This is Pearl Jam rehearsing “Not For You” on Saturday Night Live in 1994. Stumbling upon it accidentally, I was reminded of how much grunge and ‘noisy’ music I listened to when I was younger, particularly when I was in junior college and in the army as a conscript. In grunge music I heard everything I wanted to say, and that was why it was everything I wanted to hear.
I was always more attracted to Nirvana, whom I thought were cleverer and more ironic than the very earnest Pearl Jam. Still, two decades into their career, Pearl Jam are plodding along, cranking out their brand of 70’s-inspired rock in a way that we now expect them to – a gravelly, stoical voice propped up by heavy guitar riffs, all firmly anchored to a trusty rhythm section.
When Cobain quoted Neil Young’s lyric “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” in his suicide letter, it sounded heroic; but in our current age of media-fuelled fads, the lyric sadly sounds more like an advertising slogan than saintly wisdom. I now have even more admiration for artists who achieve longevity. For this reason Pearl Jam are finding favour with me, because I understand how difficult it is to do the same thing for 20 years. My Twittery fingers can’t do it.
This “Not for You” video happens to exemplify Pearl Jam’s workmanlike nature. It’s a rehearsal but they’re taking it very seriously, and when the song climaxes, the band stomp their feet empathetically as the guitar strumming and drum hitting get harder. But that’s all to it. No fireworks, no surprises, no wigs, no wheelchairs, no angels’ wings or foetuses. When Pearl Jam claims the song is “Not for You” I believe them, because I see a band doing their own thing out there. – Song-Ming.
Song-Ming Ang makes art about music. His latest publication, The Book of Guilty Pleasures, co-edited with Kim Cascone, is available from his website.