Cameron Crowe’s documentary, Pearl Jam Twenty, is a film about a great band. It’s also about a liberal band, which is why it demands a fair conservative review. I read a review upon its release, written by an ideological ally, that I thought was a blatant hit job. Since I don’t like political hacks on either side of the aisle, here now is my attempt to play The Fixer.
Pearl Jam Twenty is made by a fan for their fans. It’s really that simple. If you didn’t like Pearl Jam from the get go, you’re probably not going to be swayed by anything Cameron Crowe brings to the table. If you hated Eddie Vedder when Ten came out, you’re probably not going to be able to see evidence of an Evolution over the past few decades (which is Sad, because one has certainly occurred).
If you’re a close-minded conservative, then Pearl Jam Twenty is Not For You. If you’re open-minded, then consider the following quote by Eddie Vedder:
“I think we’ve always just fallen into ways of doing things the way we felt they should be done. And whether they were right or wrong they were just our ways of doing it,” (Eddie Vedder, PJ20).
Despite Pearl Jam’s politics, they’ve blazed a trail any conservative can be proud of. The bottom line is, Pearl Jam has been great because they’ve gone against the grain. They’ve done what they felt was right. They never wanted to be told what to do, and they only wanted to do what was best for their music, the band, and the fans.
They’ve been rewarded for it with a loyal fan base and millions of dollars.
What makes Pearl Jam Twenty interesting is that besides all the stories you’ve heard before with any band that’s been around for as long as they have (e.g., drug overdoses, power struggles), this documentary examines how fame and success can turn what was once a purely-artistic venture into a business-art hybrid. How do you stay true to the music when millions of fans demand t-shirts and hoodies and sweatpants? Can you be solely an artist when you’re selling out stadiums and the logistics involved with getting tickets bought and everyone seated means you have to deal with the “monopolistic” likes of Ticketmaster? Pearl Jam Twenty confronts these issues and, while it doesn’t really ever come to a concrete conclusion, the answer seems to lie in the quote above; the best any band can do is to exert control where they can and do what they feel is right.
Where Pearl Jam Twenty misses an opportunity comes in around the time they cover the events that transpired during an April 30th, 2008 show. During a concert at Nassau County, New York, Eddie Vedder donned a George Bush mask, pranced around, sang Bushleaguer, and made some points “in a way that was antagonistic,” according to guitarist Stone Gossard. Bassist Jeff Ament commented that three-fourths of the crowd booed, and Mike McCready remembered how a fireman just flashed his badge in protest.
Cameron Crowe could have asked how a political band goes about making its points heard while respecting the portion of their fan base that doesn’t always agree with the message. As a fan, I have been to numerous Pearl Jam shows and bought quite a bit of their merchandise over the years. (Does anyone doubt Pearl Jam are members of the “1%” the Occupy Wall Street crowd complains about?) I love their music and agree to disagree on the politics. Why then would Eddie Vedder go out of his way to alienate me and countless other conservative fans who have been loyal for almost two decades? We don’t know because Cameron Crowe didn’t ask. Exploring that question a little bit more would have added something new to the cookie-cutter band documentaries we’ve become accustomed to.
With that said, it’s hard to deny that Pearl Jam Twenty was a labor of love. A great amount of care went into its making, and any fan of the band will probably have it on their Christmas Wish List. If you’ve followed Eddie and Co. since the beginning I highly suggest buying it for someone else who loves them like you do, and then watching it again before their next tour comes to your neck of the woods.