As a teenager, I tried very hard to brood, sulk and just generally be discontented. I was able to pull this off maybe a third of the time. But my true nature always eventually shone through cracks: I was a pretty happy kid, I loved my parents, I hung out with a decent crowd and I cared about how I did in school. I think a lot of teenagers are this way. Still, at 16 there’s nothing better than wearing clothes your parents don’t like, reading books your parents don’t like and listening to music your parents don’t like.
This is the gentle rebellion of the “good kid”. I was a good kid who wore big, clunky combat boots, black band t-shirts and slightly ripped jeans… sometimes. I read Anne Rice, Stephen King and true crime novels about Satan-worshipping serial killers…when I wasn’t reading East of Eden for English class. And I listened to Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Nirvana and Soundgarden…all the time.
I came of age at the beginning of the Grunge Movement. Songs from bands like I mentioned above were supposed to reflect the apathetic attitude of the then current crop of teenagers and young adults, whom the media had christened “Generation X”. Generation X was, according to Time and other magazines, the first in many years who simply didn’t give a shit. We didn’t care about who was in office, the condition of the environment or the state of the union. We didn’t care about making money or acquiring things like the “Greed is Good” generation before us. The bands swept up in this movement and labeled “Grunge” were our spokespeople. Or anti-spokespeople. They supposedly didn’t give a shit, either.
The media got most of this wrong. I, for one, very much gave a shit. And so did my classmates and most of my friends. We studied hard and wanted to get into good colleges. We taught our parents about recycling. We read the newspaper and watched the news. And the bands we listened to cared about the world, too. I distinctly remember being glued to my TV the night my favorite band, Pearl Jam, performed on MTV’s Unplugged. During one of Mike McCready’s awesome guitar solos, Eddie Vedder, his long, stringy hair hanging in his (perfect, perfect ) face, balanced himself precariously on a stool and wrote “PRO CHOICE” in black permanent marker on both of his forearms.
My little adolescent heart skipped a beat. What was this? You mean my boyfriend cared about something other than making music and getting stoned? This was truly inspirational. And, y’all, I swear he was speaking directly to me.
He spoke to me a lot. And so did Chris Cornell, Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley. I would lie on the floor of my bedroom, staring at the ceiling and listen to Badmotorfinger, Nevermind, Dirt and other albums I can’t recall now over and over again until I’d memorized every word.
(Do you remember doing this? Can you imagine doing it now? Just lying on the floor of your bedroom, doing nothing but listening to music? I couldn’t do it. I mean, I listen to music all the time, but I’m cleaning, cooking, yada, yada, yada. But just lying there, doing nothing but memorizing songs? Sigh. I guess only teenagers can do it without thinking about the thousands of other things they could be doing. Anyway. Getting back to Eddie.)
When I scraped up enough part-time job pennies to buy Pearl Jam’s second album, Five Against One (or whatever you chose to call it, since they never officially gave it a name), I found my anthem. I used to drive to school in my dad’s old Nissan Sentra, one hand on the steering wheel and one hand clenched into a little fist, belting out the rilesome lyrics to “Leash”:
“Troubled souls unite!
We got ourselves tonight!
I am fuel, you are friends,
We got the means to make amends,
I am lost, I’m no guide,
But I’m by your side,
I am right by your side!
Will myself to find a home,
A home within myself.
We will find a way,
We will find our place!
Drop the leash,
Drop the leash,
Get out of my fucking face!
Delight in our youth!
Get out of my fucking face!”
(I threw the F-bomb out there for the parentals. I remembered how y’all
used to love hearing the dirty language blaring from the bathroom at six o’clock in the morning. Kisses!)
To a 16-year-old still trying to find out who she was and armed with a sneaking suspicion that the authority figures in her life might not know all the answers, or even all the questions, this song and others like it were the soothing balm of youthful revolt.
But then something happened: I grew up. I had to allocate less time for being all angsty and more time for finding a job, paying the rent, getting married, paying the mortgage, having a kid, etc., etc. And, eventually, the songs rang less true. I tried belting out “Leash” the other day in the car and felt, well, silly.
Gill and I happened upon an episode of Austin City Limits the other day starring my beloved Pearl Jam. I was a little taken aback at the sight of them. Eddie Vedder, though still my always and forever boyfriend, has gotten a little thicker around the middle. They all have. And they don’t seem as hard around the edges. They’re less intense and, well, less intent.
I watched for a little while. As they easily made their way through familiar songs that provided the soundtrack to my adolescence, their wedding rings winking in the stage lights, I wondered what they were thinking. When they looked out on the audience composed mostly of thirty-year-old software engineers and stay-at-home moms, did they feel resigned, depressed, old?
Then Eddie stepped up to the mike, raised his hand to the crowd and said,
“It’s great to be here. Thanks for everything.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.