photo by: Danny Clinch
Here and Now, Won’t Hold Us Down
It started with just a photo. Before the music and before the collection of song titles – there was this breathtaking image by Paul Nicklen, appropriately partnered with the word “Gigaton”.
I think back to 2017 interview I did with Kenny Mayne from ESPN about how music inspires his life. He tells me a story about how he sent a text to his friend the day before – bassist, Jeff Ament, asking him, “How does it feel to be in one of the most important bands in the world?” Ament replied with gratitude, saying, “I just want to make people feel good.”
Important. That was almost the title of this piece – The Importance of Gigaton, I guess it still could be.
That word really stuck with me. I’ve thought so deeply about it since that conversation. I’d never heard an artist or band labeled “important”. Such a unique and powerful word choice.
I Can Hear Ya Singing In The Distance:
Whether it’s “Spin The Black Circle”, “Nothing As It Seems”, “The Fixer”, “Mind Your Manners” or any of the other previous lead singles, Pearl Jam always challenges you with the first song released from their record. The same held true for Gigaton, record #11, with “Dance of the Clairvoyants”. Ultimately, I believe it’s about respect. Meaning, 29 years deep, this band is going to lead by example and continue to push the boundaries, explore new musical territories, hone their crafts, and ultimately, find additional ways via their platform to encourage your own voice.
And if you so choose to embark on the Gigaton journey in sequence, you are truly rewarded. You see, it’s like a wave. The swell is in the distance… there’s build-up with “Who Ever Said”, and a rush with “Superblood Wolfmoon”, leading you into a glide with “Dance of the Clairvoyants”. When you are on the wave, you think of nothing but the given ride you are on. And maybe inside, you dance a little bit. But then you release – this serves a delightful “Quick Escape” and reinforces how badly you (we all) need one.
But I have responsibilities. It’s not supposed to be about me now. On the break of the surf you smile, if just for a second you come to terms with it being “Alright” that you alone took that moment for yourself. It’s a 7 O’Clock in the morning epiphany, and as your board guides you closer to shore you think about, “Where does this wave really take me?” It’s fair enough to say it’s a “Never Destination” – a little trick you play on your mind. The thing about a surf is that you do always take the long way. It’s much less challenging not to learn to take a wave, not to fall off constantly and tread water before arriving at a glistening shore. But you “Buckle Up” and do it anyway, and then you do it again.
The waves, like the tide – they come and go. They leave you reflective, feeling deep and with the salt water rolling down your face you pause – is there anything more pure and cleansing? Perhaps the emotion is best captured by the feeling emoted at the end of “Retrograde”. Feeling equal and opposite all the same. Momentum rearranged. Shout, the echo, returning back but now changed.
The wave is complete, you walk to shore with a beautiful sting in your eyes. You enter your beachshack alone and sit down in the dark. What just happened? What I am going to do about it? How do I feel right now? I feel everything. It’s a spiritual experience.
Let’s focus on the heartbeat for minute. Gigaton starts with the pounding of heart, it’s there on the cover and then it’s still going 57 minutes later as “River Cross” fades away. The beat goes on.
For drummer Matt Cameron, maybe it’s the beat he needed as an artist, and simply as a human being navigating the past few years with admirable fortitude. For singer Eddie Vedder, there is so much truth and soul dripped into each and every word. The calligraphy pen and key from every typewriter dipped right into the ink of his heart. Find a star to solider on. As we learned early on with “Superblood Wolfmoon”, Mike McCready dunks the his guitar in kerosene and then… does what Mike McCready does. Stone Gossard adds the crunch we all desire in our lives which like the wave, pushes you to maybe also try a different chord than the one you are used to. Jeff Ament rolls such a rhythm into the aforementioned heartbeat that you just know it’s going to keep pounding. It’s an everlasting, tenacious trust.
And here we are. Gigaton released in the middle of this worldwide pandemic, one of the most heartbreaking and trying times the world has ever seen. Speaking of the release timing… it’s not a negative thought but a positive, positive, positive.
Because this fucked up situation calls for all hands, hands on deck.
You can’t help but ask, how did Pearl Jam know all of this? These lyrics, melodies and song punches are all so relevant to the here and now. Many of the songs start with an atmospheric sound that sets the tone for the entire underling theme. They are accompanied by equally potent images encapsulating the purity of the globe. I wonder …. will our children get to listen to a record like this by the time they are adults, with these same resources in tact? Expecting perfection leaves a lot to ignore… But I won’t give up. I won’t give up on satisfaction.
Once You Were Somewhere and Now You’re Everywhere:
For me, the true essence of Gigaton started here – oh, 7 O’clock in the morning, I went for a sunrise run. Down under an oasis with my family still sleeping and dreams still being born. Summer spoke to winter relaying all encouraging words. And I’ve been hanging on to that line with everything I have. Still, much to be done… but now I believe, it’s alright to shut it down, disappear in thin air, to be alone, to find a groove in the sound, its my own.
That feeling comes then goes and something settles in me here:
High or low… where’d you go? Can I find a glimpse of my friend, don’t know when one of us left the other behind? Like you, I keep it in. I’m trying.
Simply…. we just miss you, man.
Focus on Your Focusness, Don’t Allow For Hopelessness:
So, now what? Now what do we do? Presently, there’s daytime and nighttime. Another read of the same page. This is such a tricky moment in life where you balance the feeling of wishing away time and appreciating all the quality hours at home with family. I give the same answers that I get…. and that’s, I don’t know. There’s no such thing as clear. Confusion is to commotion what our love is to our devotion, imperceptibly big, big as the ocean and equally hard to control.
I was supposed to be in New York right now, singing and dancing with 15,000 of my favorite friends. In true Pearl Jam fashion, the band stepped up and pioneered – leading by example, doing the right thing and postponing the first leg of this 2020 tour – practicing what Gigaton preaches and putting it all right to the test, immediately.
Bear with me for second. Inhale, and maybe breakdown. It’s alright. Can you imagine what it’s gonna be like when we do attend these shows now? When the lights go down, the band takes the stage and we made it through this together? Now we have concerts and triumphs with a new appreciation, with a Gigaton of emotion. SCREAMING – “but, I won’t give up!” I chill at the thought. It’s gonna move us all so deeply, mirroring just as the end of “Retrograde” feels.
I’m so grateful to you, Gigaton – even if it’s just for a daily quick escape. I know we’ll get there. I’m hopeful, we’ll break through these feelings.
photo by: Danny Clinch
As for now – thank God we have this record. It was released at the perfect time, and now I get it… by the most important band. There’s been no interviews to talk about Gigaton (the music does the talking) aside from Vedder and Ament on the Bill Simmons podcast. A little over an hour in, Ament breaks into this when talking about what happens when the group gets into a room having no idea what to expect, “It’s our magic. It’s our God. It’s the spirit that we feel. It makes life worth living. It makes you want to live life and makes you want to do better, and do more things, and help people.”
And all of that. That’s exactly what’s happening here. If you look closely, there’s a bird flying freely in that opening Nicklen image, shining under the light right after the fall. Arms wide open with the sea as his floor.
After all these years, it dawns on me – this this is the first article I’ve ever written outside (at home in my backyard). I don’t know what that means, but I do know it feels right, just like listening to Gigaton as a collective piece of art at 7am alone, firing through vacant streets did weeks ago.
Soically distant, but musically connected.
To the PNW, to the far and wide,
Love to you all.
“Share the light, won’t hold us down.”