Kyle's Pearl Jam Odyssey, Part 1

And yet, it was Nirvana that got me into grunge.

My senior year of high school, our school newspaper, "The Colonel," (for which I was a writer) maintained a long standing tradition of allowing seniors to leave things to underclassmen -- a will, of sorts, which is kind of creepy, if you really think about it. But, of course, it was also one of the most anticipated issues of the year, as everyone wanted to read the inside jokes they're older friends had left for them.

Aside from a bunch of strange things (honestly, I would KILL to have that issue in front of me right now, but I've been drinking) I left in my pseudo-will (like "17 out the window," which I left to my friend Tony, a reference to me throwing all of his cigarettes out a car window), I ended my entry with something along the lines of "Eddie, my life." See, I was leaving Eddie Vedder my life, because, at the time, I felt that he (and his band) had saved mine.

Now, to clarify, I should mention that I've never been suicidal, so Pearl Jam's music (and Vedder's lyrics) didn't literally save my life. But they had a huge impact on me. I was (and still am) a fairly neurotic person. There are genetic, environmental, and chemical reasons for this. And while Pearl Jam might have brought out a lot of the bad parts of my neurosis (the obsessive parts), they also gave me comfort. There was emotion to their music, and much of that emotion matched mine. No, my mom never remarried and waited until my real father was dying before telling me that my step-dad wasn't my real dad. No, I was never institutionalized and scratched letters into the walls of my cell. And no, I never spoke in class today. But the alienation, the angst -- that feeling that you FELT things to an extent that made it impossible for you to co-exist in this world -- I knew that feeling only too well. And the fact that Pearl Jam made music about that made me feel less alone.

And, really, is there anything we want more, as teenagers, than to feel less alone?

I owned "Ten" on tape. To this day, I can't listen to any of it without thinking about driving around Kent, Ohio and it's surrounding areas in my '72 Ford Pinto (you heard me) and blasting it out of the one speaker in the dashboard. At the end of every weekend night, I would drive home alone and listen to "Black" because I was a teenage boy who wanted to be in love, and never was.

I was the lead singer in a band in high school -- yes, the lead singer. We were called oral groove (yes, we neglected to capitalize it, e.e. cummings style). If you were at my wedding a few months ago, you would have run into three of the four other members of that band, that's how big of an influence being in oral groove had on my life. We covered "Porch." And we actually did a decent job of it, to be perfectly honest.

I joined the Ten Club and got a holiday 7" in the mail. I think I still have it, actually.

I bought "Vs." on vinyl because it was released a week before the tape and CD versions and because I owned a record player. I also bought the tape and got one of the ones that was labeled "Five Against One" instead of "Vs." I did a lip sync rendition of "Animal" in my drama class for extra credit. My good friend Rob (guitarist in oral groove) and I reviewed the album for the aforementioned high school newspaper. I was thrilled by the production values, as it sounded more raw than "Ten," although I doubt I was really able to articulate as such back then.

It was around that time that "Vs." came out that I started getting into the bootleg aspect of being obsessed with a band. My very first bootleg tape for Pearl Jam was called "Small Club" and it was pretty amazing. There was a song on there that they never released and I remember playing it for my friend Jeremy (drummer in oral groove) in my dad's van and saying I was playing it specifically for him because I knew he'd never heard it before. I failed to realize that the song was about date rape or, at least, that by dedicating it to Jeremy I was implying something about his social activities. I knew it was about date rape, I just thought that he'd be the one most interested in hearing a new Pearl Jam song, as I think most of my friends, at that point, had grown a bit weary of my obsession.

Christmas of my senior year, I finally got a CD player. The first CD I ever bought was the single for "Go" which featured the unreleased track "Alone," which is still one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs.

The summer before I left for college, I bought a bootleg CD that featured a bunch of live songs that would end up on Pearl Jam's third album. It was something like $40, but I couldn't help myself. I put it on a credit card that was also in my parent's name, but I was already away at school by the time they got the bill, so they were only able to bitch me out over the phone instead of in person.

I was in a friend's dorm room, smoking pot, when I heard the first single from "Vitalogy," "Spin the Black Circle." I called my own room and sang the chorus into my voicemail so that I wouldn't forget it. When the single was finally released, I borrowed a friend's car to drive to a mall just so I could get that two song CD -- even though both songs would end up on the album.

Again, I bought the vinyl version first because it was released two weeks before the other formats. I loved it from the start. It was crazy and weird and I'm sure at one point I probably decided that I was either "Nothingman" or "Tremor Christ"("Tremor Christ" ultimately being the better song). It wasn't an easy album, by any means. But it was a great one, and I listened to it constantly.

A funny thing happened over the course of those three Pearl Jam albums, though. And it was, in large part, because of them that I would eventually drift away. I had read a lot of articles about Pearl Jam -- I'd even recorded every single minute of their pirate radio broadcast. And in that time I began to investigate a lot of the bands they would refer to on a regular basis. One of those band was called Fugazi.

Suddenly, I had discovered punk rock. My world would become very different because of this.

Dutifully, long the hardcore Pearl Jam fan I was, I bought the first single off of "No Code," which was "Who You Are." For angry, bitter punk rock guy (which I now was), "Who You Are" did not sit well with me -- it did not sit well with me at all.

And thus would begin a very long period of estrangement between myself and the band that had, just a year earlier, meant everything to me...