A Nomad’s Notes: In praise of Pearl Jam

To be honest, I decided to officially make this topic my column not one minute ago. It was my initial idea for this week’s column, but I talked with my mom about some other ideas now that my Egypt series is over, and they were good ideas, but none of them felt as genuine a topic for me as this one.

About 11 years ago give or take a few days, I was sitting at my desktop at my mom’s house in Kentucky, talking on AOL Instant Messenger, which should give you context of how dated this is. I decided to put my iPod on shuffle (OK, not THAT dated) and up popped this weird instrumental piece of music. I remember thinking, “This sounds like some awesome New Age music. But I looked down at the display screen and nope, it was from a 14-year-old Pearl Jam album.

Now, I’d grown up with Pearl Jam since I could remember, as some of my earliest memories can attest. I remember when I was probably 5 or 6, listening to Pearl Jam with my dad and imagining the band playing at a house party in Seattle next to a chemical plant, the sky dim, the smoke from the factory acrid, the house filled with toe jam. I understand why I associated Pearl Jam with toe jam (it was a terrible joke my dad always made), but why I imagined the band playing at a house party next to a smoky chemical factory I will never know. It’s still incredibly strange to this day, but it’s an incredibly strange image I’ll never lose.

But in all that time listening to Pearl Jam with my dad, this weird, primordial drum beat with Eddie Vedder’s incoherent words was something I’d never heard before ­— or at least, my immature brain didn’t remember it. But as it ended, I knew it was a piece of music I would never stop listening to.

And here we are 11 years later, and I’m listening to this same piece of music now, a piece of music that, if I had to list three general things I love most in this entire world, it’s definitely in the top three. This piece of music I’m talking about is called “Master/Slave” and it is the music that you hear at the very beginning of Pearl Jam’s first album, Ten, and it is the last piece of music you hear on the same album, in such a perfectly circular fashion.

Even writing this down feels embarrassing, although nothing about it actually is. I think my nervousness at being open about this song comes from how strange of a song it is. In fact, it’s such a strangely haunting piece of music that my sister says she doesn’t like it, and has called it “creepy” on multiple occasions. I can see her point, but for me, it’s not creepy at all. In fact, it has become a home for me; a warm piece of music that can — and has — cradled me and comforted me through every circumstance I can think of — and I can think of a lot.

Chances are, any papers I wrote in college, any fanfiction I’ve published, was written with “Master/Slave” playing in the background, either at the highest volume available or so faintly I could only hear the faint Timpani drums and nothing else. I’ve used this song to help me cry when I felt tears on the horizon needing a slight push; I’ve used this song when a family member or study abroad buddy wouldn’t stop snoring; I’ve used this song to help me sleep through the loudest of thunderstorms; I’ve listened to this song from the comfort of my own bed, in the heat of Amsterdam, along the winding roads of Kentucky and sailing on the River Nile.

When I die and (I presumptuously assume) get to heaven, I’d like God to let me know how many times I’ve heard this song in this lifetime. I’m guessing it’ll be in the hundreds of thousands. When I die, this is the only song I want played at my funeral. I kind of cringe and laugh thinking about that, knowing the people who attend my funeral, wherever they hold my service, will all give each other strange looks and wonder what this odd piece of music is. I’m sure they’ll see it as a reflection of some of my more unusual aspects, and they’d be right. But it’s also become so part of who I am as a person that if you were to metaphorically tear me open, what would pour out would be a mix of stars, Egyptian sand and pink tendrils that match the color of Pearl Jam’s Ten album. It is me.

So when I learned last week that Pearl Jam has been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I knew beyond question that A, they would get in and B, no one deserves to be included more than they do. I also smiled when I learned, not only because they’d been nominated but because people are nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25 years after their first album is released. Pearl Jam’s first album was released in August 1991, and it was recorded in March and April 1991. And like my favorite song, I was brought into this world in March 1991. When I learned my favorite song and I are essentially the same age, I felt even more connected to it, even more intertwined with it somehow. It’s more than just a song to me; in essence, it’s become my world.

One of the greatest moments in this blip of my existence thus far was in October 2014, when I saw Pearl Jam in concert. There were times during the three-hour performance I was crying so hard I thought someone near me would ask to seek medical attention. From an objective standpoint that might seem extreme, but I’ve always been one to feel things deeply, probably too deeply to be 100 percent healthy. And being in the presence of those who had created something that owns so much of my soul was an honor and a privilege I hope to someday have again.

So when I think on October, of course I think about Halloween and the upcoming holidays with family and friends, the colder weather, the warmer beverages and the coming new year. But I also think about how this much this month will always mean to me. How this month, October, is the month that brought my world, and its creators, right to me.


 Lindsay Kriz is a staff writerfor the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email lkriz@brunswickbeacon.com.