Dead End Drive-In: Now Showing - Pearl Jam Print E-mail
Written by Jamie Richards   
Sunday, 15 April 2012 04:00



So, when it comes to rock 'n' roll bands with a connection to movies can there be a stronger one than Pearl Jam? I'm guessing that opening gambit is provoking one of several reactions, from "Oh really?" to "Huh, who cares?" But stick with me if you will....


Well, that's kinda the great thing about Pearl Jam. You see, because since the opening couple of years of hysteria that surrounded the band, they literally took a couple of steps back and took control of everything about their band. Which, means that sometimes over the last fifteen or so years they've done stuff that others would have unceremoniously pushed heavily down your throats, or some paying party would have at least; but unless you were in the PJ 'loop' you may well be blissfully unaware of their exploits.


Movie connection-wise it couldn't have started any earlier for them really, during the original inception of the band, in fact while they were still going by the name of Mookie Blaylock as 1990 became 1991, they walked smack bang into the middle of the world of film making. By sheer coincidence, as the band were forming their initial, exciting bonds through the recording process for their debut, and subsequently massive selling  album 'Ten', erstwhile Rolling Stone writer and fledgling movie director Cameron Crowe was in town. He was trying to capture the feel of the burgeoning 'Seattle sound' in a movie, which meant that music was to be a big part, if not the whole point of the film. It has to be said that the resulting couple of hours of celluloid, 'Singles', is a bit of a tedious affair; but it has the saving grace of an absolutely orgasmic singlespostersoundtrack. Pearl Jam offering up two early nuggets of pure gold in the shape of the deep escapist lyrical bite of 'Breathe', and the beautifully frantic chug of 'State of Love and Trust', that sit alongside classics from Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and a host of others on a really excellent soundtrack album. Three of the band also made cameo appearances in the movie, as members of Citizen Dick, the band that is fronted by starring man Matt Dillon. Listen rather than watch, is my recommendation.


Pearl Jam's world was never the same after the innocence of those early months, the mass reverence, enormous sales, touring burn out, and occasional ridicule thanks, in part, to the cocaine loosened tongue of Kurt Cobain, and ever trendy hipster publications like the NME caused them to re-evaluate their position in the world-wide rock music scene. Through it all though, the band, and particularly frontman Eddie Vedder, found a real kinship toward the creative art form of the movie world, and in 1995 Vedder struck up a friendship with legendary actor/director Sean Penn. This allegiance led to him providing music for Penn's hard hitting death row movie 'Dead Man Walking', an intelligent, absorbing and thought provoking true account of the relationship between a convicted murderer awaiting execution, played by Penn himself, with Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun that befriends him and campaigns against his execution. Vedder provides the title song, plus incidental music he recorded with Pakistani musician Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, including a reworking of Pearl Jam classic 'Long Road' (you may not know the song, but you should - trust me). Dead Man Walking is vital viewing, highly recommended.


Trials, tribulations and Ticketmaster complications were to pepper the mid to late '90s for Pearl Jam, as they found taking control of their own band was actually way more of a complicated process than anyone could imagine; but as they lunged breathlessly for the tape at the end of the twentieth century marathon, Eddie Vedder's distinctive baritone once again made a surprise appearance in cinemas. A little known fact this, that in 1999 Eddie Vedder recorded a duet with Susan Sarandon, the song 'Croon Spoon' was used during the closing credits of the Tim Robbins directed 'The Cradle Will Rock'. The story of a 1930s musical of the same name that ran into difficulties because of its political leanings. I'll admit I haven't seen it and have no real plans to. The song is pretty forgettable, but obviously fits in with the times in which the movie is set.


2002 then, after yet another difficult couple of years where Pearl Jam's world changed again following the Roskilde tragedy of 2000, and Eddie again finds it in himself to contribute another song for a movie. Sean Penn's involvement again sees Ed offer up a well performed, if standard, cover of the Beatles' 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' for the Jessie Nelson directed 'I Am Sam'. It's another very deep movie, focussing on Penn's portrayal of a father with mental illness who battles for parental rights. Penn's performance was perceived by some as a little too accurate, making it at times uncomfortable to watch; Ben Stiller apparently cites it as the inspiration for the line 'never go full retard' in the spoof Vietnam War movie 'Tropic Thunder'.


The following year, 2003, Pearl Jam were contacted by the uber talented Tim Burton, who asked for an original composition to accompany his new movie 'Big Fish'. The story is that he sent the movie, the band watched it and Vedder composed the song 'Man of the Hour' the very next day; four days later it was recorded and sent back. Big Fish is a charming, colourful and quirky movie that depicts the fractured relationship between a young man and his father, who make amends when the old man lying on his death bed regales his son with weird and wondrous stories from his past. It received a host of award nominations, the song itself nominated for a Golden Globe. Watch it if you haven't already, especially if you have kids, it's a truly psychedelic fairy tale that will leave you smiling from deep within.


2007 was the busiest year indeed, apart from still touring the previous year's album (including a 13 date summer tour of Europe, of which I caught tip-top shows in Madrid and London - I digress), Eddie records a version of Bob Dylan's 'All Along The Watchtower' with a band featuring members of Wilco and Sonic Youth titled the Million Dollar Bashers, for the curious 'I'm Not There', the star studded biographical movie, apparently inspired by Bob Dylan, and notable for being Heath Ledger's last movie appearance. The same year saw Vedder make an appearance as himself, in the rather hilarious 'Walk Hard - The Dewey Cox Story'. The spoof biopic follows the trials and tribulations of a fictional rock star, inspired by every heroic, moody misfit that's ever been worshiped on a world-wide stage. A brief but memorable performance sees Eddie introducing Dewey Cox, played by John C. Reilly, at an award ceremony with a not un-hilarious speech that features the line "so what do we really think of Cox?" before over eulogising about big name rock stars as Biblical incarnations. Self-parody? You can be sure of it.


Somehow, also during 2007, Eddie Vedder found time to bring us the defining moment of his solo career to date, when he again teamed up with Sean Penn. With Penn this time directing, he commissioned Vedder for an entire soundtrack for his harrowing epic 'Into The Wild'. It tells the true story of Chris McCandless, a young American who, with a newly completed law degree and the world seemingly at his feet,  gave away all his possessions and walked away from his family, to begin his life again anonymously; a truly great movie that will strike a chord with almost everyone. Disillusioned with the path his parents had followed, and were paving for him, he simply 'disappears' to rediscover what life truly is. It all ended tragically when hunters discovered his body in the wilds of Alaska, but the mysterious two years that he wandered the continent of North America were originally unravelled through a magazine article on the pj300'mystery', when the people he met along the way came forward to fill in the missing parts of an otherwise joyous adventure of discovery. A great story, excellent performances and passionate direction from Penn make for an insightful, enthralling and moving film. The soundtrack features some beautiful rootsy/folky work from Vedder, who actually scooped a Golden Globe for the song 'Guaranteed', as well as a host of other nominations. Essential watching and listening, in fact you should also get the John Krakauer novel that gave birth to the movie.


Just when 2007 was sounding like an exhausting year in the life of Pearl Jam, they also managed to record a rousing cover of The Who classic 'Reign O'er Me', for the Mike Binder directed 'Reign Over Me', which starred Adam Sandler in surely his most challenging role. Far from the goofball antics of Happy Gilmore, here Sandler takes on one of his few straight roles and pulls it off admirably. If you can watch it without choking back a tear-man style, you must be dead. As for the song, there are not many covers that top an original-but this is one does exactly that, although Vedder would never agree that he trumped his heroes, he sings the track with such conviction you could be forgiven for believing he was born to do nothing else but that. Just to prove the anti-commerciality of the band, this potential 'hit' was released only as the free fan club single that Christmas; though it was eventually made available on iTunes. Simply a magnificent version of an already great song-dig it out!


In 2010 Vedder again commits a track for celluloid consumption, 'Better Days' is a gentle lament which again sees Vedder approaching a long running theme of escapism. It features in the movie 'Eat Pray Love' starring Julia Roberts, again a memoir of a soul who wanders off, this time in search of self-fulfilment, love and spirituality-maybe a bit of a 'chick flick' if that's not too sexist a term. Although honest in its intentions, well-acted and beautifully shot, the movie was not well received at all, notable movie critic Mark Kermode actually re-titled it 'Eat Pray Love...Vomit'; there's not much else you can add to that really. If I'm truthful even Eddie's song isn't that memorable.


The connection to the art form of movie making is almost mirrored in the dramatic story of Pearl Jam themselves; they could almost make their own movie. Oh wait, they did, and it's the greatest rock 'n' roll story of all; now there's another you should watch.