American Masters: Pearl Jam

| November 10, 2011

As part of PBS’ new American Masters line-up, the first featured film was the story of the band Pearl Jam. Undeniably the most enduring artists of the 90’s, the documentary, directed by former music journalist-turned-self-obsessed-filmmaker Cameron Crowe, took a detailed perspective into a relatively uninteresting story. You’ll learn everything you ever needed to know about Pearl Jam and their earlier incarnation, Mother Love Bone…but did you really want to know that much?
Crowe starts the movie the way he always starts his movies: featuring himself. Luckily, he keeps the footage of himself pontificating about his own relevance to a minimum. Really. The rest of the movie is full of interviews from all the members, and their long time collaborator Chris Cornell.
It’s a story of overnight success, which makes it charmless and dull. The band members are honest and relatively down to earth, which is a nice contrast from Crowe. Unfortunately, they’re also pretty bland.
It’s a story of youth in a time when music was all over the place. Their original lead singer, Andy Wood, died of a drug overdose before the name change. This chapter of the story is told with overburdened melodrama. A drug overdose? By a musician? Anyone watching the documentary, I’m sure, could hardly contain his or her shock.
Enter: Eddie Vedder. Vedder, with his scratchy, weepy lead vocals, lead the band to superstardom, shedding a number of drummers along the way. They waged a war with Ticketmaster (a crusade with no consequences, the significance, it is to be supposed, is the fact that they had the courage to fight the battle in the first place), they played stadiums, they got very, very intoxicated and bombed on MTV. Snooze.
There’s no question Pearl Jam has its place in the annals of music history, and also no question that their fan base is deeply devoted. Cultivating these items is no easy feat, and they certainly deserve their credit. But perhaps they don’t quite have the weighty, war-hero historical status that Crowe attempts to bestow upon them.
So, in the end, “American Masters” is perhaps too big a title to bestow on this Seattle band, but they cannot be ignored…and Crowe will not allow them to be.

About the Author:

Heather Trow is a nursing assistant and part-time writer. When she is not writing, she is listening to the popular podcast "NEVER NOT FUNNY". Actually, at any given time, most likely, she is listening to the podcast. It's pretty much all she does besides work. It is her favorite thing.

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