I’m sitting on my couch trying to remember what I was doing with my life from 2000-2002. I remember being a completely different person back then. In fact, I think 40 year-old me would hate the early 2000s version of me. Breaking out of my comfort zone was not something I enjoyed doing. As a kid, my family didn’t travel that much–our idea of a vacation was renting a cabin in the same town where we lived, so the idea of exploring what was beyond the five-state region was never really ingrained in me.
I mean, my dad’s idea of a good time was going to the small town bars where everyone knew his name, and it’s safe to say I followed in those same footsteps to a certain degree. When I lived in Rochester, I liked going to the same old bars with the same old people and ordering the same old beer from the same old bartenders weekend after weekend. From time to time I would drive up to the Twin Cities or Duluth just to do something “different”, but really all that meant was going to the same old bars with the same old people and ordering the same old beer, just from different bartenders. I was stuck in a routine without even really being aware of it, so I guess it’s fair to say I didn’t even really mind it.
I still made time for concerts, but as I look back on the concerts I didn’t go see, I kick myself. Even though I saw a lot of bands back in the day, I always went to see the same bands again and again, which I guess was par for the course during those days. For example, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve seen Godsmack at least eight times, but hey, that’s who I was listening to back in those days, for better or for worse. Besides, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Puddle of Mudd–these were the bands that were touring all the time from 2001-2002, so I went to a lot of their shows, okay!
Get off my fucking case!
Non-Festival Concerts Attended from 2001-2002, per setlist.fm
A Perfect Circle–Roy Wilkins
Godsmack feat. Staind and Cold–Roy Wilkins
Jerry Cantrell–First Avenue
Goldfinger, Reel Big Fish, and Zebrahead–Quest Club
Deftones feat. Godsmack and Puddle of Mudd–Target Center
Tool–Xcel Energy Center and Madison
Weezer feat. Cold–Roy Wilkins
Family Values Tour (feat. STP, Staind, Static-X, and Linkin Park)
Tori Amos with Rufus Wainwright–Orpheum
Puddle of Mudd–Quest Club
Weezer feat. Dashboard Confessional–Xcel Energy Center
Korn feat. Puddle of Mudd–Target Center
Beck (solo acoustic)–Fitzgerald Theater
Tool–Xcel Energy Center
Beck feat. The Flaming Lips–Orpheum Theater
Bob Dylan–Xcel Energy Center
93X Butterball feat Korn–Roy Wilkins Arena
Tori Amos–Northrup Auditorium
Pearl Jam–Key Arena
Local H–Ascot Room
93X Nutcracker feat. Disturbed, Chevelle, and Stone Sour–Roy Wilkins
Besides, Kurt was dead, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains broke up, Foo Fighters put out the dumbest video I had ever seen in “Big Me” (which I’ve grown to love now that I’m older and take myself less seriously), and Zack de la Rocha left Rage Against the Machine two weeks after my first Pearl Jam show, creating this massive void in my life that needed to be filled.
That void was filled by Pearl Jam. All of that heart and soul I had poured into being a Rage Against the Machine fan got channeled into being the best possible Pearl Jam fan I could be… except I wasn’t willing to get on an airplane to do it. Especially after 9/11.
Billy Corgan once sang, “I’ve always been afraid to fly, but I think I’m more afraid to live.” Flying has always exacerbated my anxiety, but watching the devastation of 9/11 unfold on television grounded me for quite some time. My paranoia twisted my mind into frenzied story after frenzied story, so I decided to stick to all of the safe routines I had established up to that point in my life and I stayed in Minnesota, even during summer vacation from school, because that’s what I knew and that’s what felt secure and that’s what felt comfortable.
Meanwhile, Brandon and Courtney had a brand-new state they were exploring from top to bottom, so even though they didn’t have to fly often, they still were venturing up and down the I-5 and spending their free time in Los Angeles or San Diego or San Francisco or Mountain View.
In October, 2001, Brandon and Courtney went to their first of many Bridge Benefit shows. This was a month after 9/11, so there was no way in hell I was getting on a plane to see Pearl Jam play an acoustic set comprised of rarely-played songs such as “Last Soldier”, “Driftin'”, and “Soldier of Love”.
I mean, why would I want to see those songs live, right? RIGHT?!
Another year passed without getting on a plane to visit my best friend in California. In that year, Riot Act was released in November, and the band had an almost unrecognizable new look to them: Matt Cameron wasn’t just filling in on drums anymore–he was the full-time rhythm-keeper and he was even writing songs like “You Are” for the band to record. Boom Gaspar also joined the band full time, and his keyboards on “Love Boat Captain” added another dimension to the band’s wall of sound. And of course, how could we forget Ed’s short hair back in those days!
Was anybody else hoping Ed was going to keep this look for a while?
Once again, I stayed up past my routine bedtime of 10:00 p.m. to watch Pearl Jam perform “I Am Mine” and “Save You” on The David Letterman Show. The lyrics “I know I was born and I know that I’ll die/The in-between is mine/I am mine” resonated strongly with me, so when Brandon informed me that Pearl Jam was performing at Key Arena in Seattle and he and Courtney were going, I knew I had to break out of the comfortable cocoon I’d spun for myself and get my ass on a plane for Washington to see Pearl Jam!
Oh, and my sister. She moved out there after she graduated from college in 1994, and still currently resides out there. So yeah, I spent some time with her, too, but she totally picked up on why I was out there. Besides, it wouldn’t be the last time I “visited” my sister under this pretense…
Anyway, our master plan was to get tickets through Ticketmaster. No such luck. Our next option was eBay. Tickets were going for $160. Brandon did not hesitate. He bought four tickets–one for the three of us and another for his buddy Patrick, who lived in Oregon at the time. I took a deep breath, bought my plane ticket, and made arrangements with my sister to spend a few days in the Great Northwest!
The trip took a complicated turn for the worst, though. About a week before the show, Brandon’s cousin died suddenly, which meant he and Courtney would need to fly from California to Minnesota, from Minnesota to Washington, and from Washington to California. This, coupled with the pricey eBay tickets, created a financial strain for the two of them that only intensified the emotional strain he was trying to mask. I know he was hurting during that time, but I also know he did not want anything to dampen our first Pearl Jam show together.
Before the show, the four of us almost instinctively met up at Jillian’s Billiard Club near Key Arena (now something else) for a round of pizzas, pitchers, and pool. This is where I met Patrick for the first time, and he seemed to fit right in with our group of secondary English education nerds from UMD because he too was a fan of the arts (at the time he was a photographer for a newspaper in Oregon; now he performs in many local theater groups in Springfield, IL). Not only that, but he didn’t mind shooting a little pool and talking some serious shit while doing it, so I welcomed him as a refreshingly new friend in my life.
Once we finally made it over to Key Arena, Brandon and Patrick wanted to check out the merchant booth, so the three of us quick-stepped it over to where they were selling t-shirts and posters. I hadn’t paid any attention to this at Alpine Valley, but I watched in awe as these two maniacs, along with dozens of others, approached the ever-growing line, jockeying for position like hogs at a trough. I muscled my small frame in with the rest of the vultures trying to acquire a poster or a t-shirt, and when I finally got up to the front, I bought a red-and-black long-sleeved shirt with the PJ logo on the chest. Brandon and Patrick locked down posters from the show, and then I listened to the two of them talk about their collections.
Through this conversation, I realized these people waiting in line were not just fans but collectors–and over the years, I’ve heard Pearl Jam fans talk about their poster collections like they’re Christopher Walken explaining the significance of the gold watch to Butch in Pulp Fiction. Each show comes with its own unique poster design, and some posters are so rare, they are sold on eBay or other sites for hundreds of dollars!
Unless, of course, you’re Brandon…then you just hang them in your garage.
Money well spent?
I’m sitting here listening to a muffled recording of that show that Brandon downloaded from the Pearl Jam forum a few years back, and it’s taking me back to some of the vague memories I have, including: Ed starting the show off with a crowd sing-along of the chorus to “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” in honor of the 22nd anniversary of John Lennon’s death; “Elderly Woman…” opening the show, followed by “Black”, which seemed like such an odd way to kick things off (especially since I was in my seat praying for “Release”!); “Nothing As It Seems” being one of the greatest live performances of any song I’ve ever seen to this day; and Mike McCready smashing his guitar–much to my delight!–at the end of a rambunctious version of “Blood”.
But if I’m being honest, the time the four of us spent bonding over billiards at Jillian’s meant more to us than the actual concert. I distinctly remember Brandon taking all of the money we gave him for the over-priced eBay tickets and paying for everybody’s food, drinks, and pool. He just took the cash out of his wallet and gave it to the waitress without a second thought. I protested. “I can’t let you do that.”
“Fuck it,” he said. “I’m just glad you guys came.”
This wouldn’t be the last time we’d be the beneficiaries of Brandon’s generosity. In 2006, Pearl Jam came to St. Paul with Tom Petty for back-to-back shows. Brandon had 10 Club tickets for both nights, and Patrick and his friend Dan had driven up from Springfield on their 10 Club tickets as well. Patrick’s six-digit number wasn’t getting him as close as Brandon’s five-digit number, so when Brandon was handed his second row tickets, he turned around and gave them to Patrick. “Here, I’ll trade you.”
Patrick stood in shock. “No, I can’t do that.”
“You don’t have a choice. Besides, 10 Club members will be in the first row tomorrow night, and I’m taking Courtney to that one, so Bill can be your date tonight instead of Dan,” he said with a sly smile across his face.
Patrick and I both later agreed–neither one of us would’ve done that…
Second row, front and center!
The other day, Brandon sent me a text that read, “Is it fair to say I’m your Daisy Buchanan?” I rolled my eyes–I hate The Great Gatsby. My response: “If I’m doomed to that book as your analogy, then you’re Gatsby to my Nick. Without you, there’s no story. Without me, there’s no one to tell it.” And if I may steal from a real literary work, this blog is really nothing more than “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I’ve put off writing these stories for years now because I wasn’t sure anyone would care about them, but now here you are, and here I am; and who you are is defined by the in-betweens and the breaths and the screams, so when I look back on the adventures I’ve taken the last fifteen years–when I finally started venturing beyond Minnesota borders–I’m so grateful that Brandon suggested I step out on the porch to see it all and see the world…
Today’s title is taken from Pearl Jam’s “Breath” from the Singles soundtrack, released in 1992.
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