PEARL JAM, SEATTLE, AND THE CHARITY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

Seattle based classic rock band Pearl Jam are playing a couple of shows this week. Pearl Jam were the biggest rock band (at a time when that still meant widespread cultural dominance) in the world for about three years, then a going pop culture concern for another four, and have become largely a cult act that still scores hits on rock radio from time to time. But when you  go see them live, they are still the biggest band in the world. It’s kinda weird. I’m not even the Main Guy of Their Thing but the time I saw them at Key Arena scores high on the list of my best. shows. ever. The number of people I’ve known who start sentences with “man, I don’t even LIKE Pearl Jam, but. . .” is vast.

Pearl Jam are not, and plausibly never have been, cool. Even most of their fans will admit this. Hipsters who pick one or two of their records to like admit this. Their music is too beholden to classic rock tropes. It is very, very male, but not in an escapist, lets-all-get-laid-and-drink-beer sort of way. In a “dudes are gross with all their feelings” sort of way. Many bands who are openly influenced by Pearl Jam are pretty terrible by most people’s standards.

Which means that when the members of PJ decide to throw some shows to raise money to combat the epidemic of homelessness in their hometown, it’s a source of controversy for some. Pearl Jam don’t have a new record to promote; this is not something that will immediately benefit them. It is an objectively kind thing that forces people who hate having heard “Alive” and “Better Man” on their radio stations for the last nine million years to reconsider their position on the band’s music.

But. . . it doesn’t. You can, and are allowed, to hate a band’s music and still recognize they are doing a good thing. Likewise, you can think a person is a complete fuckoff and still enjoy The Smiths.

While the latter concept seems to be fully embraced by the number of bartenders I know who post #resistance memes but still bump Ignition(Remix), the former trips people up.

I’ve spent years ranting about this band to people! Why do I need to like them now!?

You don’t.

You don’t have to like anything you don’t want to. When you don’t like a band, and suddenly everyone is gushing about them, it’s annoying. It’s been a long time since I (anyone?) loved a U2 song, but I do think that as aggrandizing as Bono can be, it’s still good  he cares.

We give endless passes to celebrities who are hedonists, alleged rapists, and self-admitted assholes. But when someone tries to do something good, they get shamed. Part of this is because Celebs are historically bad at doing good things. Frequently the money doesn’t get where it needs to, or ends up in their embezzling manager’s wallet. Well I trust that Vedder, McCready and the rest are doing due diligence, the net effect of their actions remains to be seen.

It also is deeply unfortunate that Pearl Jam, U2 or any celebrity need to use their positions to advocate for good causes. Even as a music fan, the idea that I’d pay more attention to important issues around the world because the guy who sang “Evenflow” is talking about it doesn’t reflect too well on me. Still, it’s true.

Seattle, King County and America need a robust and multi-tiered approach to combating both homelessness and poverty. It needs to happen at the federal level, the state level, and the independent level. We need government programs, we need churches, we need philanthropic businesspeople. We need a society that isn’t structured on top-down distribution of wealth. Many philanthropists have benefited from that system arguably a lot more than they’ve used it to help people. The Republican idea of trickle down economics is a lie.

So I understand when folks lament that the Home Shows are necessary. I don’t, however, lament that Pearl Jam are doing their best to give a shit.

Also, this is scientifically proven to be a sick jam:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDaOgu2CQtI


Also published on Medium.