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By Jessica Zafra
(appeared in the column "Womenagerie", Woman Today, March 15, 1995)
[Note: this is a publication from the Philippines]

February 26, 1995

Pearl Jam was brilliant. The security was moronic.

Tensions erupted at the CCP complex on Roxas Boulevard Sunday night as thousands of ticket holders surged toward the gates of the folk arts theater where the American rock band Pearl Jam was having a one-night-only concert. Police used water cannons to disperse the crowd. No one was reported injured.

The organizers had instituted tight security measures to prevent violence inside the concert venue. Security guards frisked concert goers for alcoholic beverages, sharp objects, even mineral water bottles which could be hurled at the stage. Leather belts were confiscated as potential weapons. The security searches took so long that by the time Pearl Jam took the stage at 9 p.m., thousands of people were still waiting to be let in. The predominantly youthful crowd, though restive, was generally peaceful and it is not clear why fire trucks had to be summoned.

Ironically, the security guards were of absolutely no use in preventing people from cutting into the lines at the gates. Concert goers had begun queuing up at noon, but the gates were not opened until 5:00 p.m.

"Ayos ba kayo?" (are you all right?) Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder asked the crowd which had bought the P700 platform and P600 bleacher tickets. The band, which last year filed suit against the American ticket sales office Ticketmaster for overcharging, had insisted on keeping prices down. The audience roared its approval, unaware of the trouble brewing outside. Several people on the packed platform fainted from lack of air, and the heat prompted many male viewers to take off their shirts.

I had thought of calling my Pearl Jam article "Stormy Vedder" or "Veni, Vidi, Vedder", something catchy and cute. Two seconds into the concert, I knew they were all wrong. This event had nothing to do with "cute"; it was pretty ugly, if you really want to know. I was not prepared for the raw, primal emotion that was unleashed at the Folk Arts Theater on Sunday night. It roared into the packed arena like an animal bursting out of its cage and we knew that the animal was us.

It was the voice that triggered it, the low, distinctive tones, part growl, part howl that seemed to have been wrenched from the deepest corners of Eddie Vedder's soul. It rose and meshed with the guitars and the drums to touch something that was buried inside us, something we had forgotten until we dredged it up.

What, after all, does Eddie sing about? Pain, confusion, loss. Children robbed of their innocence, children tormented by the same people who are supposed to love them. Young people locked up in hospitals by a world which does not understand. Women trapped in dead-end relationships. No matter what a happy person you are, somewhere in there is a memory of pain of betrayal, something so ugly you would rather forget it. It is this ugliness that Eddie sings about.

That is why a Pearl Jam concert can not be an orderly affair with nicely dressed, well-groomed people in numbered seats clapping politely after every number. No, passion requires chaos: the crowd pushing and jostling to reach the front of the stage; the heat and sweat, the reek of bodies packed into the platform, the deafening screams. This is a ritual, and Eddie Vedder is our shaman.

Some critics wonder at the huge popularity of Pearl Jam, pointing out that this band has better arrangements and that band has more literate lyrics. And yet Pearl Jam has succeeded in connecting with its audience in a way few bands ever have. They seem to have plugged into the right frequency - the cable-TV channel, as it were, of the collective unconscious.

The shaman, according to Joseph Campbell, is the person who in his late childhood has an overwhelming psychological experience that turns him totally inward; the unconscious opens up, and the shaman falls into it. Consider Eddie: a troubled child who discovers that the man he thought was his father wasn't, a kid who was bullied in school. Then watch him in concert gripping the microphone stand, staring out into the audience as if in a trance as if he were seeing not the adoring fans but the ghosts from his childhood. He lays open to the audience like a sacrificial victim, and he does this in every single performance He stares upon the ugliness and he does it for us. Is it any wonder then that he's always on the verge of a nervous breakdown?

Then there are the songs with their repetitive choruses ending in long, purgative howls. I heard "I'm still alive." "Why go home?" "How much difference does it make?" "This is not for you!" We sang them back to Eddie like incantations, drowning him out with our voices. Whenever he launched into a new song the audience would sing it for him; they seemed to trade places and the performer became the viewer. Then something happened, Eddie began to smile. Our own pop angstmeister was happy.

After "Black," Eddie thanked the audience. "Be strong," he told us. "Have good lives."

Be strong, Eddie. You have to go out there and do it for us.