Home Inspiration The twentieth anniversary of Pearl Jam’s Ten: King Jeremy the wicked

The twentieth anniversary of Pearl Jam’s Ten: King Jeremy the wicked

by J. C. Greenway
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Thanks to a timely and thought-provoking reminder from Adam at Infantile Disorder, I didn’t miss the twentieth anniversary of the release of Pearl Jam’s Ten. And while it is never easy to realise that the soundtrack to those once-so-heartfelt teenage rebellions is drifting towards the status of golden oldie, still I am glad to be able to mark the occasion. Pearl Jam and Nirvana have gifted me my own time machine, as every time I want to feel 15 again a listen to Ten or Smells Like Teen Spirit will transport me straight back. Back to the frustrations and anger of those years but also the self-belief that somewhere along the way I might have lost, were it not for the music. Ten still calls to mind the days when the famous picture of them onstage hung over my bed.


Adam’s article rightly pegs grunge as more than music for grotty teens to sneer along to, instead noting that it was

the product of a society that had been through the Reagan-led ruling class counter-offensive of the 1980s, and was now seeing his successor, George Bush Snr, deepen the chasm between rich and poor. The anger of hardcore punk had given way to some despair…

At the time, I seem to remember the grunge scene being derided as not political enough, far too self-absorbed, the product of a generation so dulled by therapy that it could do little more than whine. All quite possibly true. Yet the music was also a perfect expression of the unsettling fear that life wasn’t quite turning out to be all it should have been. The Cold War was won, the upward trajectory was assured, but it didn’t feel all that great, instead there seemed to be little cause for optimism as the end of the century also loomed.¬†Perhaps the best expression of a similar feeling from a British band came a little later, from those who you maybe wouldn’t initially associate with the great unwashed of Seattle – Pulp – when they sang in Mis-shapes, Mistakes, Misfits:

the future that you’ve got mapped out is nothing much to shout about.

Like Jarvis Cocker, both Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder were clever kids, out of place at school and home and wearing their differences heavily. The so-called ‘cool’ kids at my school hated Pearl Jam and Nirvana, while the rest of us probably loved them even more because of it. These bands offered a way out of everyday thinking, an escape from cultural cul-de-sacs and seemed the best chance for victory over the forces of ordinary, at least until Kurt turned the anger inwards, like Jeremy in the song. But that would come later.¬† For now, to mark the twentieth anniversary of Pearl Jam’s Ten, I’m happy enjoying the trip in a time machine that I get from pressing play on one of these songs.

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American Dave 1 September 2011 - 5:14 am

Jo! You are so close on this one! The only miss is that Pearl Jam weren’t and NEVER WILL BE, grunge. As someone in Seattle just before the shotgun and the drugs took Kurt from us, PJ was at best a shadow of the angst and foreboding of what grunge was all about. Eddie’s from San Diego from chrissakes: one of the sunniest, warmest, beeriest, happiest, poseriest, places on Earth! But overall glad to hear a Brit expound on 90s music other than Oasis and Blur…

Joanne Greenway 1 September 2011 - 9:31 am

Thanks for setting me right AD. You might not believe it, but by the time they made it to this side of the Pond, even the Lemonheads were being sold to us as grunge! Those crazy label marketing guys, eh?

markwoff 1 September 2011 - 5:21 pm

Ah but yeah but they were FALSE GRUNGE because actually Mudhoney invented it but actually no because even they said they didn’t… well, anyway. ‘Making teenagers depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel’, as Bart Simpson noted. It wasn’t about ‘angst and foreboding’ where we were from (North Yorkshire), it was making a colossal racket.
Full timeline/exposition to follow shortly in the Mortal Bath!

I could never get into the Nirvana/Pearl Jam schism some pals did. Pearl Jam were a nice rock n roll band. Saw them a few times. State of love & trust!

Joanne Greenway 2 September 2011 - 12:08 am

That rings true, one of Nirvana’s early attractions was how it sounded with the stereo jammed up as close to 11 as I could jemmy it. Will remain forever gutted that I never saw them or PJ live – too busy with the repetitive beats by the time I was old enough…

Eagerly awaiting your recollections!

American Dave 2 September 2011 - 12:28 am

One of my fave recollections of the era was Christmas 1991. Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ was #1 in the US on the day. By New Year’s Eve, Bad had dropped down the charts and Nevermind was #1: conventional wisdom was that all the kids exchanged the former for the latter and that a sea change in American music had taken place within the space of a week! Been listening to Ten today… Soundgarden next I reckon.

Joanne Greenway 4 September 2011 - 4:39 pm

Nirvana was the first band me and my Dad fell out over. Before that, we’d pretty much shared the same tastes in music, but it was one of those inter-generational lines in the sand, there was no crossing it!


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