Tuesday evening, 75°F and mostly sunny
Listening to Pearl Jam Unplugged, Rockin’ in the Free World
Pearl Jam Religion
Ellie Rafferty’s story in State of Love & Trust was predicated in part on the question, What would happen if a character took Pearl Jam as seriously as a religion? I thought a Pearl Jam religion was a fun concept. What does it look like? What are the tenants? How would a worshipper of Pearl Jam practice her faith?
A Pearl Jam religion is even something Eddie Vedder once joked about.
Hey I uh, I read in the paper today that it’s uh, National Prayer Day. So we thought it would be uh, maybe tonight’s the night to make the big announce that we’re going to uh, apply officially to the United States government and uh, have our band considered a legitimate religion. Stone suggested it’d be great, we’d be tax-exempt, we could do a lot with that money. Good things, because sometimes the government doesn’t seem to put it where it’s supposed to go. And uh, there’s only one commandment, and it’s easy to remember, and it’s uh, “Don’t be an asshole.” Stone came up with that. He’s kind of our leader. He’s really the Jesus of the bunch. I might look like him, but he’s really the one. And you know, it’s a pretty open religion, you can pretty much do whatever the fuck you want. Mind you, we come up with this whole religion thing just on the bus ride over here today. We need to think it through a little bit more. But so far, the only thing that is forbidden, the only one thing–can’t fucking Twitter. Hate that shit.—May 6, 2010, Columbus, Ohio
At the time I started drafting State of Love & Trust, I’d had years of experience managing a religious debate board. I’d talked with believers and nonbelievers from all kinds of backgrounds, understood many core religious foundations and concepts from various belief systems, and had many long and thoughtful conversations delving into a variety of belief systems, rituals, cults and religious sects. I was (and still am) fascinated by newer religions like Scientology and Mormonism where the roots are still shallow enough to be easily examined. Religions sprout when one person can convince several others that they are in possession of some greater cosmic truth. It’s really that simple. And it’s no less true of older religions, but their beginnings are obscured by the sands of time.
Belief in religion is a profoundly human activity. It has been said that humans are the storytelling animal, but I also think we’re a religious animal. Religions are, if nothing else, stories believed. What I loved about creating the character of Ellie is that she was deeply human, both in her need for a religion and her misapplication of her religion’s good intentions. It’s not that a Pearl Jam religion would be a bad religion, but that all humans fall short of every religion’s ideals.
It was discussions of religion, spirituality, and beliefs. along with some joking around with a group of dedicated fans of the album Yield, that spawned the notion of Ellie’s religious fervor for Pearl Jam. And because Pearl Jam has always been an ethical band—whether it’s looking out for fans in the pit, feminism, social justice, or their lone commandment Don’t Be An Asshole–it was natural to have Ellie’s character take the band as seriously as a religion. She practices her her homegrown faith by trying to live up to their ideals even though she certainly misses the mark now and again.
Her brother Clive, an artist who understanding his sister as only a twin can, indulges her by painting a Sacred Heart of Jesus image with Stone Gossard’s face on the back of the converted school bus she uses to follow Pearl Jam on tour.
Ellie insists that Stone Gossard is the sacred heart of Pearl Jam, argues with Saint Wozniak as to whether the holy ghost is Vitalogy or Yield, and keeps what Clive describes as a not-so-subtle shrine to Stone. Her version of a Pearl Jam religion revolves around the Yield album’s naturalistic concepts and themes, which reflect the Socratic dialogue in Danial Quinn’s novel, Ishmael. In the tradition of storytelling, her beliefs and the actions that follow are what gets her into trouble. And boy, does that girl get herself into a pickle.
That’s when the fun starts.
Cover image: author’s mashup of Stone Gossard’s face and a classic image of Jesus Christ.