What ‘Ten’ Did To Me:
It changed my life.
Ten introduced me to the fact that music can be emotional, it can be expressive, it can be an outlet, it is heeling, it is comforting, it is art. Up until Pearl Jam’s debut, I was of the mind that music was simply fun. And it certainly is fun. But it’s not just background noise at a party. It’s much more than entertainment. No offense, “Nothing but a good time, it don’t get better than this,” but yes it does.
I was familiar with Pearl Jam when Ten came out on August 27, 1991. I knew the chorus of “Alive” was a big wave. It was different, risky and actually made me feel alive. It wasn’t until later in 1992, about a year after the official release of Ten that I got beautifully infected.
I remember 1992 to be one of rough weather in Northern New Jersey. It was also a year where I found myself home from school “sick” more than usual. When the elements would force me inside, I would camp out on the orange couch in our basement, pull the TV plug on (yes, pull not push) and wait for the Guns N’ Roses “November Rain” video to come on. I loved that song (still do) and the video to me was mesmerizing. As I’d wait not so patiently to strike gold and catch “November Rain,” I would get hit with a surprise left by this “other” video in rotation. One where it starts with a newspaper clipping that read- affluent suburb, finally to settle on a chalkboard style writing of the word — “Jeremy.”
What I gravitated towards with the “Jeremy” video was not how intense the song was, but how intense and sincere the band’s delivery was. Of course I understood it was a video production, and that heightens the show component, but I knew this band had something I had never seen before. Something different. Something I really needed. The intensity in Eddie Vedder’s eyes was so believable. And for God’s sake, that melodious roar at the end. It all helped me understand this dimension to music that triggers real emotions.
My father used to work out in our basement at night. I would often go down there with him, hit the speed bag and just follow him around. One night he had MTV on in the background and Pearl Jam’s Unplugged episode was on. Suddenly we heard,… “All five horizons revolved around her soul, as the earth to the sun. Now the air I tasted and breathed has taken a turn.” We looked at each other, dropped what was in our hands and shuffled over to the TV. For the remainder of the program, we both starred silently, jaw left hurtin’ dropped wide open, absorbing every morsel of that epic performance. I will never forget it. My father on the left, hunched over, still with his weight lifting gloves on, and me on the right almost drooling. Both of us still standing. The fact that my father was so intrigued and moved by this, made it register that much more with me. He was not a huge music guy. But for this, he was a lobster stuck in the trap and he was 100% OK with that.
As the credits rolled, he turned to me and said, “Wow, that was good.” Emphasis on the “wow.”
Those two experiences really tattooed everything for me. Even at 11 years old, I was in desperate need of an artistic companion. Something “else” that could take me to a place where I could think the way I wanted to and get in touch with/make sense of my thoughts. Furthermore, this new world of music challenged me to think deeper.
I felt — “if just once I could lose myself,” marveled in — feeling alive, daydreamed about — “why can’t it be mine, we belong together,” held tight onto the thread and thankfully — continue to “ride the wave where it takes me.”
Though the record is stunning from front to back, it’s the little things that make it a masterpiece to me. Take “Porch” for example: the power on the “take a good look” lyric during the outro/third chorus and Vedder’s vocal twist of the word “beside” during the line “lie beside me” had such a profound impact on me. The fact that Vedder poured everything he had into ending the song that way still gives me the chills all the way through. Then you have the one word titles (aside from “Even Flow”); it’s a minor dynamic, but packs such a heavy punch. It was another example of having a “Who else does this?” type of reaction that Ten exudes in so many ways.
Every notebook I have gets branded with — “Hear My Name Take a Good Look This Could Be The Day” — on the first page, before anything else gets written in it.
I am forever in debt to Pearl Jam for the doors their music has opened. I’ve been to 40 of their concerts and as Danny Masterson told me, each one was the best I’ve ever been to. Their music has been my best friend in good times and in bad. They’ve made me a better person by introducing me to various activism outlets that do incredible things for those in need. Ironically, they have become connected with a cause that is near and dear to me in Team Gleason. They’ve allowed me to have the most memorable times with my cousin who is my show tag-team partner. We travel to each one together and now with young kids and families of our own, we pray that they too can be lucky ones — I refer to those like us, yeah. And lastly, they have introduced me to so many fellow Ten Club members and fans from around the world; many of which I consider to be great friends.
As the band played a beautiful version of “Yellow Ledbetter” at Madison Square Garden this last May, many fans gathered in a ring in the GA section. Linked arm-in-arm and swaying back and forth as the curtains closed. It felt like we were all the cover of Ten, head down, with one arm up in the huddle. Alone in this together.
As for Ten, those eleven songs are and always will be — art in its purest form. It’s was the start to what made this all possible. Today, I close my eyes and think back to that spot on the green carpet where I was frozen still with my dad. I visualize the small brown fold-up chair that laid open between us… and smirk at how it remained empty the entire time. I remember the pop sound the TV made when you turned it on and off. I am grateful for it all.
Because of that Unplugged performance I wholeheartedly subscribe to and have my own interpretation for… “and I listen to the voice inside my head, nothing… I’ll do this one myself.” Mostly because I believed in the artists who were delivering the message. PJ Unplugged was the first time I saw how much the music meant to the actual musicians performing. There was this unspoken mutual respect that was heartfelt and 100% truth.
It was emotional then and it’s just as emotional now.
Thank you, PJ.
“So… I just want to say…1,2,3,4…”
For more on the early days of MTV Unplugged, check out our feature with original producer, Bruce Leddy.