A question I get a lot when discussing my musical interests is, “How can you like Phish and Pearl Jam?” This question comes about, I think, because of the perceived general audiences of the bands.
Phish, just going by mainstream media, attracts mostly a so-called “hippie” audience. Heirs of the – no. I refuse to complete that sentence, chiefly because what usually finishes the sentence is, as it were, stuff and nonsense. (I always think of Dick Van Dyke playing the chimney sweep in “Mary Poppins” when I think of that expression.) Pearl Jam, on the other hand, has been described as having an audience that is largely “angry white women… and angry white men.” It isn’t too hard to see that there is just a bit of difference between the two.
I was first introduced to Pearl Jam shortly after the release of “Ten.” My brother bought it, telling me that he had heard it was good. I, being a bit of a musical cynic at the time (I don’t think I listened to most music written after 1950) I immediately dismissed it. I even made fun of it, referring to a popular video game of that time, “Toe Jam and Earl.” So I called them “Toe Jam.” This was before hearing a single note of music.
A couple of years later, “Ten” had exploded in popularity and someone at the high school I had recently started (The Peddie School, in Hightstown, NJ) played a few songs from the album. I thought it was great. My brother, having grown bored of it, cheerfully gave me the album. I played it so often that people who visited me begged me to please play something else. I remember sitting at the Thanksgiving table with my family, discussing the lyrics to various songs. This fascination, as it were, continued for awhile. Then Phish happened.
I came across Phish in a time of my life when I was moderately depressed. It seemed considerably more catastrophic at the time, but eight years have put a fresh, not so bleak perspective on things. At the time, the World Wide Web was not so widely used (we had only just gotten access – and Yahoo was still being run on Stanford University servers by a couple of not-yet millionaires) and I had some friends who liked Phish. They asked me to get information about the band (concert dates, show information, that sort of thing) from time to time.
One time I decided to have a look a some lyrics – specifically to the “senior project” of the guitarist, Trey Anastasio, titled “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday.” It was a warm spring day, March of 1995, and so I printed out the lyrics and sat under a tree to read them. I had seen The Who’s “Tommy” on Broadway the previous year, so the idea of a story being told with songs of that genre interspersed was not all too foreign. I read through all of “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday” and thought it was beautiful. I had been in a state of mind in which I was thinking that nothing in the world was really beautiful anymore, and here came this musical senior project to prove me quite wrong. I read it a few more times and then went to find an audio copy of the project. I got a copy from one of the people that liked to send me to find information, and spent much of the afternoon making copies for people I knew that I thought would appreciate it. (At the time my thinking was that since I found it to be so beautiful, I had to share it.) It escalated from there. From getting copies of shows on tape (The band has a special “Taper’s Section” where people bring thousand dollar DAT recorders and high quality microphones to record the shows) to attending them, I spent the next year listening to little other than Phish. Pearl Jam fell by the way side, as they didn’t seem like a band that would really improvise the way Phish did. In a move I now consider to be quite silly, I decided I would have nothing to do with the band a couple of years later after a girl I was dating broke up with me – she was a huge fan of the band. In retrospect, I realize that disliking a band to spite someone is a waste of time (which accomplishes nothing positive) but at the same time it seemed like the thing to do.
Return Of Pearl Jam
The triumphant return of Pearl Jam to my music collection came about in the fall of 2000, but the roots for said return were planted around the summer of that year, when I found out that the band was planning on releasing every single show from their European tour. Not just excerpts, the entire show – and every single one of them, on CD. I thought that was pretty impressive. Specifically, I remember thinking that they surely must have thought a lot about their live show to be releasing all of them.
In the fall, I started working a shift in one of the computer labs at Rutgers with someone who, as it turned out, was a huge Pearl Jam fan. I found this out because I played a lot of live Phish and he basically got sick of hearing it. I asked him what he liked. When he mentioned that he liked Pearl Jam, I told him that the European tour had just been released on CD. He seemed excited enough. The next time we worked together, he had brought one of the shows from Italy. As soon as the show started, it took about a song or two before I realized what a mistake I had made in not listening to them at all for so long. Particularly the previous four years, which was all about some silly relationship I had been in that ended badly. I picked up one of the shows from the Europe tour and really liked that as well. The next thing I knew, I was in the fan club and learned that the entire United States tour was also to be released on CD. This was, of course, quite exciting to me as a returning fan. Though I was sad that I didn’t get to see any shows, I was glad I could get the music on CD. I ended up getting quite a few shows on CD from the 2000 tour. Needless to say, I was quite happy that both Phish and Pearl Jam played shows and have more scheduled for 2003.
True, the fan bases are wildly different. Fortunately, I don’t attend shows for the audience – I go to see the people on the stage, playing the music. The music itself is quite different – true – but there are actually a number of similarities. One common factor between the two is energy – both are high energy bands. Phish expresses a lot of energy instrumentally – and there is plenty that can be done with just four musicians. It often sounds like there are more up there than there really are. Pearl Jam expresses a lot of energy and emotion through their lyrics. I love Phish’s lyrics as well, but I feel a different sort of connection with them. Really, there is no difficulty in a person liking both bands. I would encourage it.