By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Someone at Epic Records' New York offices is laughing, thinking about the two fools in Dallas who shot off their mouths only to shoot themselves in the foot. I'll admit, it sounds stupid: Listening to 25 live albums...by the same band...in a row. And to top it off, the band was Pearl Jam, deemed insufferable by both Robert Wilonsky and myself a long time ago. (I say Vitalogy was the last point of relevance, he says Vs., but why quibble?) The fact is, we got our bluff called; we were secretely hoping Epic would renege on the deal, decide they couldn't send all 25 to us. But they did, those magnificent bastards.
The idea of taking in Pearl Jam's entire European tour (save for the ill-fated show in Roskilde, Denmark) in one sitting wasn't necessarily appealing, but the challenge was--the sheer, unadulterated ridiculousness of it all. How long would we last? How long could we last? How long should we last? After all, even before we started, we came to the conclusion that--with all of the CDsbooksrecordstapesDVDsvideotapes between us, and each week's new additions--we had a mountain of pop culture detritus we would never scale in this lifetime. Why does this get to skip to the head of the line? Why not? As we sat down on Sunday at Wilonsky's house, with the Cowboys game to distract us, we were David Blaine burying himself alive in a see-through coffin, Evel Knievel bearing down on the Snake River Canyon. This wasn't rock criticism, for once; it was adventure.
And about four hours later--and that, my friends, is being generous--it was over. Two albums down, 23 left to go, and it didn't matter. After album No. 1, we'd already flipped through most of Robert's recent comic-book purchases, examined his singles collection, watched the Cowboys pull out a squeaker, played with the dog, flipped through his comics again, and--in my case, anyway--barely managed to stave off the aggressive need to sleep. It was clear we would never make it: The PJ on the stereo was making us angry, confrontational. In another 12 hours, Robert would be calling himself Jeremy and threatening me with kitchen utensils; I'd be reduced to a feral state and only answering to the name Leatherman. In another 12 hours, we would be dead.
So we compromised: Wilonsky took discs 1-13, and I was left with 14-25. Over the next day or so, we'd listen to as many as we could, trading our thoughts via e-mail while we listened. This, for the most part, is the time-elapsed version of that dialogue. How long did we hold out? Read for yourself; Wilonsky's comments are italicized, and much more coherent than my own. --Z.C.
Last night, I went to CD World to pick up my 17-disc Beatles box--and how fucked up is THAT?--when I got into a conversation with the guy who sold me the monster. He said, "You gonna go home and listen to it all night?" I said nah, that I had to plow through 13 PJ discs--looking for a little sympathy. Then he got that look in his eye, that crazed fanatic rabid look. He said, "Whachawannaknowboutem?" I said, "Hunh?" He said, "I've made it through 12 of them--whacha wanna know?" Uh, nothin'. I muttered something about having heard Hamburg as being the best, and he confirmed--a friend was even there, dude, and she told him the same thing! How can something that makes one person so happy make another so fucking miserable? I was up till 2 a.m. listening to PJ and reading Michael Chabon. By midnight, I totally zoned out on the PJ. Wasn't even there.
You want annoying? How about this, and bear with me for a sec: When I run in the morning, I usually pick a handful of songs and sorta play them back in my head, to keep myself occupied while I plow through the five miles and change. Stuff I like, normally. This morning? Nothing but the PJ--I'm talking "Corduroy," "Breakerfall," even--goddamsunovabich--"Jeremy." If nothing else, I ran faster just so I could get home and listen to something else. These 25 discs are like a virus. I can't believe we signed up for this; even listening to a handful of them is akin to the kind of mental torture you might find in one of the better books about prisoners of war in 'Nam.
Anyone who would do so willingly, gladly even, needs a life, a job, a hug, a kick in the ass. Something.
And, by the way, isn't "five against one" starting to sound like a threat?
Yes. Dear sweet Jesus, yes. I've listened to more PJ in the past 12 hours than I have in the past 10 years, and all I keep asking myself, again and again, is this any way for a grown man to make his living? I mean, my old man has, for the past 40 years, gotten up every morning at 6 a.m. to go to work at the auto parts store his father started in 1923. He opens up at 8, works till 6--every single day--and endures all manner of abuse from customers. He serves a function, has a point to his life. Me, I listen to records and tell people what I think of them--like there's any meaning to THAT. I bitch about it (Man, I had to listen to 13 Pearl Jam CDs yesterday!), but my hands are soft. My dad used to come home from work with hands covered in grease, which no amount of mechanics' soap could ever eradicate. He stands behind a counter 10 hours a day; I sit in front a computer, trying only to be clever. The wordguilty comes to mind. I try to tell myself this is real work--fucking feels like it--but I know, deep down, it's only a passion, and there is a difference.