Pearl Jam Twenty

Pearl Jam Twenty
American Masters on PBS
October 20, 2011 
By Victoria Joyce

OK, so you probably haven’t watched a show on PBS since Sesame Street, right? Maybe a Ken Burns doc here and there. Now looky here, let me hip you to this jive, there is a series called American Masters that you really ought to be DVRing. 

Devoted to excellence in the arts without consideration to awards, cash or face time on TMZ, American Masters, in it’s 25th season, presents filmed portraits of the likes of Marvin Gaye (I cried), Pete Seegar (I cheered) and most recently, Pearl Jam (I curled into fetal position and made low moans). 

Entitled “Pearl Jam Twenty” and directed by Cameron Crowe, it was broadcasted nationally earlier this month. PJ has been around for 20 years? Ouch. Check out PBS’s website for features and cool extras – clips, videos and underground posters for all you graphic art freaks. 

Crowe starts with his own connection to Seattle and the scene. Arriving as a cub reporter for Rolling Stone Crowe soon bonded with the local rockers. He is an old and trusted friend of the band and no one else could get this close. 

Cameron makes a nice point about the bad weather of the Pacific Northwest keeping people in doors, where they listened to a lot of music crossing all decades and genres that influenced the eventual signature sound. The blossoming Seattle scene took influences from everywhere before it exploded with the famous name of “Grunge.” 

The two-hour rockumentary delves into the background of Pearl Jam’s precursor –  Mother Love Bone and the tragic death of lead singer Andrew Wood (heroin) who is replaced by surfer Eddie Vedder from San Diego. Cool scene when Cameron Crowe hands him the demo tape heard by Ed & Stone who reacted with “is this a real guy?” 

Current interviews with Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, Ed Ament and Vedder are intercut with rare found footage never seen before of the early days, on the road, at home, live performances and interviews with fans and friends. 

The supersonic rise to fame caused the band to question their credibility. Archival footage of Vedder’s Grammy acceptance speech, “I don’t think this means anything” is a hoot. And who can forget their battle with Ticket Master? Street cred to burn. 

Fun sequence about the history of Pearl Jam’s drummers, “we were a little Spinal Tap about that.” Silly sequence about a Newsweek story where Eddie agreed with Kurt Corbain not to be interviewed and then they put Vedder on the cover. Springsteen much? 

“Pearl Jam Twenty” might just be the best Rock and Roll documentary since Martin Scorsese made “Last Waltz” with The Band. The excellence of the music, musicians, and songwriting matched with the intelligence and commitment of the members relating to an expert filmmaker who they trust. Check it out. You can buy it on the band’s website or PBS’s.