The film is a treasure chest of rare live footage and intimate interviews.
Written and directed by rock scribe turned acclaimed director and screenwriter Cameron Crowe, the film isn’t just a glorification of the band; their music and shows do that on their own. However, as a wonderful and maybe unintended byproduct, the retelling of singer Eddie Vedder, bassist Jeff Ament, guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCreedy and drummer Matt Cameron’s collective stories is virtually an inspirational tutorial on how to survive as an artist.
The lesson is really two-fold. The first level being never pack it up, go home and trick yourself into thinking you’ll be happy doing something else other than your dream. Practically all of the members were under the perception at one point or another that being a musician on a full-time basis just wasn’t in the cards for them. Largely in part because of the death of gregarious and otherworldly gifted poet, frontman of Mother Love Bone Andrew Wood, and the delays and self-doubt that stems from such a devastating blow.
The second pearl of wisdom (pun intended) is camaraderie. Friend, Temple Of The Dog collaborator and Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell is very clear about what made the Seattle scene in the ’90s so magical; they didn’t toil with jealousy. They helped each other instead of engaging in a ruthless competition.
Apparently it worked, since Soundgarden and Pearl Jam successfully share drummer Matt Cameron to date. Also, it was Chris who helped foster Eddie Vedder’s confidence when the shy yet complex singer first came to Seattle.
The PJ20 film also elaborates on how the band embraces their art instead of the press’ view of it. You have to admire any band who changes their setlist every night. That is not only being respectful of your craft, but of your fans as well.
There are also comedic moments, like how Adam Sandler imitated Vedder’s base and treble inflections on SNL, and when Stone Gossard nonchalantly reveals where he keeps his Grammy. In stark contrast are the personal glimpses into Eddie’s childhood and how painful it was for the band to witness the tragic death of nine fans who were crushed in a stampede to the stage in Denmark.
The film has a run in theaters around the world, is available on DVD and, appropriately enough, aired on PBS’ American Masters series on Oct. 21. In summary, it’s a great celebration of how these five souls have chosen to navigate the sea they rose on.