PJ 20: Inside Cameron Crowe’s love letter to the Grunge Gods

Any band releasing a movie about itself to celebrate its twentieth anniversary would, by most sensible people, be deemed pretentious and self-indulgent.

If the band is Pearl Jam? They get a pass.

The most enduring rock band from the much-loved grunge era teamed up with music lover/director/#1 fan Cameron Crowe to craft Pearl Jam Twenty, with a little help from 3,000 hours of archive footage and a catalogue of music that let a five-piece band from Seattle ride a wave of plaid shirts, dark jeans and Doc Martens to become one of the world’s best-regarded rock groups.

Following the film’s debut at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10th, fans around the world got to see what Cameron Crowe came up with in a series of one-night only screenings on September 20th, in advance of the documentary’s October 24th release on DVD & Blu-Ray.

Was the film any good?

Oh, you bet your nostalgic ass it was.

Pearl Jam Twenty is a one hour, forty-nine minute trip into the heart of a band that became a voice for a disenfranchised generation.  All of PJ’s major history is there: the rise and fall of Mother Love Bone, a new band finding its voice in a San Diego-based surfer named Eddie, Temple of the Dog, those first easy studio sessions that led to the album Ten, celebrity in Singles and troubles with MTV, the not-quite feuding with Kurt Cobain, touring the world, taking on Ticketmaster, the Roskilde deaths, the Spinal Tap number of drummers, weathering the rise of boy bands & pop princesses, finding a guiding light in Neil Young, and heck, still liking each other after all these years.

On top of the history, of course, is the music, and while Pearl Jam’s songs largely speak for themselves, the stories behind songs like “Alive,” “Jeremy” and “Better Man” in Pearl Jam Twenty gives them added depth and greater resonance.

“When I set out to make this film, my mission was to assemble the best-of-the best from Pearl Jam’s past and present and give audiences a visceral feeling of what it is to love music and to feel it deeply—to be inside the journey of a band that has carved their own path,” said Crowe in a press release. “There is only one band of their generation for which a film like this could even be made, and I’m honored to be the one given the opportunity to make it.”

Indeed, Crowe has done more than just put together a simple documentary about a band.  Pearl Jam Twenty is a love letter simultaneously to and from Eddie, Stone, Jeff, Mike and Matt.  Composed of a mix of found footage, concert tapes and more recent interviews, the band members come off as well-rounded musicians, artists, activists and most importantly, people.

There are moments of drunken stupidity.  There’s sadness over lost lives and long-gone friends remembered.  There is also humour, conviction of purpose, integrity in being about more than just money and standing on your own.

After the War on Terror, one recession and another on the way, it’s the kind of message the Pearl Jam generation needs to hear.  Especially after seeing a clip in Pearl Jam Twenty of 60 Minutes commentator and all-around grumpy old man Andy Rooney complaining after the death of Kurt Cobain that the new generation hasn’t experienced real hardship.

Turns out a lot can happen in twenty years.

Pearl Jam Twenty is the crown jewel of the band’s year-long celebration of two decades’ worth of history.  There’s a soundtrack and a book to help the festivities along, and if you’re even just a casual admirer instead of an outright fan, you’ll also want to pick up the documentary when it arrives in stores on October 24th.

Pearl Jam Twenty
Starring Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, Matt Cameron, Chris Cornell and Cameron Crowe
Written & Directed by Cameron Crowe

JW Ward is a Toronto-based writer, media personality and professional cynic. Follow him on Twitter at
@jasonwardDOTca, through his website at www.jasonward.ca and every Thursday here at Biff Bam Pop!

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