Thanks to Pearl Jam at Jones Beach, It’s O.K.

August 23 – 25, 2000.

I was in Waltham, MA, six days into summer football camp at Bentley College (now Bentley University). Right after Labor Day, I’d officially be a sophomore, but it was my first year on the football team. I loved football. There was one thing I loved much more, however. Pearl Jam was playing a three-night run at Jones Beach Amphitheater, August 23-25. My cousin and I scored tickets through the Ten Club months earlier. There was no way I was missing Pearl Jam playing in what I considered to be my backyard. There was just one problem. How was I going to get away from camp and get there for three straight days?

This might have been my greatest school accomplishment. Four months earlier, as the second semester was letting out for the summer, I happened to devise a master plan. After months of stressing and wrestling with ideas, my “aha” thought arrived like butterflies.

I marched down to my coaches office one afternoon and in my strongest “be stressed” impersonation told my coach I had a dilemma about the upcoming camp. I was a groomsman in my cousins wedding and in order to properly fulfill my duties, I would have to leave camp on Wednesday August 23rd and return on Saturday the 26th. Really? Leave on a Wednesday for a wedding? Oh, well, that’s because it was in Kansas City and I had flight arrangements.

“Well, you are at that age now, so I understand,” coach said. He was horrible to me leading up to that point, and for unrelated reasons, he continued that trend for my remaining time on the team. But my story worked like a charm, and for that I am forever grateful. I am convinced I ultimately sacked him with the game on the line.

Right after our 6am morning session on the 23rd, instead of stopping during our end of practice sprints, I continued straight through the fence to my car and got the hell out of there. I had to get home by 2pm in order to link up with my cousin in New Jersey and make it to Long Island in time.

Pearl Jam has just released Binaural in May of 2000. I have always artistically connected to this record in a deep way. “Light Years” to me, is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. “We were but stones, your light made us stars.” – Come on. That line is just not fair.

With Binaural, we saw Pearl Jam explore their dark corners of creativity. They challenged themselves in ways the led to no guitar solos, a chilling, haunting and unlikely first single in “Nothing As it Seems”, and had an extensive North American tour agenda laid spread out before them, on the heels of the Roskilde tragedy.

I popped the Binaural CD into the stereo of my Xterra and spun that black circle non-stop for the next three and half hours. I got jittery with concert excitement listening to the thunderous “Insignifcance”. I screamed “Champagne Breakfast for everyone” at every passing car on the highway during “Grievance” and my jaw dropped wide open each time I heard the last “falllllllll…..” fly out of Eddie Vedder during “Breakerfall.”

I made the show. We even had enough time to tailgate.

There was one other small obstacle that thankfully, I knew what call for a master plan. My roommate from freshman year (we did NOT get along) just happened to work at Jones Beach Amphitheater. That bastard. He was an usher inside the venue. If he saw me, he would certainly say something. So I didn’t shave for two weeks. I took every vitamin under the sun during that time in an effort to have facial hair fully come in. I had never grown a  beard before, nor did I really have the ability to. But in my mind, I was going to turn my face into a chiapet.

With what looked like cat whiskers taped all over my cheeks, I threw on a fisherman’s bucket hat and was there in disguise. That was all that mattered. Running to the bathroom after Sonic Youth, I literally brushed shoulders with my old roommate. In my mind, I thought, “Haha, f@cker.” He never noticed.

Suddenly the lights went down on the perfect summer night. Pearl Jam, one-by-one graced the stage. The beach waters on each side of the stage rippled in the wind that accompanied my own God’s dice. Matt Cameron kicks the bass drum. Vedder, in white pants, grabs his stunning black Schecter PT Telecaster. He steps to the mic and without saying a word, strums the “D” chord. The levee gently opened into “Long Road.” As the breeze picked up in perfect harmony with the instruments, I hear, “And I wished for so long. Cannot stay.”

That moment was the first time I cried at a concert. A 20-year-old, sophomore in college, on the football team? Yes. And I loved every second of it.

On night two, I got to see “Light Years” live for the first time. Two songs later, I witnessed the “It’s OK” – “Daughter” tag. I thought about how courageous it was. Me escaping the depths of sultry football camp hell, felt like nothing in comparison. “Romanza” opened “Betterman” and that was when I truly knew that no matter what happened as a result of this lie, I had made the right decision for myself.

I went back to school a different person. Not so much a better football player, but certainly more in touch with the emotions and truths of life. I knew I never wanted to carry a lie again, but just this once….

“It’s okay, it’s okay
This is my life, this is my chance
This is my hope in an alleyway
This is my choice, this is my voice
There may be no tomorrow, now
This is my plea, this is my need
This is my day to be free
This is my time, this is my way
In a world that’s never safe
It’s okay, it’s okay
You gotta let me run away
It’s okay, it’s okay
Oh now let me run away
It’s okay, it’s okay.”