Once

Twenty-five years ago this month, by fate and by coincidence, a series of blessings were laid out before me. Me, the odd child out of every clique in high school, left for college and found the greatest gift any weirdo could hope for, a group of fellow oddities scared and afraid and honest and frightened and open and together. It was 1991, and less than a year into college something else wondrous happened. The music bubble of the 80s (pop, hair metal, corporate rap) popped. It just popped.

Life felt more dualistic then, either because the world has indeed fractured, or because the view at 43 is far different than the view at 18. Or both. It felt like everyone back then was either/or, male or female, black or white, straight or gay, Republican or Democrat, Ford or Chevy, east coast, west coast, Tiffany or Debbie, Motley Crue or Poison. Life didn’t feel complicated. You just had to choose. Or let life choose for you.

Less than a month into this new reality, returning to my room, walking down the hallway I heard… I heard… What is that? I wasn’t sure what I heard. We had no way to understand then, no way to decifer the lyrics, or get online and see who else was listening, no way to know but to listen over and over again. It was Pearl Jam. It was Ten. It was the opening riff to Even Flow.

In my whole life I have never felt adequate. I have never felt like I fit or I belonged no matter where I was. But in that room, that day, that year, with those people, I felt found. I felt for the first time in my life, both in reality and in metaphor, that someone was singing in my octave. Here was a baritone bellowing about the lost, the homicidal, the fatherless, the misdirected, the unloved. Here were guitars, and a voice, saying something of substance, and meaning it.

And while others fell in love with “Here we are now, entertain us.” We fell in love with these one-word-titled jams. Ten.

Twenty five years later and I will be honest. I fell out of touch too often with those folks who shared that year with me, those folks who saved me, whom I love dearly. And I fell out of touch with Pearl Jam. Sure, I know all the hits. But, I never followed them on tour. I never bought their third album, or their fourth. They did exactly what a true Gen-X band should have done. They made their music and ignored the industry. They avoided Top 40 and refused Ticketmaster. If you were trying to sabotage a “recording artist” career you couldn’t have done better. If you were trying to be just musicians.

But, as a band, they did all this and kept making their music. They are that good. The first time I heard them was the first time music resequenced my DNA. And so, twenty-five years later I am going to do something small to make up for my mistakes of being far too square and far too mainstream. My plan is to go back and binge-listen to Pearl Jam’s entire catalog, and to write down what I hear. I don’t claim any great insight. I don’t hope to change anything. I am 90s to the bone. Gen-X forever. I am doing it simply because it intriques me, because there is love there, because I wish to honor the band, and my loved ones, my friends.

I love you all. Thank you. I miss you. Happy anniversary.

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A day is not done, until it's filled with words.

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