I was on a music video shoot last week, and the artist had these twin Pearl Jam pictures on the wall in her basement. It was a picture for Rearviewmirror from the Versus album. In both shots, Eddie Vedder was placed in front of the band and he was extending his foot, as if showing off his shoe, toward a parabolic mirror. The photographer took the shot through the reflection, and I’ll never forget that image.
Today I revisited that album. People talk about ‘that feeling’ they get from music quite a bit, as if that feeling is universal. For me, no album gives me ‘that feeling’ like Versus.
It’s important to note, Pearl Jam isn’t my favourite band. Sometimes they might crack my top ten, but those days are few and far between. That’s not to say that I don’t love Pearl Jam, because I do. But my taste tends to move toward heavier, faster brands of music. That being said, I’ve paid to see the band twice, and wasn’t disappointed either time. In fact, they put on one of the better shows I’ve seen.
What is ‘that feeling’? It’s a question only the individual feeling it can answer, and there just might be as many answers as there are music lovers. For me, I get a lot of feelings from music. I remember the first time I heard Ride The Lightning, I was probably less than 10 years old (honestly; my uncle got me into Metallica from the time I was old enough to know what music was). The feeling I got from For Whom The Bell Tolls was one of horror—especially while listening to it in the dark so that my imagination could run wild. I pictured the scene of a hellscape battlefield, and one lone soldier trying to hold his own against certain death. The image of branchless trees and flashes of light on the horizon from exploding shells are burnt into my memory, and recur every time I hear that haunting introduction from Cliff Burton.
‘That feeling’ I get from Versus, especially Rearviewmirror, is completely different and way more personal. In my early twenties, life wasn’t following the script I wrote, and rock bottom became more of a home for me than a short stay over. If I were to personify the feeling, desperation would be a tethered shadow. It was always there.
Lucky for me, I met the girl that I’m still with six years later. In the beginning of our relationship, she represented a step in the right direction for me. She was a crack in the stone that sunlight could seep through. It’s the feeling of being tied to a dark place, but knowing that the dark place isn’t all that exists.
I’m not entirely sure what it is about Versus that brings me back there. Maybe it’s chanting calls of Vedder’s vocals, or the tribal beats and weird guitar harmonics that can be found throughout the album. Maybe they wrote the album from a space similar to where I was. Maybe it’s just me creating similarities.
Does it matter? No. The beauty of art is that people can see themselves in it, like a mirror.
Now, beginning my thirties, I’ve left behind the things in my life that led me to that place, and I see them in my rear-view mirror. Sometimes I like to visit ‘that feeling’ just to remind myself of how far I’ve come since then, so I turn on the Versus album by Pearl Jam, and I get a vision and a reminder of a time in my life that’s shaped me, and is as much a part of my memory as that baseline from For Whom The Bell Tolls.