Ten After 30 Years: A Fan Love Letter to the Album that Started it All
Nostalgia. It’s a complicated sensation where moments or relics from your past are able to drop back into your life and make you feel the same warmth you once felt during a simpler time. While nostalgia is seemingly made up of, let’s say, 90% joy, there is a 10% margin where nostalgia can make you feel wistful to regain that same sensation that you once felt so long ago.
This is not an essay about nostalgia.
While Pearl Jam’s debut album Ten hits it’s 30-year milestone, many of their passionate fans would tell you that their love for the record isn’t an attempt to grasp onto something that used to be an important facet of their lives. Instead, they’ve carried this album with them the entire way, finding new reasons to attach themselves to songs and lyrics that they’ve never felt before. How many people can say that once they hit a certain point in life, an emotional, coming of age song like Release hits differently than when it did in 1992? What about the lyrics to Alive? A simplistic refrain repeated dozens of times throughout its five minute and thirty-nine second duration, but when that catchy hook hits for the 783rd time in the live environment, you find yourself singing along and emphatically pumping your fist at every chord change. It’s not because of how it used to make you feel, it’s because you never let go of that feeling. Or in this fandom, you may say that you caught a bolt of lightning, but never let it go.
On August, 27 1991, I was likely a week or so away from entering Kindergarten and about two weeks from my 5th birthday. So you’d be surprised that such a young child with an advanced ear for music was able to pick up the Ten cassette from his local record store on the very same day the album dropped and told his mother that these guys with the hands are going to be the biggest band of the decade. Believe it or not, that statement was completely fictitious. The true answer to the question “when was the first time you heard Ten” is I have absolutely no idea. I don’t have a photographic memory of the first time I’d heard a song of theirs or even the first time I watched the Jeremy video. It’s mainly because I grew up with them. Living with a sibling 11 years my elder helped circulate the names of a lot of prominent 90’s bands, so that when I was able to actually process music for the first time, these artists weren’t foreign to me.
While I probably listened to Ten in bits and pieces throughout the years leading up to my pre-teens, it wasn’t until about 1997 that I fully embraced it. The world was still mourning the death of Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam seemed to be the last man standing within the core four Seattle bands. I remember going over to friends’ houses who had siblings a little older than me, laying all their tapes out and seemingly ranking the best of the bunch. Ten and Nevermind would always reign as kings. At some point I had bought (or, possibly, permanently borrowed from my brother) both albums and would listen to them constantly, with the hits taking up most of my time. I remember taking the CD booklet out of the jewel case and unfolding it to see the complete picture of the band’s iconic photo with all hands in unison. I used it as a poster for my wall, which in retrospect was a horrible idea. I probably should have utilized the liner notes to read some of the lyrics that I continue to stumble over to this very day.
There was a time in the early 2000’s where Pearl Jam wasn’t cool anymore. For many, that might’ve happened in the late 90’s, but after hearing the brilliance of culturally influential songs such as Nookie and Freak On A Leash, my 13-year old self drifted into the musical abyss of the era known as nu metal. Pearl Jam was unfortunately an afterthought for a while, and even if I wasn’t actively listening to them, I still respected what they did. It wasn’t until 2006 that I can say I was sucked back in for life. Shortly after their self-titled record came out, I had heard stories from friends about going to a show at New York City’s Irving Plaza in May of that year. Having been to the venue on multiple occasions and understanding that their maximum capacity barely exceeds 1,000, it intrigued me that a band with their recognition would play a place of that ilk. It was a passing thought for a month or two that maybe I needed a good refresher of their catalog, but it wasn’t until witnessing a random baseball game between a third and fourth place team that I’d be fully sucked in…
On a trip to Toronto with friends that I was friendly enough with not to call acquaintances, but have not kept in touch with since, we used a few of those days to go see three Toronto Blue Jays games. Seeing that this is a baseball story, I think it might be appropriate to use a Field Of Dreams reference to enhance it. I’ll build to it, it’ll come. Batting 5th for the Blue Jays was Lyle Overbay, a stocky first baseman with a .266 average over 13 seasons. He’d hit career highs in HRs and RBI in 2006, but to me, he’ll always be remembered for his choice in walk-up music. For this 3-game stretch, he took the plate for 5 or so at-bats per game to Jeremy. The first time he walked up, it kind of tingled in my ear. A familiar bass opening to lead into the first lyric of the verse, which would fade out before a pitch was thrown. Every time it played, I listened with more intent. “At home, drawing pictures…” I’d hear as it would come to a halt. After a few times around the batting order, I waited for him to come to the plate, my knee would bounce up and down during that slight percussion drive before being introduced to that very quick snippet of Eddie Vedder’s voice. Each time I was hoping that they’d let the song play out because I was desperately itching to hear it in its entirety. It was familiar, yet completely fresh compared to what I was listening to at the time. Was I grasping onto nostalgia from a time where music had been so impactful in my life? No. I was sucked in because the song is really fucking good. It was as if I had heard a voice speak to me every time saying go the distance. Go finish the song, then fall in love with the album again. Then ultimately? Fall back in love with the band.
Two years later I’d get to see the band live for the first time in Madison Square Garden, a place I held with such high regard. I had no idea what to expect. I thought like most normal arena rock bands that they’d hit the ground running with their most electrified track, something like Corduroy or Go, maybe if they were a more basic band they’d hit you with the first track off the newest album, which would give the nod to Life Wasted here. But to my surprise, they took a mid-tempoed album closer and used it’s rising crescendo to draw me in. Release that night was like gospel to me. Hearing the crowd drone and seeing the sea of people down below bounce like a wave along with a dark purple light floating over as every single person tries to reach that crescendo of Ed’s, that was it to me. I knew from that moment on that this band would be the most prominent fixture in my life guiding me every step of the way through triumphs and turbulence. Simply stated, I am not myself without Ten.
My story is unique to me, but what you’re about to read here are stories from people all over the Pearl Jam universe. From people with name recognition, to fans who have gone above and beyond to give back to this community by efforting their own platforms to celebrate the band, to just fans who love them. You may find a story similar to yours, one about discovery and finding a passion. This is how Ten has impacted millions throughout it’s three decades of existence. This is not a nostalgic look back, but finding personal growth and love in between the Master/Slave refrains.
John Farrar (LO4L Host and Concertpedia Editor)
In the summer of 1994, I went on a church youth group backpacking trip in Colorado with 10-15 other teenagers. I was 15, and Pearl Jam was my favorite band. Along with the usual items I packed for the trip, I made sure to pack my new discman, extra batteries, and my CD of Ten. I had read the Cameron Crowe Rolling Stone article where Ed talks about hearing some hikers singing Pearl Jam songs in the mountains and confronting them, and I thought this was my chance. Despite “training” for the trip (doing laps around the neighborhood track), I was often (ok, always) last, behind the main group of hikers. I thought this would increase my chances of “accidentally” running into Ed. This afforded me plenty of time and space to listen to Ten on repeat and sing along. Hit play, listen to the album all the way through, singing along as loud as I was able, and then repeat for 6 hours every day. I did my best hiking to Why Go and Porch, got lost in my head during Black and Release, and pumped my fists to Alive and Jeremy. As for the trip, I threw up on the side of a mountain, slept outside in the rain, climbed a 14,000 foot mountain (and fell asleep at the top), but, despite my best efforts, no one from Pearl Jam appeared from the trees demanding I stop singing their songs. I don’t get a lot out of listening to Ten anymore; at 42, it doesn’t offer me anything that I didn’t get out of it when I was 15. But those songs are in my blood, in my veins, and when I listen to a particularly great live version of Even Flow or Porch (or any of the other songs, really), I can tell that the band still feels it, and it brings new life to those old songs.
Adam Copeland (aka Edge, WWE Hall Of Fame Superstar)
I’m 18. I saw the video for Alive and a chord was struck that has continued to ring loud and bright for 30 years. Hair and bodies flying, literally. A barely, and sometimes uncontainable, energy. Man what I would do to be in that audience. Or better yet, on that stage. That was my introduction to Pearl Jam. Being from Canada, and at that stage of life, getting to Seattle was not an option, but that video caused me, like millions of others, to walk to my record store and pick up the cassette of Ten. Seeing the hands clasped together. It felt unifying. It felt like I was a part of this now. My musical world, in fact my worldview, has not been the same since. And for that I’m thankful.
Ten opened my ears and mind to an influx of musical styles that may have flown by my radar before. It was the right time. The right ears. The right mood. The right place. I was confused. I was angry. I was sad. I was 18. But at the same time the world was in front of me and it was wide open, man. And I wanted to experience it all. They were MY band. I listened to Zeppelin, Sabbath, Queen, Prince, Bowie, Kiss, Cheap Trick, America, The Stones, The Beatles etc, but they were introduced to me by my mom, or my aunts and uncles. I love them all. But this, this was mine. My discovery. This album let me know, I wasn’t alone. In fact, I never would be again because I’d always have Ten as a companion when I needed it. How special is that?
When I heard Even Flow, I heard the blues. A vibrant, energetic romp. Not the muddy Mississippi blues, this was something different. This sounded bigger. This needed to be listened too LOUD. Everything truly changed when I heard the opening riff of Alive and I know that’s not unique. To this day when I hear Gossard play that opening riff, it takes me somewhere. Back to that time. But also the here and now and everything in between. Because Alive is….alive. Sad. Revelatory. Triumphant. Celebratory. Timeless. I’ve heard Eddie say this song was not a celebration for him. It was sad. It was angry. I felt I could relate to that. I never met my father, so these lyrics, and Release, landed in my lap much heavier. But Alive has been changed over the years, as Vedder acknowledged, by all of us who appreciate it, into an anthem of hope. So it’s all of those things. I can feel the melancholy, acknowledge its presence, and know it’s ok. Because I simultaneously feel like I can move mountains when I hear it.
Which is the beauty of this album. It makes me feel. So many things. It contains what might be my favorite lyric of all time, “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life…”. If you’re reading this, you know the rest. Good lord, the pain in that collection of words. And we’ve ALL felt it at one time or another. It’s beautifully and painfully universal.
There’s certain albums that are rainy day albums. Drive through the mountains albums. Pick the activity, there’s an album for it. To me, Ten is an album for every occasion. It will always be on the menu. It’s been my traveling partner for 30 years now. Literally thousands of flights. Millions of miles. Good times. Bad times. Need to unwind times. Sit on my deck as a 47 year old and watch the sunset times.
As I grow older, it doesn’t lose depth. It doesn’t feel like something I could only relate to at 18. If anything its gained more range, more scope for me. I hear more. I feel more. Its aged magnificently. And I’d like to think, in fact I know, Ten will join me for my sitting on the deck when I’m 77 watching the sunset times.
Ronen Givony (Author, Not For You: Pearl Jam And The Present Tense)
I’m reluctant to say that things are any different today—but one way or another, the albums that came out in 1991 forced you to have an opinion. Not only about music, but the kind of person you aspired to be. Were you worthy of the person Eddie Vedder was addressing in “Black,” “Porch,” and “Release”?
Were you part of a generation in which music would mean something more like the sixties, or the eighties? To my mind—even more than the songs themselves—this is what Ten signifies, thirty years later: the idea that a band can change the world, and bring their audience along with them.
Dave JanTausch (Livefootsteps.org)
In August 1991, I was 11 years old. It wasn’t until the next year that Ten really took off that it influenced my musical taste. Before this I can only remember listening to my parents music. Maybe some Michael Jackson, Beatles, or the Beach Boys, and a bad stint with the New Kids. By mid-1992, I was sharing a Ten cassette tape with my twin brother listening on our Walkman over and over. He had asked for that cassette and was always ahead of me, influenced by music before I caught on to what he was listening to. That cassette was probably worn out by early 1993, which was fortunate that we got a mix of different CDs and a 5 disc changer for our birthday. We then played a steady stream of albums; Ten, Temple of the Dog, Apple, and Core. From there we delved head first into grunge, grew our hair out and started wearing flannel… (just kidding about the hair.)
Brian Horwitz (Concertpedia Contributor)
My story as a fan began in late 1991. My musical taste was beginning to evolve as a 15-year-old kid as the musical landscape was changing all around. I already knew a little bit about several alternative bands at the time such as Jane’s Addiction, Fugazi, Primus and The Pixies, and videos for Man In The Box and Outshined had already piqued my curiosity. Then one day while riding around in my mom’s car, a song came on the radio. It started with a catchy riff that was followed by a booming voice singing about something that seemed very disturbing on the surface. I was intrigued as the song unfolded, and then a wailing guitar solo smacked me right in the head. Who the &#%! was this band I had just heard? I had to know more. Luckily the DJ told me who it was. Pearl Jam. The song was Alive.
Within a week, I had tracked down the album at our local CD store called Tape World. When I got home, I ran upstairs, opened the cardboard longbox, got the liner notes out and popped in the disc. I immediately went to track 3 to hear the song that I had heard a week before. I couldn’t get enough. My dad walked in my room about halfway through the song. He and I shared a few songs here and there back in the day, and I was curious to see what he thought of this one. I will never forget, I looked at him, and he gave me a thumbs down. I knew I was onto something. (he actually digs the song now.)
Ten would proceed to blow my mind for months, and Porch from MTV Unplugged is the moment I became all in with the band. Unplugged had several absolutely epic moments, from Eddie’s voice in Black to the piledriver version of State of Love and Trust, but it was Porch that absolutely captured me. Hell, it still does to this day. It is impossible for me to listen to or watch it without getting the chills.
Patrick Boegel (Concertpedia Contributor)
When I think about Ten, at this stage, it is often in bewilderment of what it was like to be in that room in October of 1990 at Galleria Potatohead when the first passes at many of these iconic songs began. At the time, I had no idea of anything. I was in the fall of my senior year of high school, a suburban Long Island kid. Bitter, angry, self loathing and dispiriting to my friends as I struggled coping with the death of my dad a few years prior and preparing to move into the world of adulthood. Not a great mix.
I vaguely remember the first time I was exposed to Pearl Jam and Ten. To my recollection, it was when MTV was playing in the common area lounge of my college dorm, roughly late September or early October of 1991. The Alive video came on. Two things immediately stood out to me – it was a band playing their music live in a theater, and the video was shot in black and white. Videos at the time were how the masses found out about popular music. In many ways they were bombastic short films. To be sure, some music videos were very creative extensions of a song’s story arc, but many were giant, over-produced, incoherent mish-moshings of imagery and the artist. This “Pearl Jam” band, their video stood out in sharp contrast as something real and authentic.
My connection to Ten and Pearl Jam was not instantaneous. My music fandom was not rooted in punk, underground, college radio or anything that could remotely have been considered artistically valued or on the cool kids side of the block. I was the youngest of 11 kids. This afforded me years of listening to the likes of The Beatles and The Who from older brothers, and a healthy dose of new wave and post punk pop out of the UK from my older sisters, who also exposed me by musical osmosis to 92.7 WLIR, which ultimately morphed into WDRE. All good stuff to be sure, but I did not come into Ten via roots work, it came via pop culture mass exposure.
My hook into Ten began slowly in 1992, particularly the summer of that year. I did the Columbia house CD thing, you ordered something like 12 CDs for a penny and then got a CD per month, unless you canceled. Everyone seemed to cancel, what a racket. Anyway, that is where my original copy of Ten on CD came from that I still own to this day. I’ve taken unusually good care of my CDs as I have OCD about such things.
Ten quickly began to dominate my listening time. Alive was my in as it spoke to a great deal of inner personal struggle, but there was no shortage of ways to connect with all this music. This was not a CD I put in and skipped songs very much. It was frequently the intro of Master-Slave to the outro of Master-Slave once a night, if not twice. This music was helping me think about things, recover from things and turn the page from things in a profound way. At the same time, I very much recall thinking: how is this possible? Where is this music and lyrics and thoughts coming from? It hit so close to home and I was so very much a cynic that some part of me was waiting to be let down.
As I began to peel back the onion layers, all I found was truth, or perhaps better stated, brutal honesty in the band’s music. The band’s B-sides on import singles were as good as, or in some cases, better than songs on their album. Wash to be specific. Don’t roll your eyes reading that, it’s true. At this point in time the hunt for all things Pearl Jam began. Live recordings, tapes, bootleg cds, import singles, side projects. It was all encompassing. We have it easy today, just hop on YouTube or grab a download from Nugs. Back in the day, it involved some work. But it always seemed a rewarding, if not somewhat expensive scrum, for a college student at least.
I could go into a long winded tangent about the times of the early 1990s, grunge, faux band feuds and magazine covers, but much has already been written about that over the years. To me, I still go back to the thought of five people in the basement of an art studio laying bare what they hoped perhaps a few, or best case, several thousand people might one day hear. In October 1990, selling a million copies of any record had to be the furthest thing from their minds. Perhaps only in their wildest, daydreaming delusions. They loved music and wanted to make it more than anything. That’s what you hear in the raw demos, and it is certainly what you hear on Ten. I am not sure they would have written the script exactly how it played out given the chance, but we are better for it. I am better for it. It is my flashpoint for emotional and spiritual rebirth. It’s the focal point of everything before and after. Every record I consumed through the years in some tangible way is touched because of how this record diverted and captured my attention.
I’d be lying if I said Ten was my favorite Pearl Jam album. But I would also be lying if I denied that it is the most important record I’ve encountered.
30 years later, this music, this band, this album, it heals new wounds to the soul while passing care on old scars. These days, songs like Black and Porch have taken on a whole new meaning for me personally. Whether on the original record or in the vast array of live performances past and present, different eyes and life experiences color how the music plays. Take a good look, this could be the day.
Anita Stemasiuk (Grunge Magazine)
Back in 1998, a cassette was the only music device that was used in my house to play music. My older sister was dating a guy who played guitar in a band. I liked him, he was fun and very into music. I shared a room with my sister, so every time that he left a tape behind we both listened to it. One day he left Ten. It was an illegal copy of the album with a handwritten title on white stripe. I never listened to rock music in my native language, so this was definitely something different. I was hooked.
At this point I had been learning basic English in school, but I couldn’t understand half of the words that Eddie was singing. There was only one way to get the proper lyrics in my hands and that was the internet! Back in 1998, when the internet was still relatively new, I knew only one person who could connect telephone lines to the computer and open the magic world of the world wide web. It happened to be my sister’s boyfriend! He printed out all of the lyrics for me so I can sing the correct words. I must admit that there were strange words coming out of my mouth at the beginning of Even Flow.
In the following weeks, I befriended my sister’s boyfriend, who was pretty close to my age. Along with another one of my sister’s friends, the three of us enjoyed the time that we spent together talking about music. These friends helped me create the special bond that I had with this band. I constantly used a Polish-English dictionary to find translations for Ten songs to put together the meaning behind lyrics that were so dear to me.
Later down the road, I wrote a letter to the Ten Club explaining that I dreamed about becoming a member, but I had only $1 to my name. I put this very basic English text together with a $1 bill and shipped it to Seattle. It was much to my surprise when they sent back a letter packaged with a Christmas Single and a one year membership! I remember this day very clearly and have kept the letter after all these years.
I moved to the United States six years ago and left all my friends behind. I discovered that Pearl Jam music is the one friend that always goes with you anywhere in the world and helps you find your soulmates. I like to use this sentence whenever I meet someone on a Pearl Jam show -“If we are fans of the same band, we are not strangers”.
Branden Palomo (Better Band Podcast)
Late ’91, and I was 12 years old. Seventh grade. It was middle school and hormones and lockers and acne. “Like” liking girls and being too afraid and insecure to do anything about it. A new school and a whole new world. And a new cassette.
My dad had gotten some tapes from a friend. The one that stood out to me was a weird looking pink/purple one that just said “Pearl Jam” on the front of it. It was also one of the first ones I saw that had the J-Card go all the way up the back, with holes for the posts to go through.
By looking at it, I couldn’t tell what to expect. If it was going to be hip-hop or easy listening or rock. I hadn’t found my own music yet, so I was listening to what my parents put on the stereo — Prince, Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey. I hadn’t seen any videos on MTV, yet. And this was before the Top 40 stations would flow seamlessly from Bon Jovi to Sinead O’Connor to Bell Biv Devoe to Nirvana. The early 90’s were a weird time in pop music, kids…
But I listened to that tape on my walkman while I was washing dishes. The little intro of Master/Slave transitioning into Once was mind-blowing. It was something I didn’t know that you could do with music. The whole album was in defiance of what I thought music was capable of. Albeit, I was no seasoned expert, I was just a kid. But it felt grown up. It felt like the discovery of a new planet. It felt like I found somewhere where I could belong, and that might accept me back.
There was still work to be done, of course. The work of living life and growing up and all that. But I had a direction, now. A guiding light. Hope.
Eric Stevenson Gonzalez (Concertpedia Contributor)
I don’t know much about wine, but I have savored a glass or two. Probably more. Once I even took a tour of a winery, and I remember the guide describing the memories triggered each time you take a sip as if it were the whole point of drinking wine—that a wine should be judged not simply by the layers of taste and texture and aroma, but on its ability to remind you of a moment or sensation and transport it instantly to your present place and time. I think it went something like that.
I do know a little about playing the guitar. Then again, so does everyone. To give you a ballpark idea of my skills, I usually won’t play in front of anyone except my wife (in the sense of playing while someone else is within earshot and not with the idea of them listening to you). And believe it or not, about 90% of my repertoire is… Pearl Jam! In some form or another.
A few weeks ago, wholly unrelated to Ten’s impending 30th birthday, somewhere in my mind Deep started playing on repeat and I decided I wanted to learn how to play it. To get the gist at least, and maybe play it all the way through for myself to some degree.
Here is where the wine thing comes in. This is a song I’ve known and cherished for, I think, 27 years. Once upon a time, I considered Ten my favorite album (if such a thing really exists) and though it still has a special place, a lot has happened since then. In other words, I have drunk from this vintage many, many, many times. There are no more surprises. But all it took was C, B, C, B, C, B, E, followed by F# and A. And memories connected to sound—carpet, furniture, time and place—all of it fleeting yet unmistakable, rolled in and quickly passed like waves.
And it’s far from the first time this happened. The same thing when Master/Slave takes me back to the very first time I put on the CD. When I hear the beginning of Oceans and remember how I would immediately skip to the next track, until one day I realized I actually wanted to hear the song. When I’m listening to a bootleg and Alive starts, I proceed to skip to the next song because we’ve all heard Alive so, so many times, but I let it go because soon enough it’s got me in a trance like it did so many years ago.
So, it’s true. And it’s no surprise. We have 30 years of tunes and albums for a variety of moments and moods, but Ten is certainly, or at least for me, Pearl Jam’s best kept wine.
Paul Ghiglieri (State Of Love And Trust Podcast)
For me, Ten is a seminal album from my youth. Not because of its chart-topping popularity, but rather because of its raw authenticity and sonic force. I had never heard a rock album embody so much dynamic melody, groove, intensity, and most of all, vulnerability. The lyrics were socially-conscious in a way that challenged me to think and question societal norms. The magnetism of the music was so infectious that each song demanded relistening. Best of all, with each relisten, I grew to love the album more and more instead of gradually growing tired of its riffs and themes.
It was the first record that taught me there can be community through music. The climactic ending to Black remains the most beautiful and arresting movement in a rock song I have ever heard. While we can quibble over mixing, the reality is that the compositions themselves are as striking and salient today as when they were written. I like to say those songs defined my youth. Introspection has taught me that our collective and shared experiences have defined those songs. The band recorded them because of a deep-seeded need to play live. To include us in that process. A “universal language” of music, as Andy Wood once said.
There are very few things as rewarding as a fluency in Pearl Jam’s music. It has, continues, and always will speak to so many. We are fortunate that of all the bright bands from that era who burned out like a supernova, Pearl Jam persists.
Hillary Wood (Concertpedia Contributor)
My entire childhood revolved around two things: books and music. It was a form of adventure and escapism for a kid growing up in difficult circumstances. The library was free as was the radio, and as the saying goes, the best things in life are free. While I chose books far beyond my 13 years and immersed myself into the lives of many different characters and vivid storytelling, music held an entirely different role; carefree, palatable and easily obtained via local pop stations. That was, until I heard Ten for the first time. Pearl Jam and that fall of 1991 introduced me to a new kind of library to pull emotion and characters from. Each song told a story unto itself and it wasn’t until Ten that I realized music could give me more than a basic hook and a simple smile. It could be a page turner, track by track and leave me waiting for the next chapter.
Andrew Taylor (LO4L Patron)
Howard Zinn writes, ““People who drop bombs from high altitudes, don’t know what’s going on below. You don’t see the human consequences of what you’re doing.”
Pearl Jam’s debut album was not a sonic hydrogen weapon that exploded without warning. Although in retrospect, it does feel that way. The explosion was the combination of other Seattle musicians, that would alter the landscape of American music, and in the smoldering aftermath, hair metal bands like Guns n’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, Poison and Def Leppard, which had dominated the 1980’s, would became the casualty the media dubbed the “Grunge Scene”.
On August 27th, 1991, Pearl Jam unleashed Ten on the world, and although sales were slow initially, by the second half of 1992, the album exploded. It’s doubtful anyone anticipated the cultural impact Pearl Jam would have on music for the next 30 years.
It would be incredible to claim I was one of these early adopters of the Seattle sound. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I didn’t discover Pearl Jam until 1995 with the release of Vitalogy. In 1991, while MTV and Lollapalooza were featuring Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots, I was dropping acid and exploring the Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. At the time, the music video for Jeremy was playing ad nauseum on MTV and the radio waves were flooded with Alive, Once and Black. I took little notice. I simply wasn’t interested in the soundtrack of the 1990’s, and I can honestly tell you I regret not paying more attention.
In 1994, as a Christmas gift, I was given a vinyl copy of Vitalogy, and in 1998, after college, I began to seriously collect records. At the height of the musical industry pushing compact discs and digital formats, I was reverting to analog. This personal act of rebellion would inadvertently, or perhaps obviously, lead me to a rediscovery of Ten. Unlike most Pearl Jam fans, who got it right away, it took me over 20 years to appreciate it. Not because I didn’t hear the songs or because I wasn’t aware of the band. Rather, Ten didn’t appeal to my sense of anti-establishment. Somehow, I incorrectly associated seeing them on MTV and hearing the songs over and over and over on the radio as being commercial or pop or mainstream sellouts.
In 2010, I got married, and in 2011 I moved into a suburban house where I quickly set-up my record collection. On my way to the record store one afternoon, I asked my then wife, “What record should I buy?”. Her response was, “Ohhh…. what about Pearl Jam, Ten?” It took 20 years for me to purchase Ten, and it would take another two years before I would see Pearl Jam live. I can admit when I’m wrong, and since 2011 when I placed the crooked arm on Ten for the first time, I have come to appreciate and admire what Pearl Jam created and gave us 30 years ago.
I wish my path to Pearl Jam was different. It would be nice to say I was a fan from the beginning, but that’s just not how it happened. I would like to be one of those people who saw them in Atlanta in 1994 or at Memorial Stadium in my hometown of Charlotte in 1996. To be fair, I did have tickets to the show in ’96, but failed to make it off my couch. Don’t ask why. Nevertheless, 30 years later, here I am confessing to a group of rabid Pearl Jam fans that it took me 20 years to fully appreciate one of the greatest albums of all time. Perhaps I wasn’t mentally ready all those years ago, to absorb Ten or appreciate it for what it is. My only consolation, or how I justify my inability to understand this album for so long, is that I had to discover Ten all on my own way and I had to figure out what it meant without the distraction of the media or the fans or the radio.
Robert Hunter, the lyricist for the Grateful Dead, writes, “There is a road, no simple highway, between the dawn and the dark of night, and if you go, no one may follow, that path is for your steps alone.”
In the end, no one can place a value on your relationship with music or a band or a particular album. It doesn’t matter when or how we discover something, what matters is whether we discover it at all. I have studied the history of American music from its earliest roots in cotton fields of the south to the shift to jazz, blues and swing to the counterculture phenomenon of the hippie movement to the angst ridden fuzz of Seattle.
What Pearl Jam was part of with the release of Ten has been folded into the history of American music and it is without question one of the greatest albums ever recorded. Regardless of your thoughts or feelings or impression of Pearl Jam as a whole, the impact of their contribution cannot be overstated. Irrespective of your state of love or trust in Pearl Jam, you must appreciate what they have given us, because the match that lit the fuse was Ten, the mushroom cloud that followed was glorious.
Xenia Berry (LO4L Patron)
I was very late to Pearl Jam. My other half, Seb, grew up listening to them with his mum and it wasn’t until I saw them live in 2014 that it clicked for me. Hearing Black just tugged my heartstrings, and Seb’s mum had recently passed. This song still brings out raw emotion. Incidentally, Release was one of her funeral songs. We haven’t listened to it since, which is a shame, but I think we are scared of the emotion it will bring. Being introduced to Pearl Jam and Eddie, is one of the greatest gifts Seb has given me!
Gabe Spece (Concertpedia Contributor)
I wasn’t even 10 yet when Ten was released. But my cousin, who I thought was the coolest kid in the world, was already 14, and one day I found the Ten cassette in his bedroom. I asked if I could borrow it. He said yes, and musically-speaking, my world was never the same again. I was drawn instantly to Jeremy, having seen the video in passing on MTV many times. I loved the f-word at the start of Porch (my religious parents did not). I loved the crazy guy singing jibberish in Even Flow. I wasn’t old enough to know why I loved everything about this new band, but I was all in. Over the years, Ten has lost some of its luster for me – it usually lands somewhere in the middle when I rank my favorite Pearl Jam albums. But it’s impossible to deny its rightful place as one of the great debut records of all time.
Bradley Piasecki (Concertpedia Contributor)
Unlike many others, my appreciation for Ten did not start with the Jeremy video on MTV or the abundant radio play of Alive or Even Flow. I was in Elementary School in the early to mid-90s and my dad drove my brothers and I to school every morning. Someone my dad works with had passed along a cassette tape of this “new popular band” for him to give a listen. At that time, I cared more about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than I did about any band. However, Ten always seemed to be playing in the background in some way or another. Several years later, when I got my first boom box with a CD player I relied on my Dad’s CD collection for my listening experience. While most of my friends and classmates were diving into Sublime, The Offspring, or The Smashing Pumpkins, I was drawn to Ten as well as Vs. It wasn’t until Yield came out that I went to my first ever live show and fell in love with the band. I will always credit my Dad, my first boom box and Ten for starting me on the right path.
Kelly Whalen (Pearl Jam Fan)
It was 1991 and I was in college at the University of Maryland. A friend of mine, whose musical taste I respected, told me about this band Mookie Blaylock in Seattle that she thought was going to be amazing. I later found out that they had changed their name to Pearl Jam and they’d be releasing a record soon. In August of that year, I made a trip to my favorite Tower Records in Rockville and bought it. Sight unseen or song unheard? Basically, I bought it because my cool friend told me to. I distinctly remember coming home and popping it in the CD player to listen to while getting ready for work. It stopped me in my tracks. I just have this memory of standing in front of the stereo and absorbing. Not moving until the entire record was over. I’d say my life changed that moment, but it truly changed a few months later when they did an in-store at the same Tower Records. Seeing them live, not only absorbing the music but this time absorbing the energy, changed the trajectory of my life. I went from wanting to be an accountant to getting a job in a record store, which turned into a 25 year career. Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life. I never worked a day in those 25 years.
Ten is not my favorite record of theirs but it’s the one that put me on the correct path. I was late for work that day back in August by the way. Finishing the record was way more important than getting to work on time.
Nick Smith (Concertpedia Contributor)
Thinking of my personal experience with this album, I could write volumes on what it’s meant to me over the years and still leave things out. So with that in mind, I thought that the best way would be to try and tell the story of the first time and then flash forward into something more recent.
I’d love to start with the exact date that my life changed, but to be honest I’m not even sure of the year. I can say for certain that it was the summer of either ‘93 or ‘94 in a broken down church van somewhere between Sandusky, OH and suburban Detroit, MI. The highlight of any summer for my teenage years was the annual church youth trip to the amusement park, Cedar Point. Cedar Point is like any amusement park across the country where adolescents spend an exhaustingly hot summer day waiting in endless lines, eating terrible fried food, and riding as many roller coasters as possible without any discernible adult supervision. What could be more exciting for a 13 or 14 year old boy?
By the end of this particular day I was not only sunburnt and exhausted, but also angry and confused. You see, trips to Cedar Point are also where crushes and heartbreak often happen all within the span of one day. I remember having my first real crush on a girl only to have her makeout with someone else on the way home. The long, depressing trip home was made even longer by the fact that the van had broken down somewhere in Ohio, which only added to my despair (and their embrace). In a desperate attempt to avoid anything and everything, I sought solace in my one pride and joy, the discman. I had only brought one CD, parent-approved Garth Brooks’ “In Pieces”, and had become bored with it either by repetition or it no longer matching my mood. One of my friends, Nate, was always ahead of his time. At 13 he already had an earring and long hair and was listening to music that I wasn’t ready for like Primus and The Circle Jerks. However, in my desperate anger and boredom, I asked him if he had anything to listen to. He gave me Ten by Pearl Jam and asked if I had seen the Jeremy video. I hadn’t, as MTV was not something allowed in my home, but I was willing to try anything to get me away from my thoughts and feelings. I still have vivid memories of lying under the row of seats on a horrible, 1980’s van carpet and hitting the play button.
That initial slow build of Master/Slave that introduces that glorious riff and drum beat before this intense growl of, “I admit it,” was exactly what I needed! It was as if this idea of “Once upon a time,” life was happy-go-lucky and the world had changed to this horrible, dark place but no one thought to tell me. But this guy singing gets it! After listening to that first song on repeat for at least 10 times, I was unable to get over it. When we arrived back home, Nate let me keep the CD as there wasn’t any way I was letting this thing go. I probably made it to Even Flow that night before going to sleep. Certainly by the next day the entire album was on repeat.
Fast forward 25 years and I am in Seattle, WA on the infield of Safeco Field hearing that iconic riff from Alive and I immediately start getting those familiar chills.Towards the end of the song, Ed makes his way over to our side and behind him on the exceedingly large screen, a fan has a homemade sign that reads “Alive Saved My Life.” All I can do is smile as tears stream down my face realizing that, yeah, it saved me too. Life is hard. Certainly there were days where it didn’t seem worth it, but you keep going as you have no idea what’s around the corner. But very much like the story of “The Curse” from their VH1 Storyteller appearance, this song has become a celebration that we’ve made it! We’re all still alive! Those days when it didn’t seem like you would? You keep going for moments like this and countless others that made all that shit worth it!
Josh Mosher (Pearl Jam Fan)
Ten for me began on Christmas Day in 1991 when my brother, who’s five years older, got Ten on cassette. I was 9-years old, and probably shrugged my shoulders when he opened it. I was immediately blown away by Ten upon first listen, and my brother and I played the cassette on repeat throughout 1992.
Glenn Bobe (LO4L Patron)
At their Hall of Fame induction, David Letterman said that Pearl Jam was like a “Chinook coming out of the Pacific Northwest.” Undeniably, no better metaphor could have been used to explain the sudden and impactful arrival of Pearl Jam and their musical masterpiece Ten. Released in August of 1991, the music world was already beginning its shift from several years of less than stellar artists and their music. 1991 changed everything. Nevermind, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Out of Time, and Badmotorfinger all set the tone and template for a music revolution. Ten slowly emerged as the preeminent and defining collection of dual guitars, thunderous rhythm, and vivid, heartfelt lyrics. For me, any eye-opening look at music that moved all of my emotions. Music with rage and content.
In April of 1992, I saw the video for Even Flow. Immediately, I knew that this song and this band meant something. Something that triggered my spirit and ignited my soul, yet at the same time, moved the needle of modern music. The meld of angst driven music layered with poetic and thought-provoking lyrics provided the perfect elixir for my then 23 year-old self. The same day that I saw the Even Flow video, I immediately drove to Kmart and purchased Ten. How many people can say that a trip to Kmart could be life changing? Once in my car, I inserted the CD and was punched in the face by Once. As I listened, I was taken on a roller coaster of emotions. Once, Even Flow, Why Go, and Porch fed my angst and aggression. Alive, Jeremy, Oceans, Garden, and Deep made me think, feel, and reflect. Then, there was Black. The perfect song. How could this snarling singer and this band filled with audible rage, pen such an eloquent and passionate song? Soon, I and the rest of the world would come to understand. A thirst for more quickly developed and, 29 years later, has yet to diminish. As the years passed, my reverence for Ten has never lessened. Instead, new appreciations would emerge. The flexibility of those songs would grow with each event in my life. Magically, these songs would create new, subjective meanings. They would create new causes, goals, inspirations, and allow cathartic reflection. Also, with the passing of both of my parents, “Release” quickly vaulted to the top of my all-time favorite songs.
Now, 29 years later, Ten is no longer my favorite Pearl Jam album. That said, it is the most influential album of my lifetime. Of the long list of Ten-induced influences, social justice and human empathy each stand tall amongst the rest. The fiber found in those songs still resonates in our current world. Ten taught us all to care, share our emotions, and do what is right. Simply put, to speak out and take action. 30 years later, Ten remains firmly anchored in the pantheon of musical masterpieces.
Nadene Roff (Concertpedia Contributor)
For me, my first connection with Pearl Jam’s music was with the Vs. album. I came onto the PJ scene in 1994. I went out and bought Ten on CD not long after I first heard Vs. and it was instant love. Oceans was one of the first songs that really grabbed me because it seemed like such a sweet notion, about holding on and waiting for love to come, to find me, to dream of it. As a 15 year old girl, that was my kind of love song.
I had an Akai CD player that I got for my 14th birthday that had a loop function which I could set to play CDs on repeat. I would listen to Ten at night as I went to sleep, twice, just so that I could hear the Master/Slave instrumental on loop in the middle. It’s such a beautiful, haunting piece of music and it wasn’t until many years later that I learned it had a name. I always just referred to it as the intro/outro.
When I traveled to the USA for the Home Shows in 2018, one of my ‘wishlist’ items for the shows was to hear Master/Slave playing as the band took to the stage and then to see them launching into Once, a favourite of mine from the album. I thought that would be the ultimate, to hear it in Seattle like that and it would have felt like it had come full circle for me. From a kid listening to it in her bedroom as a teen all the way over in Australia, to be in Seattle was something special. Unfortunately it didn’t unfold that way, but all hope was not lost. I attended MoPop at midnight after the first Seattle show and was delighted to discover that Master/Slave was playing as we walked up the stairs at the entrance of the Pearl Jam exhibit. It might not have happened at the concert, but my full circle was complete. I am so grateful to have ridden the wave where it’s taken me for all these years.
Scott Hetherington (Concertpedia Contributor)
When I was 11 years old, I went to Florida to spend Christmas with my aunt and uncle and my cousin who was 2 years older than me. My cousin and I had not spent a lot of time together, but because we were of similar age it turned out we had a lot in common. While we were visiting, my aunt gave each of us a $20 gift card to Blockbuster Music. Blockbuster has gone extinct, but even before the end of the movie rental industry, places to buy physical music were even fewer and far between. In the early 90s, places like Turtles, HMV, and Blockbuster Music were pretty cool places to spend time.
My cousin and I had made plans to head to the Blockbuster Music the next day and I had to decide what it was I was going to get. Music for me up to this point had really been a lot of what my dad listened to. The Beatles, Zeppelin, The Who, and Pink Floyd were very common in my house as a kid, but I had not really carved out a true feeling about what music I was into. I had also never purchased a CD with my own money. When we went to the store the next day, my cousin and I looked around and I was a bit overwhelmed with what I saw. Based on what I listened to with my dad, I knew I liked rock music, so I went over that section and there was a big display of the new releases. I remember that there were two albums that were prominently on display. Pearl Jam’s Ten and Metallica’s self-titled album. I held both albums in my hand thinking that if these were given their own shelf, they must be pretty good.
Back in the early 90’s, CDs came in these extra long cardboard boxes that were the length of your forearm. I remember the box for Ten allowed you to see close to a full length picture of the band hitting hands. On a normal CD, you would only see the hands, but in those early boxes I could see the whole band and thought it was a cool cover. For whatever reason, that won me over and I decided that the first CD I was going to buy was Ten. My cousin wasn’t sure what to get so she decided to hold off. That afternoon and evening, my cousin and I must have listened to the CD at least 5 or 6 times. She liked it so much, we went back to the Blockbuster the next day and she bought a copy. Not only was Ten great in my mind, but at 11 years old it immediately began to inform me of what music I was going to consume for the next few years through the early to mid 90’s with Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Smashing Pumpkins. Ten was the first music I ever bought with my own money and it was the foundation for Pearl Jam being my favorite band of all time.
C. Brock Miller, MD (LO4L Patron)
I was 13 years-old the first time I heard Ten. Unlike the next 10 albums, I couldn’t tell you the exact day I first heard Ten, but some of those thirty year-old memories are still clear. My best friend and I shared a copy, 11 songs dubbed over another band’s studio cassette with Scotch tape covering the open tabs (not a rock band, but a boy band…Yikes!). Facing constant pressure from my older brother to finally come to the light of Rock (KISS, Metallica, AC/DC), I always favored hip-hop and R&B. Until Ten. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I heard on that dubbed cassette would change me forever.
The singles have obviously always been important, but Garden was my early favorite. With time, and inspired by the unmatched Unplugged version, Black became my all-time favorite song. And after decades of listens and live shows, Release, Porch, and Why Go have joined dozens of other can’t-miss songs in a dream catalog.
Ten can be found somewhere in most lists of the all-time greatest albums, but it’s almost never given the credit it truly deserves. As the band has famously stated, this art form doesn’t require rankings or awards. But it’s clear, this album jump-started a career that has formed a near perfect soundtrack for the lives of millions of us throughout the world.
Pete Griesbach (Lead Singer, Last Exit Pearl Jam Tribute)
Like most kids, as a boy, I listened to what my parents and my friends’ older brothers listened to. The Beatles, Stones and Zeppelin were staples and I loved them. Things changed at the age of 10 when I first heard Guns N Roses and thought, HOLY SHIT! All I knew was from that day forward, I had a NEED to learn guitar and play rock music. It became my life. Buying guitar magazines, learning tabs of my favorite songs and playing along. It was my favorite thing to do in the world. Then that all changed in 1991. Ten came into my life and blew the doors off of everything I knew musically.
The lyrics hit me first, these words were different. There was this personal connection to them that I had never felt before. Not to mention; that fucking voice. My God. The angst, the emotion, the melodies and the anthemic choruses. To say I was hooked was an understatement. I became a full on PJ junkie searching for VHS and cassette bootlegs at flea markets and taping every TV appearance of theirs. But then, something else happened.
I no longer just wanted to play other people’s songs. Pearl Jam and Ten somehow triggered this creative spark in me that I didn’t know was there. I had a voice and something to say. I wanted to write my own songs. So I did. I formed my first band at the age of 17. By 20, we made our first record, had opened for Blue Oyster Cult, The Marshall Tucker Band, 10,000 Maniacs amongst others. It was rock ‘n roll dream stuff that would not have happened, if it were not for the inspiration of Ten. Fast forward to today. 27 years later, I’m still playing with my friends, Tim and Kurt, but now, with Last Exit. We’re performing these songs that changed our lives. I can’t imagine what my life would be like, had that inspiration not struck me 30 years ago in the form of that masterpiece.
Thank you Stone, Jeff, Ed, Mike and Dave for making life oh so much better!
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