Thursday night, 88°F
Listening to Nice as Fuck, Angel
My love for Pearl Jam led me to write a novel that’s unapologetically not for everyone. The first time I saw the Eddie Vedder swinging from the rafters (3:41) in the Even Flow video on MTV was the moment I became sold on this band. I’d spent the entire ’80s retreating into Led Zeppelin, Hendrix and The Who because I just couldn’t get with the whole hair metal/Spandex vibe. My reaction to this video was “that sounds like … real rock ‘n’ roll. They’ve brought it back from the dead.”
From that moment on, I was hooked on Pearl Jam. I’ve seen them live multiple times and their shows are incredible. I have a Ten Club membership, a Yield vanity plate, some framed show posters, all of their studio albums (except Riot Act, oops), too many bootlegs to count, and I don’t know how many T-shirts or pairs of Docs. Which means, as Pearl Jam fans go, I’m a total lightweight. (I’ve even shamelessly posted a popular video just now instead trying to polish my creds with something stunning, like Wash.) Gosh you guys, I don’t even have a Pearl Jam tattoo like Saint Wozniak or Ellie.
If there is one thing this band has done, it has inspired a loyal fan base. It’s something I’ve seen over and over again in the years I’ve loved this band. Most recently, I was at the Clutch show at Bonnaroo 2016 with my husband and teenaged son. The three of us had on various Pearl Jam T-shirts (PJ was playing the What Stage later that night), so a fellow fan approached us and proudly showed us that she had the date of every Pearl Jam show she’d attended painstakingly tattooed on her arm. That is dedication.
I could go into all of the reasons I love this band, but recently I read a 2013 essay by Leigh Kolb where she said it so well that I’d rather just link to her words. In short, Pearl Jam has always warmed the cockles of my feminist, pro-choice heart and allowed women in as fans rather than expecting them to assume the degrading position of tag-along sex objects. Especially coming in on the heels of the ’80s where sexist posturing ran rampant throughout rock ‘n’ roll, Pearl Jam’s inclusiveness was exhilarating.
It’s not for everyone
And so what? What is for everyone? There is no such thing as a novel that everyone loves.
When I originally wrote a novel about Clive and Becca (whose story was actually inspired by Of the Girl), something magical happened. Clive’s sister Ellie showed up at their Presque Isle bungalow and summarily stole the show. She arrived fully formed as a Pearl Jam fan with a breathtaking dedication to the band. She was so much fun that I ended up awarding her the lead role. As a character, she’s been very good to me, bringing enough mischief to keep the story rolling and enough raw honesty that I couldn’t help but root for her even when she was wrong. Saint Wozniak didn’t come in far behind her, with his dog named Tremor Christ and the first stanza of Whipping tattooed on his shoulder blade. These two aren’t characterized by their obsession with the band alone, but it does lead, one way or another, to some of the predicaments they find themselves in.
There are a lot of Pearl Jam references in the story, but I chose not to worry whether each potential reader would get every single one. Deleting them would have denuded much of the story’s emotional landscape. It took a leap of faith for me to let this story be what it authentically is: a love triangle between Pearl Jam fans. I know full well that I could have pulled the heart out of State of Love & Trust to meet some ideal of “mainstream fiction.” I made a deliberate choice to not to do that.
You don’t have to be a Pearl Jam fan at all to enjoy this novel but, fan or not, if there are references you don’t get I invite you to ask me. I didn’t try to write “something for everyone” because that would have resulted in nothing for anyone. And what fun is that?
Cover photo: author’s screens capture from Even Flow video (1991 Sony BMG).