released a new album in...6 years now. But thats ok. They are happy and healthy and still here. They are doing it on THEIR terms and that may have been a lesson learned from this (and No Code)
posted by ShawnString at 6:08 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Love me some PJ. But every time I see Vedder perform, I hear Heath Ledger's Joker voice in my head.

posted by gottabefunky at 9:50 AM on October 7, 2019

I was a huge Pearl Jam fan in middle and high school ('94 to '00). I was also in a ballet program in school. We had to choreograph and perform a piece, about 2-5 minutes long, as a final project. Classical music was encouraged, but sometimes people chose light pop hits. I... did mine to "Immortality." It was awesome. Somewhere in some storage unit on a hard drive from the 90s is the notated choreography (I've long forgotten it).
posted by millipede at 11:52 AM on October 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

I can only begin to imagine the amount of hard disk space it would take to document choreography for a millipede to do ballet.
posted by hippybear at 12:01 PM on October 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

Last Exit sounded, to high-school-senior-me at the time, like a fucking manifesto.
Courduroy still does.
posted by rp at 5:56 PM on October 7, 2019

Certainly Bob Dylan had a bigger middle finger. Hell, Weezer even. No Code was the last one I bought; Yield was the last I heard. I’m not worse off for it.
posted by badbobbycase at 7:08 PM on October 7, 2019

I was a big Pearl Jam fan in middle and high school as well. Had Sooo many live and bootleg cassettes. And while my tastes have changed and moved in a different direction, I have to say, sometimes I just need to put Vitalogy on.

More than any other one of their albums, I have gone back to it over and over. Which is interesting on its own because Ten came out at that point in my young life where I went from a tween to a teen, trading happy boy bands for grungy noise. Relistening to Ten is different; it’s required. Vitalogy is not, but I go back every couple of years, where it is played on repeat until the itch is scratched.

I remember the hours my friends all argued over what the songs meant, really. Because the album was confusing and different and unexpected. I did like it, but it wasn’t my favorite album and didn’t get nearly the play the other albums did. The fact that it scratched its way there over the years has often left me puzzled.

I even had the cd(s) for the longest time. It survived by virtue of not being a brittle jewel case. It’s only been lost real recently in the turbulence of several moves. Not that I have anything to play it on, but it was an interesting keepsake.

(And now I know what I’ll be listening for the next few days. Thanks Hippybear!)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:46 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hippyber, thanks for these posts!

I am an absolutely massive Pearl Jam fan, but temporarilyfell out of love after this album. I liked it, but just sort of forgot about them. Then No code came out and I got to discover it completely by accident, away from any marketing. These two albums together made me really respect how they were trying to expand. Then I was in it for the long haul.
posted by jragon at 11:45 PM on October 8, 2019

It's really surprising that their early 2 albums sold to 20 million units. Actually, I don't have an interest in music but success stories.
posted by motivatedman at 5:44 AM on October 24, 2019

« Older The Peacock Chair   |   Stop Player, Joke #4 Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments