I’m of the mindset that musical artists have a responsibility to maintain some level of separation from other musical artists. I mean, it’s ok to do a mash up or feature another artist on a song or two, but when that influence changes the landscape of one artist’s music forever? A fan has to draw the line somewhere. If I could remove any musician from history, chances are it would be Neil Young. While I know many people think he is a musical genius, I’m not one of them. To me, he is a lot more like Corky from Life Goes On with more hair and a guitar.
A long time ago, in a land far away, I discovered a rock band that was quite possibly the last great rock & roll show. They had the perfect blend of musical ability, showmanship, and social consciousness. These are the very things that turn rock stars into rock gods. Short of having some kind of urban legend attached to your name like David Bowie and Mick Jagger, it is musical genius that can set you apart from your contemporaries.
On a balmy night late in 1991, I was standing in Bing Crosby Hall, a rarely used music venue on the Del Mar fairgrounds in San Diego. I was there to see The Red Hot Chili Peppers and while the opening acts weren’t as high on my list of shows to catch, a triple bill featuring bands on heavy rotation on 91X in San Diego was irresistable. The other acts were at the time two new and hard charging bands that would become synonymous with GRUNGE.
I can say without trepidation that I would be forever changed by one of the performances that evening. It wasn’t Nirvana, who pretty much just swayed like a collective of autistic savants binging on Ritalin. Nor was it RHCP either. They pretty much did the same thing they always did, which is to say they rocked with socks on their cocks. A long sock on a short cock is all well and good when you’re out for laughs, but when you’re in serious need of a good rock show, you want just a little more than what you can get from the pride of MTV2.
No, this evening was meant for discovery and what I found was Pearl Jam.
Pearl Jam have released a number of albums since that day, but none of them have reached the level of the first two collections. Ten and V.S. Are hallmark albums of the grunge movement. They are filled with songs of dissonance and dissidence. They move you both in mind and body. In other words, they rock your ass off and your mind has little choice but to follow.
Shortly after the release of V.S. a chance meeting with a music legend changed them, and from my standpoint it wasn’t for the better.
Here is where my missive comes full circle. As I said before, I don’t mind when one musical artist finds inspiration in the work of another. It’s to be expected. Of course, Pearl Jam found more than a point of inspiration in Neil Young. They found a Svengali to their Lolita; a master to their puppet, and my love for Pearl Jam was overwhelmed by my disgust for one of the most overrated musicians to ever pick up a guitar.
Neil Young was fine when he did nothing more than carry David Crosby’s coke stash. He was fine when he was making anti-corporate pop tunes with Crazy Horse, and he was certainly ok when he stopped making music altogether. Lord knows we don’t need another wailing banshee being mistaken for musical genius, but when that mistake ruins another band the world should weep.
At a benefit concert for Bridge educational programs, Neil Young stepped in for an ailing Eddie Vedder and single-handedly ruined quite possibly the best band to erupt from the ass of Seattle’s Grunge Revolution.
I hate Neil Young in much the same way that Katie Holmes loves being Tom’s beard. Which is to say completely and without shame. I would rather listen to someone peeling the skin off baby kittens like grapes with a dull knife than listen to one minute of the Neil Young influenced Pearl Jam. I will admit that I purchased Pearl Jam’s subsequent albums, but listened to them only once before putting them in the unused section of my library.
There, among the misguided attempts at music from such one hit wonder bands as the Fine Young Cannibals and Right Said Fred, Pearl Jam’s other albums have languished for more than fifteen years now. To me, those albums are a great deal like a bad dream and I keep them only to hopefully one day pull them out to show how far they have come. I’ve been waiting a long time and who knows how long I’ll keep waiting. While the rumors of the new album being completely free of Neil Young’s shriveled presence are welcomed, I have yet to hear any of that album’s music because let’s face it, they’ve burned me before. If the rumors turn out to be true though, the new album will showcase a return to their roots. I’ll just have to wait for someone whose musical taste is much like my own to buy the album and relieve my curiousity. For the love of all that is holy, please let it be true!