Pearl Jam & American Religiosity: Why Pearl Jam?

From “Release” on the Ten Album:

I am myself
Like you somehow
I’ll ride the wave
Where it takes me
I’ll hold the pain
Release me

To investigate religiosity in the United States, it might seem odd to start with the lyrics from a mainstream rock band.  Yet, I’m arguing that Pearl Jam’s newest album, Lightning Bolt, offers insight into current religious trends.  Thus the question could be posed, why Pearl Jam?To answer that question, I would like to propose three reasons.

First, Pearl Jam rocketed into prominence by giving voice to an iconoclastic generation frustrated with their available options and resources.  Reacting to glam rock bands like Poison and Def Leopard which relied on exaggerated guitar riffs, amplified hair styles, and unauthentic lyrical compositions, the angst and authenticity revealed by Pearl Jam’s lyrics, especially in their initial albums, resonated with a generation of no labels and philosophical deconstruction.

Second, and closely related to the first, the voice that Pearl Jam gave the generation emerging in the 1990s has continued as the band has proven its marketable longevity.  As other bands of the 1990s like Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, and Stone Temple Pilots dissolved and others like Nirvana and Alice in Chains ceased to exist for obvious reasons, Pearl Jam has retained most of its original members (with the exception of the drummer), produced multiple albums, and continues to tour around the globe.  Moreover, the lead singer of Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder, persists as a political voice expressing his opinions on American wars, gun control, and environmental issues.

Additionally, Pearl Jam arises from the Seattle, Washington area.  The Northwest of the United States has been labeled the “None Zone” by scholars.  The label of Religious None describes a person who refuses to affiliate religiously.  Thus, the None Zone denotes a high concentration of Religious Nones.

Thus, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam continue to be relevant especially for thirty and forty-somethings who are still seeking meaning and purpose, constructing values, and attempting to reclaim, repurpose, and refashion the “world” which they inherited.

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