Pearl Jam fans have an opinion
Pearl Jam have released a new album, “Backspacer”. Most places have decided that now is the time and the place to confer upon Pearl Jam the Oasis/REM seal of “No really! This is a stunning return to form” marquee-reviewing. Pitchfork, however, disagreed, and former Stylus mainstay Joshua “Josh” Love only found it worthy of a 4.6. So far, so fascinating.
However, someone took a little offence to this. That someone is Danny Lanzetta. From what I understand, since publishing, Pitchfork have been emailed once every 48 hours with this exact same email. And, seeing as nobody has yet leaked it online, I thought I’d share the wealth. Enjoy…
Writer’s Note: In case you care about things like this, I used to be an actor. My stage name was Danny Gerard. I appeared on the television show Brooklyn Bridge and on Broadway three separate times. I am currently a professor of English in New York City. I got my Masters Degree from the New School in 2008. Maybe these things will encourage you to read what’s ahead. Maybe not.
To Whom It May Concern at Pitchfork (and it ought to concern every last one of you):
After reading Joshua Love’s gratuitously in-depth trashing of Pearl Jam’s Backspacer (all condescending nods to nostalgia aside), I felt the need to respond, not only to Mr. Love’s review, but to your website’s relationship with Pearl Jam over the years. And truth be told, it’s not just Pearl Jam I feel the need to defend, but all things earnest. Pitchfork has carved out quite a niche, defining musical “edginess” to an army of irony-obsessed listeners who (as is the case with all dilettantes) are convinced that the more obscure something is, the more meaningful it must be. Naturally, there is nothing obscure about Pearl Jam. And yet – irony of all ironies – nobody at Pitchfork seems to understand their music.
After all these years as grunge’s critical step-child to Nirvana, Pearl Jam deserves an eloquent defense against those who (knowingly or unknowingly) mock meaningfulness and who view musical artistry as a concept only Radiohead understands. Pearl Jam rejects the notion that “good” music – and art – must somehow appeal to the existential detachment of the “serious” listener. And while that can be a worthy artistic pursuit, it need not be the only one. In fact, there are legions of us out here in ListenerLand (many of whom are Pearl Jam fans), who think that topic has been overexposed, to say the least. But “good” bands continue to make records without heartbeats; the emotional guts of music (and art in general) have been offered up as a sacrifice to the Gods of Aimless Experimentation. And no, this is not a defense of “dumb” music (or dumb people, for that matter, who think American Idol is culturally important). It’s a defense of bands that aren’t afraid of meaning, who don’t obfuscate their attempt to say something with instrumental contrivances (there’s a place for them, but their presence usually propels the record to countless kneejerk kudos, especially from sites like Pitchfork) or, worse yet, a slavish fixation with image.
If this were just about Pearl Jam I wouldn’t bother writing this letter. Certainly they’ve suffered their share of slings and arrows over the years and don’t need me to defend them. They’re doing just fine. But the review of Backspacer (And Riot Act. And the eponymous record. And Rearviewmiror.) shows such little regard for the band’s near-obsession to present a truthful representation of where these human beings are at this moment (check out Ani Difranco’s definition of a record: “the record of an event/the event of people playing music in a room”) it’s a wonder you guys are allowed to write about music. Hint: It’s not always about lyrical double entendres. Of course, none of this means that everything Pearl Jam does is great, and you are, of course, entitled to dislike the band, the vibe, the sound. But while some review outlets have come around, high hip-quotient places like Pitchfork continue to see the band as some sort of woefully out-of-touch dinosaur, an intelligence-deficient outfit with good intentions: the musical equivalent of Steinbeck’s Lennie.
So here is my proposal: I want to write a defense of Pearl Jam (a weird notion considering this album has been praised everywhere . . . except by Pitchfork, where hipness supersedes emotional honesty any day of the week). And I want someone at Pitchfork to read it. One thousand words. You like it, you print it. Free of charge. But this band deserves a voice for your readers who keep getting these smug, condescending reviews from a group of guys and gals who genuflect every time Jack White even thinks of forming another side project. Your readers deserve to hear about the merits of a band that has persevered to make meaningful, honest records (together!) for 19 years while surrounded by high-art snobs who think raw rock and roll is immature and pop culture slobs who want their music processed and safe.
And still, Pearl Jam keeps plugging along, still one of the most popular live bands in the world. It’s been nearly two decades now. We can’t all be idiots, can we? I do wonder how many of us would be qualified to write for Pitchfork.
Danny Lanzetta (currently riding high Amongst the Waves)
For further reading, why not check out Danny Boy’s MySpace? His “dynamic words span an array of subjects, from his biting indictment of Bill O’Reilly to the forlorn and melancholy moments of everyday life”. And, really, you do need to hear “Dylan”. It’s like Rain Man does Lifter Puller.