Pearl Jam & 25 years of life lessons
I was just a little over nineteen years of age on the 14th July 1993, and just a little less over forty-four by the 26th June 2018.
These were the first and last times I saw Pearl Jam live in concert.
For better or worse, I have crammed a lot of life into those twenty-five years.
A lot of life, and so many lessons learned.
14th July 1993, Pearl Jam
Darkness suddenly befell the whole place. The crowd came alive with an adrenalised fervour. The inescapable aroma of sweat, cannabis, and alcohol was all around. I remember blacked-clothed roadies scurrying around the stage in the darkness. The only visible light coming from the bar at the back of the hall.
The crowd exploded in a frenzy of shouts, screams, and whistles as several members of the band walked out on stage and strapped on their guitars.
Stone Gossard’s spine-tingling and hauntingly beautiful opening riff from Releasecould then be heard. The euphoria intensified; hands went up clapping; the shouting and whistling grew even louder. Minimal stage lighting came on as the soon-to-be-iconic Eddie Vedder walked out on stage.
After six bars, the heartfelt and evocative baritone vocal of Vedder began:
“I, I, Ohh, Ohh…”
I vividly recall the image of Vedder leaning his arm against his microphone stand while appearing to hold some kind of ceremonial, tribal mask in front of his face. In the other hand, he was holding lit candles mounted on a small, dark candelabra.
“I see the world…”
Vedder sang, putting down the candles, taking the microphone from its stand, and stepping to the front of the stage. The song continued to build.
“I’ll ride the wave where it takes me” gave us a taste of what was to come next.
A beautiful cacophony of sound erupted into the first chorus.
“Release me” Vedder roared, with what felt like every emotion available to him.
My friends and I left Brixton Academy utterly mesmerised, and in awe of what we had just experienced over those couple of hours.
Pearl Jam played a second night at Brixton the day after, which I found on YouTube.
On reflection, this gig acted as an unintentional propellant into an exciting, momentous, and fateful next five or so years of my life: a period of unadulterated energy, chaos, and the lust-for-life attitude of a mosh-pit.
Several months after seeing Pearl Jam, I was at Wembley Stadium watching U2 on their epic Zoo TV tour. There was also Counting Crows at the Shepherds Bush Empire, to name just a few incredibly memorable gigs I had the good fortune to go to.
I had fully immersed myself into the mosh-pit of life. With the naivety, attitude, enthusiasm, and risk-taking behaviours of any other typical youngster growing up in London in the 90s, I had climbed up on stage and stage-dived right back into the crowd of life. I got pushed, thrown and carried around the mosh-pit, and loved every single minute of it. Being part of the alternative club scene in 90s London was a pleasure and a privilege.
After a couple of years of clubbing my way around London with friends, I started to look elsewhere to get my kicks.
A couple of years later I was backpacking around India. I have an incalculable number of memories from traveling around this beautiful country, most of which are for another time. However, I must share one of the most surreal and beautiful memories I have from my time in India.
I was residing with an Indian family in the foothills of Himachal Pradesh for a very modest £1 a day. It was my birthday and I had decided to spend my day walking in the wilderness of Northern India.
Roughly two or three hours into my walk I came across a one-legged Sadhu and his five dogs. I spent the rest of the daylight hours with this incredibly kind man, atop a vast and beautiful plateau that overlooked the breathtaking foothills of the Himalayas.
We couldn’t put the experience into words due to the obvious language barrier, but we shared it nonetheless. As we both sat around his fire, he made me tea, shared the smoking of his chillum, and made me feel welcome. I felt euphoric — and not just from the obvious effects of smoking his chillum.
I was in awe of the beauty of the landscape around me. I felt completely and utterly alive. I remember sitting there, with all my senses open, taking in as much as they could, thinking to myself how beautiful life is.
About a year or so later, I was on the Sinai Peninsula in Dahab, Egypt. I had acquired a trustworthy traveling companion somewhere along the way. Marco was a charming, charismatic and humorous South African and, as I always used to tell him, appeared to be the love-child of Eddie Vedder and Jesus Christ.
Marco and I spent our days swimming in the Red Sea and playing backgammon in the shaded communal area of our accommodation. Our evenings were spent in the restaurants that lined the beach, eating pancakes and smoking shisha pipes as we watched the sun go down.
I enjoyed two more years of traveling before returning home to London. Accompanying me, and much to my parent’s surprise, was my fiancée.
We both got jobs and we settled down to “regular life.”
Life began to chill out a bit for me on a personal level. But just around the corner, world politics started to shift, and would never be the same again.
Within the next couple of years, I married and began working in the IT department of an international bank. It felt gratifying working hard in the financial heart of the capital, my home city. I was embarking on a so-called career, equipped with my mono-strap bag, iPod, and daily commute on the train and tube.
I was part of the rat-race. In hindsight, it was at this time of my life I started to be driven by money and status. Such a stark contrast to my earlier years.
At that time, I was earning enough money to get on the property ladder with my salary alone, and just in the nick of time, before prices exploded. I purchased a spacious two-bedroom flat located in one of the satellite towns, just outside London. The mere hour-and-a-half commute into the heart of the capital was the main appeal for property in such locations.
This apparent gratification for my so-called career started to wear thin. What stability there was left of the world’s peace at that time appeared to be following the same path.
And then…that fateful day. The 11th September 2001. My colleagues and I stood in front of the TV in the staffroom. Silent. Aghast. Lost for words. We watched the heart-wrenching footage, speechless, and in shock. The world would never be the same again.
Like many others, on that fateful day, I watched in shock, as the horror of 9/11 unfolded live on TV. My co-workers and I stood in front of the TV in the staff room. All of us silent, shocked, aghast. Simply lost for words. We watched the heart-wrenching footage on TV, speechless.
Several years later I was a father of three beautiful children. Married with kids, a respectable job, all very… “conformative.”
Becoming a father was one of my life’s high points. The unconditional love that you have for another person who is part of you is simply indescribable. Becoming a father had given me a purpose I had never known I needed.
It may appear that I am giving little content to the life-changing event of parenthood. The reason is that parenthood has become somewhat of a double-edged sword to me and my family. I have written about the extended trials and tribulations extensively elsewhere.
The economic recession that took hold of Europe in 2008 set the wheels in motion for my redundancy. The ramifications of which resulted in me losing my job in IT in 2009. I had to act quickly with the financial responsibilities I had and was presented with a life-changing opportunity. I was eligible for financial support to embark on a three-year undergraduate course to become a psychiatric nurse. I graduated in 2014 and have worked as a psychiatric nurse to this day.
Two Sets of Twin Towers Collapse
However, as all too many of us know, our lives never quite stay within our control. Sometimes our lives just blow up in our faces and all we can do is watch as events unfold as we attempt to play catch-up and make sense of what happening right in front of our eyes.
This is what happened to my marriage and my role as a father. A cataclysmic and acrimonious separation if ever there was one. Lessons learned? Of course.
What ensued was a “courtroom drama of epic proportions, the stuff of TV drama”.
These are not my words, but the words of the family court judge that presided over our numerous proceedings.
My ex-wife used to tell me that she would turn our children against me if we ever separated. I never believed her. Why would I? I always thought it was a threat made in anger and frustration. However, with tragic consequences for all involved, especially our children, my ex-wife remained true to her words.
She has denied me contact with our three beautiful children since the summer of 2016. She has even attempted to abduct and take them abroad, and a flight ban remains in place to this day to prevent her from doing so.
In total, we have probably spent in excess of £50,000 tussling with one another through the family court over the course of two and a half years.
What was I fighting for? A relationship with our children following our separation. What was my ex-wife fighting for? The exact opposite.
I am now what is known as an alienated parent. Between 2016 and 2018 I not only had to contend with an ex-wife intent on turning our children against me, but also the family justice system.
A family justice system that I have come to learn serves no justice for children post-separation and simply encourages and exacerbates an adversarial winner-takes-all approach to separation. I have come to learn that the family court is not interested in the well-being of any children involved. This system is simply concerned with the division of assets posts separation. And much to the misfortune of the children, they are viewed by this system as assets.
I describe it as grieving for children that are still alive.
This constant battle to simply be a father took its toll on my mental health. These circumstances nearly destroyed me. My life started to spiral out of control. It began to affect my work life. It affected the relationships of those closest to me. In essence, I was beginning to lose the ability to function even minimally, in all aspects of my life.
As a result of this ongoing contact denial and alienation, I was diagnosed with reactive depression which cruelly dragged me into some incredibly dark places.
Depression has no compassion. Depression cares little for people’s lives. However, I am very fortunate to have people around me that have always managed to drag me from such dark places.
I am currently managing my depression the best I have ever managed it. I continue to be denied a relationship with my children, but this remains a work-in-progress.
I have been through the darkest of times and survived.
I am stronger now.
I came to realise some time last year that I have experienced what is known within psychological terms as post-traumatic growth. The term, which was coined by Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun in 1995, refers to the concept of personal growth as a result of managing trauma.
My post-traumatic growth involved co-founding an international lobbying and support organisation.
There is an incalculable number of alienated parents out there. The family justice system continues to fail to provide the best outcomes for children post separation of their parents. I founded an organisation that provided invaluable support for those separated parents that also go through unjustified contact-denial and alienation.
I will continue to fight for my children’s right to have a loving and healthy relationship with both their parents. I have the mental resilience and the unconditional support of those closest to me to enable me to continue this battle.
I am determined to be part of a positive social change concerning the much-needed reform of the family justice system. I also want to be part of something that helps parents that unjustifiably experience contact-denial and alienation.
I now have a completely new view on life. Although I still have the ongoing adversity of being denied a relationship with my three beautiful children, I will continue to pursue reconciliation with them.
I am in a relatively new, happy and loving relationship with a partner who has changed my outlook on life. It is a pleasure to have her and her family as part of my life. I am incredibly fortunate to have met her.
There is a new closeness with my parents that I never had before. I always took them for granted, and never appreciated them for the amazing parents that they are.
Through adversity, I have found out who my real family and friends are. I will never be able to articulate how much I love and appreciate those who have stuck by me.
I continue to work as a psychiatric nurse. I am one of the lucky ones — I love my job, I now work part-time because I am back to being driven by the pursuit of contentment rather than money or status. Contentment instead of happiness; that’s a story for another day.
I spend my spare time walking my three rescue dogs and riding my mountain bike like a maniac in the forest adjacent to my home. I play my drums as much as I can. I play the ukulele, too.
And of course, I write to my beautiful children.
My passion for writing has been re-ignited. I read somewhere “write about what you know.” So, I write about mental health, music, veganism, personal growth, the need for reform of the family justice system, and life in general.
I now absolutely love writing and have written elsewhere on Medium. It helps me make sense of the world and my place in it. It may not provide me with answers, but it helps me cope with the problems life invariably presents one with.
In late June 2018 my partner and I went to Rome for a short break. We obviously took in the sights of the beautiful city. More importantly, we spent much of our time there laughing. We will forever cherish the memories we have from our time spent there.
Confession time! Our short break was organised around my purchase of two tickets to see Pearl Jam live in concert at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Being the fanatical follower of Pearl Jam that I am, I was more than aware that Pearl Jam had embarked on a European tour in 2018. Their only UK dates were over the weekend of my partner’s birthday. I decided that presenting the love of my life with two tickets to see Pearl Jam was probably not the most romantic or thoughtful of gestures.
A solution had to be found. It was non-negotiable.
So, on payday, I scoured the internet and impulsively and unashamedly purchased two tickets to see Pearl Jam in Rome. Then the short break was arranged. In terms of what came first the chicken or the egg? Pearl Jam came first, the break came second.
26th June 2018, Pearl Jam
My partner and I were sitting in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, waiting for Pearl Jam to come on stage. It was a beautiful summers evening.
We found ourselves sitting next to a very friendly French couple. The young lady had dark hair had a dark complexion, and a quiet, yet friendly demeanour. Her boyfriend had a hefty beard, complete with baseball cap and sleeve tattoos. At the risk of stereotyping, he looked very much the alpha-male.
My partner and I got chatting to the couple. It transpired that the girlfriend had purchased her boyfriend these tickets as a Christmas present. He’d never had the opportunity to see Pearl Jam live but had loved them for years.
Suddenly, with the sun fully set, the stadium lights were dimmed. The stage was brought to life with subtle blue lighting. Philip Glass’ sublime Metamorphosis Two started playing and 75,000 people came to life with whistles, screams, shouts and frenzied anticipation. Roadies could be seen leaving the stage. As Glass’ masterpiece intensified vast curtains at the back of the stage unveiled images of records or amplifiers.
I looked at the Frenchman to my left. He was captivated, in complete awe. His giant hands were cusping his nose and mouth as if to prevent any emotions from escaping.
Metamorphosis Two had now ended. Members of Pearl Jam came on stage and the anticipation of the crowd intensified.
The now-iconic Eddie Vedder was the last to come on stage to Stone Gossard’s opening riff to Release. At the sound of these opening riffs, I immediately felt goosebumps all over my body.
Vedder began to sing. Like the Frenchman sitting next to me, I was now in complete awe.
A realisation swept over me. Pearl Jam was opening with the very same song they had opened with twenty-five years ago.
It was as if certain elements of my life had come full circle.
Eddie Vedder has always stated that the band’s songs are open to interpretation and that fans should take part ownership and make them their own. Despite this, throughout the performance of this song I couldn’t help but ruminate on what this song means to Vedder.
According to past interviews, Release is about Vedder’s troubled relationship with who he believed was his father. In his teens, Vedder discovered the man he thought was his father was actually his step-father.
His biological father had already tragically died unknown to Vedder at the time.
Release for Vedder is about talking to the real father he never met.
Oh, dear dad, can you see me now?
I am myself like you somehow
I’ll ride the wave where it takes me
I’ll hold the pain, release me
Vedder emotively held out one of his arms and looked to the sky as he sang.
The meaning of Release prompted me to consider how my own children will feel when they invariably discover that I have always been there for them. That I have tried all I can. That they are being denied a relationship with me.
Oh, dear dad, can you see me now?
I am myself like you somehow
I’ll wait up in the dark for you to speak to me
How I’ve opened up, release me
Release me, release me dad, release me
The Frenchman had tears running down his face. He looked completely and utterly overwhelmed with emotion.
I was also close to tears.
Halfway through the concert, the Frenchman shouted in my ear: “this is the best day of my life.”
Towards the end of their set, the stadium lights came on. Yet Pearl Jam continued to play. It genuinely felt that they did not want to leave that stage.
Pearl Jam played for over three hours that night. The concert was exhilarating, uplifting and intoxicating.
At the end of the gig, there was a lengthy and raucous show of appreciation from the thousands of people in the stadium. Pearl Jam left the stage. The crowd then started to exit the stadium.
The Frenchman and I both stood up at the same time and we spontaneously hugged. We wished each other well and went our separate ways.
After the concert, my partner and I walked back to our accommodation. It must have taken us over an hour and a half. We were left feeling exhausted yet adrenalised, but left with a shared memory we will never forget.
What have I learned from the last 25 years?
- Do be kind to others. Not just for recognition.
- Do be kind to yourself.
- Do choose your friends wisely.
- Do find a purpose in life.
- Do listen to the advice of those you trust.
- Being respected is far more important than being popular.
- Never chase someone else’s dream.