photo courtesy of Mike McCready/Pearl Jam

A year of infinite inspiration, a salute to Mike McCready

“I couldn’t get to that step. Paints and going into the art store was so overwhelming, it’s probably like ‘Oh, I’m not good enough’ sort of thing, and a story I would tell myself over and over and over again. And that’s not only with certain art, but whatever – fear or courage or life in general…. but I’m exploring that now, – not caring anymore,” said Mike McCready when Joseph Arthur brought up the question of – why people give themselves permission to do one thing and not another on his Come To Where I’m From podcast. McCready then explains how he has opened up and expanded his creative interests.

I Will Not Lose My Faith, It’s An Inside Job Today:

2019 seemed like the perfect time to push artistic boundaries to the extreme – inward and outward. For Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, the year consisted of participating in a women’s march in January, scoring films such as The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash and Story of Plastic, contributing to my feature honoring a mutual hero in Steve Gleason, performing a Flight to Mars benefit show, rocking national anthems, a continued support of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, curating and performing at a brand new festival called Peak to Sky in Montana, jamming with Chad Smith, Josh Klinghoffer, Taylor Hawkins and Duff McKagen, supporting Save the Showbox, championing Record Store Day with a surprise in-store show, working with his favorite artists via his own Hockey Talkter label, perhaps a new recording, and writing, painting and singing in a project called Infinite Color & Sound with Kate Neckel.

photo courtesy of Mike McCready/Pearl Jam

Infinite Color & Sound, a visual art and music duo with works ranging from collage, sculpture, painting, drawing, music and performance came out swinging to start the year. The collaboration began shortly after McCready’s wife suggested he check out Neckel’s incredible work at a local Seattle gallery. Upon joining forces, the duo would find that collectively they encouraged each other to pursue the platform that was previously deemed intimidating and untouchable. For McCready it was starting to paint and for Neckel it was playing guitar and writing songs. With no limitations, Infinite Color & Sound became the ultimate landscape for and of self-expression. Whether practicing in a basement or performing live in front of numerous Seattle and New York audiences, they would freely let the strumming, vocals and paint brushes fly as a result of whatever was triggered. Often this led to a live painting that was influenced by the music which was influencing the painting.

“Mike opened me up to the realization that I could create songs the same way that I create paintings…feel your way through it and don’t over think it…they both come from the same place,” Neckel told me. “Mike is open minded, playful and non-judgmental. His willingness to dip his brush into the paint and make marks even though it initially terrified him is what inspires me…he’s willing to start. So many people never give themselves permission to do the thing that they want to do the most, so I think his vulnerability strikes a chord with people and fans because maybe they think, “oh if he can try something new maybe I can too?” said Neckel.

Speaking of fans, I’ve had the privilege to speak with many of them from across the world over the course of the year on how McCready has inspired and impacted their lives.

photo by Paul Lorkowski

Nancy Joan:  Paris, France

I will never forget the last time I saw Pearl Jam live at La Citadelle in Arras. I was going through some deep personal struggles and trying to escape a very toxic situation. I don’t know why but seeing how deeply Mike was moving both himself and the audience during his “Even Flow” solo gave me chills from head-to-toe. In that moment, I knew that I could do it. That I had to. The next day I picked up myself up and moved into a new life, starting all over again. A new, clean slate. I listen to Pearl Jam all the time, and whenever I feel uncertain, I put on “Even Flow”. It brings me back to that surreal feeling of …“I Am Mine” I suppose.

This year, after observing Infinite Color & Sound from afar, I started painting and taught myself the acoustic guitar. I have never been happier.

Randy Sobel: Stratford, CT:

Mike McCready found a way to persevere and continued to live out the dream of performing in front of thousands on big stages. Most musicians that go through substance challenges never get to that point.

I don’t think we as fans realize how difficult this life is to maintain, especially now when a work/life balance means choosing a tour over spending time with family. I idolize Mike for the work he’s done to better himself and break the stigma, and just as importantly taking a disease that puts his life at risk and being an outspoken activist to raise funds and awareness for Crohn’s charities.

He deserves this recognition.

photo courtesy of Mike McCready/Pearl Jam

Roxann Gray: Lebec, CA.

I was lucky enough to be on the rail in San Francisco and to look up at him in awe –  he really is somebody to aspire to be like. He has gone through so much and has persevered throughout it. When I get down about my life I can always look at him and feel inspired.

Bryan Ahearn: Parker, CO

Mike’s sincerity is unmatched. Be it as a rock historian, or just a man about the town (always with a spare pick or two), Mike gets what it is to be a fan as he is a fan. Just one that can burn a guitar solo to ashes.

Maura Brady: Fairfield, CT

I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Mike, but I got to see him play live once at the Seattle Home Show last year. I was on the rail right in front of him – and was so moved by the way he interacts with the audience, how he reaches within himself and hands out his soul through his music. Starting over with the guitar in my 50s, I’ve been so inspired by Mike – and when I struggle with boxes and scales and simple riffs, I remind myself to close my eyes like Mike does and just let the music flow. Thank you, Mike McCready, for helping to bring music back into my life and for bringing joy to so many!

photo courtesy of Mike McCready/Pearl Jam

Daniel Lima: Belo Horizonte, Brazil

What Mike created with his mates means a watershed in my life around music. It made me stop revering only past artists and believe that I could also make some meaningful music in my own time. Mike’s strength and willpower is a true inspiration to me as an artist and a human being. The fact that he has followed himself to create something as strong as Pearl Jam and beyond, is a beautiful story of overcoming. 

Karen Judson: Marysville, WA

Mike’s dedication to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, his involvement in spreading awareness for these incurable diseases is inspiring. Thank you, Mike, for being willing to be vulnerable and sharing your own journey and story of living with Crohn’s.

Sea.Hear.Now photo with Danny Clinch by: Michael Cassella

Sean Crone: Greenwood, IN

Mike was a huge influence on me, starting in my early 20’s when I had started taking guitar more seriously. I was always mesmerized by his playing and my musical brother Ricky Humphrey, had shown me some more advanced pentatonic scales to practice. I had Ten and Vs. in my cd changer and I played along to those at least three times a day. I could feel every note and every emotion. The music and his playing really resonated with me. I could be in a ridiculously bad mood and by the time I was done playing a virtual set with Mike and the guys, all my troubles went away for a while. The power of music, I suppose.

Fast forward to 2011, I was living in Seattle. I’d always wanted to see where some of my musical heroes got started and here I was, about to attend my first Bumbershoot. My wife was already there taking photos for some other bands while I was finishing work. I met her at the concession stands and we started walking and it donned on me that I just walked past Mike. I mentioned it to my wife and she said, “He’s a hero of yours, you should at least say hi.” I tend to shy away from those encounters only because I know it happens to celebrities all the time, but I said, “What the hell.” He was finishing up a conversation, and his kid was passed out in a stroller, it really humanized the situation. I said hi and expressed my appreciation for his inadvertent guitar lessons and jam sessions, and he was so gracious. He was telling me that he was there to check out Bob Dylan’s set and that he had just sat in with Star Anna and that I should check out her music. She’s great, by the way. We talked about me being from the Midwest and how they loved playing Deer Creek in Indianapolis. We talked about our kids and he even kind of gave me a Seattle welcome package, about how it really feels like a big small town and how Bumbershoot used to be free. We wrapped it up, even though we could have probably talked for a lot longer.

Sea.Hear.Now photo by: Michael Cassella

It’s the perfect time for me to share this story. He’s a total class act, he genuinely cares about others and when you talk to him, you have his undivided attention. Something I’ve learned from growing up listening to PJ my whole life was to take a look around and realize I’m not the only one on the planet, that I should always be conscious of that fact, to be self-aware, to care about others, to make a contribution and help when or wherever possible, and to believe in myself. Not all music speaks to me like that. Theirs and his always has. Thanks for those precious few minutes of your time, Mike! I’ll always be grateful.

Caroline Ortega: Washington DC

On tour, 2003, I followed Pearl Jam every single show. I was being bullied and ostracized by fellow travelers because of my single self and waiting to be up front every night. One day in San Diego, the first time I met Mike, he recognized me from shows and asked me what was wrong. I vented to him (sorry Mike!). Mike gave me some advice (basically saying fuck them and to do what I like so long as it’s safely). He kept my spirit alive the rest of the tour- and in life. He’s always been there for me after that meeting! He didn’t have to talk to me, say anything or keep in touch but he did! Mike McCready saved my life.

James Young: St. Louis, MO

I and many others wouldn’t be here today without Mike, his amazing music, and his example of a person to strive to be like. His charitable spirit, good deeds, and yes ability to slay on guitar speaks for itself. Thank you for everything Mike McCready, we love you!

Record Store Day photos courtesy of Mike McCready/Pearl Jam

How I Choose To Feel Is How I Am:

The main featured photo here is McCready lighting up Century Link Field prior to the Sounders championship game back in November. It’s one of my favorites from the year as it simply embodies everything – Seattle, activism, the 59 strat, emotion, passion and pride.

I have had the great fortune of seeing McCready live numerous times. I’ve noticed, (and this is by no means a review or ranking because…hell, no) two things tend to happen. He is either fully engaged with the audience, interacting charismatically while not missing a single note. Or he has completely gone someplace else – eyes closed with the left foot on the pedal board, letting the music saturate his state of being that you can only deeply respect in terms of genuine sincerity. In both scenario’s, McCready is in lockstep with whomever he is rocking beside – Given To Fly.

photo by: Michael Young/Given2FlyImages

“Searching hope, I’m shown the way to run straight pursuing the greater way for all,… human light.”

Peak To Sky photo courtesy of Mike McCready/Pearl Jam

So, our Most Inspiring Artist of the year nod remains in the Pacific Northwest – coincidentally, with Brandi Carlile handing it off to her good friend McCready. I often say the arts are leading the way right now. I believe the opening quote in this article by McCready supports that concept of how leveraging such platforms and going one more round when the intention is there but you’re not sure if you can –  ignites a fire from within that is both courageous and contagious.

How has McCready inspired me? Well, to be honest, Artist Waves almost stopped this year as a result of complete exhaustion and life simply seeming to get in the way. My mind was made up. I decided to go for a Saturday afternoon run to take a deep breath and be at peace with my decision. As I approached the corner of the street with the yellow glow of a children’s walk sign staring me in the face, I hit play on my music. It was on shuffle – I must have 2,000 songs in there and I paid no mind to what I was putting on. Just any melody to accompany strides would suffice. Well, it was Carlile’s “Follow” that played … followed immediately by Pearl Jam’s “Inside Job”, which was written by McCready (lyrics included). Both songs so beautifully encapsulate the emotional power of living from within and letting that source of passion be the guiding light. I returned home and found my oldest son sporting an Artist Waves t-shirt.

Right then….I immediately changed my mind.

photo by: Michael Cassella and courtesey of Mike McCready/Pearl Jam

I’m writing this with Infinite Color & Sound music serving as my first mate. It’s truly a perfect companion to any artistic endeavor, where you’re in the tunnel vision zone of letting it flow. I’m also on a boat, commuting to my second job. For perspective, it’s a giant catamaran nicknamed “The Floating Septic”, but nonetheless, I won’t complain. I look out the window over my left shoulder and see the little waves glide past with the white-salted crests appearing as if they are smiling. I’m reminded – the point of Artist Waves is and has always been to artistically and creatively capture the ripple effect of the world’s most inspiring art and furthermore, illuminating the unifying impact it has within greater communities – while also encouraging it to continue. It’s a feeling. And it’s an attitude that lives in the optimistic state of mind.

McCready has often mentioned that one of his favorite Pearl Jam songs is “In Hiding” – track number 11 off Yield. “I surfaced and all around me was enlightened” and “It’s funny when things change so much, it’s all state of mind” sparkle within that gem just like the oceans of thought we all surf upon. There’s consistency there with what was then penned on “Inside Job” seven years later, or I confidently assume, with what lies ahead for Pearl Jam, or within the mission of Infinite Color & Sound.

photo courtesy of Mike McCready/Pearl Jam

“Infinite Color & Sound pushed me outside of my comfort zone and allowed me to take creative strides and grow in ways (singing/songwriting/performing) that I couldn’t have imagined a year or two ago,” concludes Neckel.

As we turn into 2020, we are fortunate to be in an infinite time and space where there may be a “Fading” “Broken” “Free” “Canvas” for us all to have our voices be heard alongside people like McCready who lead by example in pioneering – the only way out is through. We are grateful, thank you for running through the rain to shine a human light again. Because – “Life comes from within your heart and desire.”

photo courtesy of Mike McCready/Pearl Jam

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