Monday, August 17, 2009

Nothing as it seems

The first I ever heard of Pearl Jam was when they were coming to Melbourne over 14 years ago and the tickets to their concert went on sale the same day I was trying to get tickets for the Australian Open tennis. I almost missed getting tennis tickets, and did miss most of the day's work, because of all the ridicuously long queues at Ticketmaster. I felt incensed that my love for tennis was being sabotaged by a band I had never heard of and who was surely just like all the rest of that "non classical" genre.

But history takes funny twists and turns and today, when the tickets for Pearl Jam's next Melbourne concert again went on sale, I was once again caught up in the Ticketmaster queues - but this time to actually buy tickets for Pearl Jam, which I will be going to in November. Thanks Scott and Fiona for letting me tag along with you and hopefully, with two people in their 20s at my side, I will only look one third silly.

So nothing is as we think it will be and, not surprisingly, today I have been listening to Pearl Jam. Their album Binaural is the only one I have, but it's a great album and there is a kind of dark, absorbing depth in their sound tha just takes you in.

The track "Nothing as it seems" is the one I wanted to mainly focus on here. It's a slightly unsettling song about being out of place, dislocated, in a home that isn't what it seems to be. The words are full of alienation and a sense of not really belonging and were, I gather, written by Jeff Ament, Pearl Jam's bassist, about his own childhood. When you listen to the words, knowing that they are about a childhood, they're incredibly tragic.

But it's the music that is the most tragic of all. An acoustic guitar strums away with a droning, descending electric bass which just seems to drag you down further and further, with the electric guitar putting in its bit here and there, at first moaning sadly and then becoming more and more insistent, crying out to be heard and comforted.

I noticed this song only a little when I first heard it, playing through the disc today, but read the story about what it was about, then listened to it again, and felt myself swept up in it totally. It seemed at first just a saddish song - but, look into it a bit more, and there it is in all its deep, dark tragedy. Nothing is as it seems.


  1. Congratulations on Posting #3 Ian...
    Now for years I was one of the people fervently and excitedly egging Ian on to listen to something in that other genre, having given up after a few years... only now for the most wonderful of reasons am I shocked to see you burst forth - not to mention shock that you already know more than I do about Pearl Jam (so fear not Alison, your kudos is greater than mine!)!
    So, you have me scrambling to listen to more than I remember from JJJ before I became an obsessive Radio National listener, rather than foot tapper.
    But your blog listings bring to mind a song that draws together two of your themes to date; Buckley (in my case, Jeff Buckley) and tragedy. I was listenting to 'Grace' on the weekend, and wailing away to the song of the same name, tears streaming down my face... a piece by the son of Tim and with the most tragic of themes - taking a life, ones own life; poignant, cogniscant, gripping.
    Whilst his death so soon after recording the song wasn't likely to have been suicide, it nonetheless evokes something hauntingly tragic in the work that otherwise simply would not be there - everything is always more than it seems - seems to me to be the maxim here!!!
    So whilst, inspired by your bursting forth into the 'other', I'm still aching to be introduced to the wonders of the perfectionist: Bach, for now you have me side-tracked; I'm off to catch up on you and feed on some Pearl Jam on toast!

  2. You're right Jonathon - you worked valiantly for many years to try to get me to open up that bit of my brain that was somehow inexplicably closed to all this fantastic music. It was Björk who somehow managed to unlock that door eventually. It let in a lot of fresh air, that's for sure. And while there are still many racks in the CD shop that I walk past without the slightest feeling of temptation (sorry, Kylie! sorry Madonna! sorry, Johann Strauss!) I am beginning to see that there really is no such thing as bad music - just music have not yet found a way of connecting with.

    I am listening at this very moment to Jeff Buckley's "Grace" and see exactly what you mean. It is music just crying out in its despair!

  3. Hi Ian
    We have a mutual friend - Gillian Williams - who's just told me about your blog. I've always found Led Zepplin albums a mixture of strong and weak tracks; and the longer the albums became, the greater the number of weak tracks! Having said that, I think that they not only defined 'heavy metal', but set a standard that has yet to be surpassed.

    I don't listen to much contemporary music. because so much of it has been done already (and often better) by artists like LZ, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. The first two LZ albums (guess the titles!) are especially interesting because they are the clearest illustrations of the players'(especially Page's) interests in blues.

    AH, Madonna! Try some of her mid-career albums, such as 'Ray of Light'- there's some very interesting stuff there, some of it completely undanceable! I like 'Candy Perfume Girl' and 'Mer Girl'.

    If you like Cobain, you may well love the early Lou Reed! Try this 'Rock 'n' Roll Animal'album and (I think) 'Lou Reed Live'. Some of the best live rock 'n' roll you'll hear in a month of somedays!

    P.S. A pity I missed the Marxism blog!