Black – Pearl Jam

“Sheets of empty canvas, untouched sheets of clay were laid spread out before me as her body once did”

In 1991 I started art college as a teenager looking to express himself and find a way of breaking the inevitable treadmill of School/Work/Marriage/Death. I had this idea about being an artist. Someone who survived on expressing themselves. In 1991 Pearl Jam released their debut album Ten.

I think I might have mentioned it before but a few months after they released this album Pearl Jam came to the UK. To a pub. My regular hang out. They had some bigger shows booked and some promo slots on British TV for the new album and next single. We already knew every word to every song. We knew Once to Release back to front. We knew Temple Of The Dog and Soundgarden and Nirvana and Alice In Chains too. The night they landed in the UK they played a small secret club show in Southend, Essex. Dr Feelgood country. Blur’s neck of the woods. Depeche Mode’s manor.

“Now the air I tasted and breathed has taken a turn”

My plucky band of old school buddies and I were there. In a 250 person capacity pub. To see Grunge land at the mouth of the Thames estuary. It was spellbinding. This was a last hurrah. We didn’t know it but it was February now. I’d been at College since September. I was talking about things my school buddies didn’t seem interested in. They too were moving in different directions. I wasn’t seeing my high school girlfriend anymore. They were marrying or moving in with theirs.

Wilde had a job in a supermarket. He said it was hard work. Decent pay. He and his girl were saving for a place of their own. Living at her mum’s for now. Scotty worked on the building sites. It was good in the summer but it was February and he was either pissed off and exhausted or skint because there was nothing on. He still wanted to enjoy himself but he drank like he was trying to block something out. Benny was interviewing for stuff all the time. He just couldn’t catch a break.

Steve? What are you doing? Fucking about with paper and paint and clay and wire and cameras. How the fuck is that ever going to pay the bills? Mate. Come on.

We’d kept in touch for the most part every weekend. Scotty kept disappearing on nights out for increasing lengths of time and we all kinda knew he was getting into some dark stuff. I think that was the last time the whole crew were all in the same place at the same time. Singing the songs of Pearl Jam (and Soundgarden, they covered Outshined that night) at the top of our voices.

When I play Black I don’t just hear Eddie Vedder’s voice. I hear my old school mates. I hear 250 heavy metal fans tucked into one tiny hot matt black gig space hollering in sweat and steam on a cold February night. Even decades later when I’ve seen them headline festival fields I’m still transported back to February 3rd 1992.

“How quick the sun can, drop away”

Rest In Peace my friend.

Number Eight on the Top Ten. Black by Pearl Jam


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