But all things change, let this remain.

Among the reviews of the most recent Pearl Jam album, I’ve seen a few negative comparisons to other rock bands at this stage in their career.  Sure, there’s probably nothing on this album that will ever score as highly as The Rolling Stone’s Start Me Up on your typical classic rock station’s top 1000 rock songs of all time.  And there’s probably nothing that will score as highly on the pop single’s chart as Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.  But as far as I’m concerned these comparisons aren’t really fair, and more importantly aren’t even the correct comparisons to make.  Making songs that rock hard might not even be a legitimate goal in the age of Justin Timberlake.  No, I think a better question might be are these people doing and saying things that are relevant for someone their age?

By this metric, I think Pearl Jam soars above these comparisons.  If Start Me Up hasn’t been used in a Viagra commercial yet, it should be.  And though I’m sure that’s relevant for some people my age, I don’t really think it’s all that meaningful.  Steven Tyler, for his part, delivered a pop song more appropriate for the puppy love of someone his daughter’s age in the movie she starred in.  Admittedly, that’s a step up from his typical juvenile infatuations, but doesn’t seem like a message of much meaning to pass on to his peers.  Maybe Bruce Springsteen had some relevant music for middle aged folks, but I never listened to much Bruce Springsteen.  Maybe I should have.

On Lightning Bolt, Pearl Jam starts to consider mortality and the depth of decades old relationships.  Sirens is the epitome of this.  If Ten defined where many of us were at 20, Sirens should define where we are at 40.  This is not a timeless song: this is a song for us right now.  We are the only currently living generation to simultaneously experience so many crises and place such a high value on family.  It’s quite the paradox, if you think about it.  Maybe it’s because our tumultuous upbringing toughened us up to handle it.  Maybe it’s because we couldn’t bear to pass on anything but the best to our offspring, even if it grinds us into the ground.  That’s what Sirens is about.  And I doubt that anyone outside of our generation will get it, at least the full effect of it.  And I’m perfectly fine with that.

When I listen to this song, it makes me want to draw my family close and batten down the hatches against all the storms that are raging through the world these days.  Ten years ago, I thought it was selfish when my already married friends did the same.  But looking back, I can’t think of anything I did as a single guy in the name of “community” that was as selfless as simply trying to maintain a family.  Yeah, I got a bit of a late start at it, like a decade to a decade and a half behind many of my peers, and this song makes me wish I was farther down that road, deeper into that path.  It makes me think of old trees with giant roots digging through rocks.  There’s no way in hell you’re going to separate those trees from the rocks they cling to.  It makes me think of an octogenarian clinging to his life so that there are fewer days that his wife will have to live without him once he’s gone.  It makes me wish I was like that tree or that 80 year old, as trite as that might sound.  Every now and then something happens and I can taste what marriage might be like years farther than we are right now, and it makes me want to get there.  It makes me want to go decades deep.

When I listen to this song, it makes me realize just how fragile a marriage actually is.  Sometimes we’re called the generation of Plan B.  We’ve seen so many grand ideas fall apart that we want to know how to get where we’re going even if that happens again this time.  I don’t have a Plan B for my marriage, but I do think it’s healthy to realize just how fragile it can be.  It’s when I get too confident and take things for granted that there are likely to be problems.  And I’ve seen better people than me have their marriages fall apart.

We haven’t been married all that long, but there have been a few times when things could have gone drastically wrong.  What if I hadn’t gotten that job offer a month before my paychecks stopped coming the summer after we got married?  What if my wife had been going a little bit faster when the unlicensed teenager made a left turn into the headlights of her car?  What if they didn’t discover the minor complications in the pregnancy when they did right before my son was born?  So much good fortune to not have to answer those questions, and yet so much time left in which I’m reasonably sure there will be even harder questions that we’ll have to face together at some point.  And that’s why thinking of ancient trees and octogenarians might just be helpful.

Oh, it’s a fragile thing, this life we lead

 if I think too much, I can’t get over

When by the grace by which we live

our lives with death over our shoulders

Want you to know, that should I go,

 I always loved you, held you high above too.

I study your face, and the fear goes away.




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