You Are Old: Pearl Jam Twenty


Success came swiftly and voluminously—millions of records sold, Grammys, VMAs, the cover of Time magazine—when Pearl Jam dropped Ten 20 years ago this August. Which was also when the backlash began. Out-credded at the outset by its Seattle sibling, the punkier, unrulier Nirvana, Pearl Jam was never cool. Fronted by the foghorn-throated Eddie Vedder, gorgeous and humorless, the band cut solid records yet always acted cornered. But as proved by U2, longevity doesn’t run on coolness—it runs on resilience, business savvy, and the loyalty of fans. To that end, Cameron Crowe’s victory lap doc rewards those who’ve remained steadfast even as Pearl Jam has listed toward irrelevancy and presents a collagist historical chronicle that mixes archival footage with recent interviews. This could be fine, I suppose, if openings for genuine inquiry weren’t cravenly declined. Crowe, the famed rock reporter-turned-filmmaker-turned-faded brand, refuses to complicate his hagiography with ideas. The mainstreaming of alternative, the splintering of the music industry, the can’t-win propositions of rock activism—all are either ignored or dispatched in montage. Perhaps Pearl Jam’s arc too closely resembles Crowe’s own, and he can’t see what’s so uniquely poignant about dimmed but enduring stars.