Monday, November 7, 2022

Long Road: Pearl Jam and the Soundtrack of a Generation


Good books about bands are hard to write.  If they are based on a tangible relationship with the band, they tend to be too self-referential.  The same is true of books that lean into the writer’s personal opinions and preferences. They easily bleed into vanity projects, more appropriate for, say, message board posting than publication. And in our post internet/post Wikipedia world, it is hard for a straight factual accounting to add much value when the same information is just a Google search away.

However, I am happy to report that Steven Hyden’s new book manages to avoid all the traps above, and Long Road: Pearl Jam and the Soundtrack of a Generation is genuinely excellent. Informed by his own lifetime fandom (which has had its peaks and valleys, obsessive and ambivalent periods), the book is remarkably insightful, reflective, and revisits the bands history through several conceptual lenses.  He unpacks just how steeped both Pearl Jam and its fan base is in a nineties cultural orientation that profoundly influenced how the band was understood in its time and remembered outside of it.  He highlights their endurance as an important part of their legacy, no small thing given how self-destructive the grunge era proved to be.  He understands the arc of their career as a journey and does admirable work guiding the reader through its different phases with a critical distance that remembers what it was like in the moment. He gets that Pearl Jam the studio band and Pearl Jam the live band are discrete but equally integral parts of their identity. He gets what it means to be a Pearl Jam fan, then and now.

While we wait for the next major event in Pearl Jam country, I highly recommend picking this up.   Long Road: Pearl Jam and the Soundtrack of a Generation is well worth the fandom’s time.