Listen to this track by flannel-wearing Seattle-based hard rock concern Pearl Jam. It’s “Alive”, the first single as taken from their now-classic record Ten, released in the summer of 1991. This song reached peak positions all over the world, and helped to add intensity to the spotlight on the Seattle scene in general at the time, when the mainstream press were beginning to whip themselves up into a frenzy over that which they themselves called grunge.
Nineteen-ninety-one was a pivotal year for many bands, particularly those based in Seattle. It was also a year that many of these bands were lumped together by the press, some having only tenuous common musical threads to unify them. But somehow, they were still a part of a sea change that let everyone know that the eighties were well and truly gone, and that the nineties had officially begun. For the first time in a long time by 1991, rock music was being talked about not only in musical terms, but in sociological ones, recasting rock music as the cultural phenomenon that it had been when it was first coined as a cultural trend. Pearl Jam’s Ten was a text to prove the thesis just as much as Nirvana’s Nevermind was by the early nineties, reinvigorating strains of rock music that had slipped away from the glare of the mainstream until then, casting down the idols of the previous decade as a side effect.
This song in particular was a burning light to a remarkable new take on hard rock, escaping the Spinal Tap-isms of late eighties poodle-glam world of cherry pies, spandex, and women writhing on the hoods of cars. Instead, it shot an arrow straight for the soul, with this song telling a whole novel’s worth, even including some autobiographical material from a 25 year old singer Eddie Vedder, who wasn’t even in the band when he originally wrote this three-verse tale of childhood, betrayal, and guilt.