Thursday, March 14, 2013

No. 448 – Red Mosquito

Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriters: Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Jack Irons, Mike McCready, Eddie Vedder
Original Release: No Code
Year: 1996
Definitive Version: Live on Two Legs, 1998

Laurie’s in rehearsal for a play to open in April, so I eat dinner alone almost every night. When I do this, I usually have some light reading at the table. Lately, I’ve been reading the Pearl Jam documentary book Twenty, which Laurie got me a year ago for Christmas.

It’s an easy read, which is the point, but I’ve found that it’s not entirely an honest look at everything that happened. For example, there’s literally zero mention of Eddie Vedder’s longtime girlfriend and first wife.

The book confirms a couple things I suspected, like, how Mirror Ball WAS supposed to be a single album with Neil Young and Pearl Jam songs, but the record companies got in the way. But it skips the Give Way debacle.

In 1998, a Best Buy store opened about a half-mile from where Debbie and I lived, and we got mailers every week noting the latest sales. If a new album were about to be released, the mailer would note its Tuesday arrival. One Sunday that August, it noted the coming release of the video Single Video Theory, a documentary of the making of Pearl Jam’s Yield album.

Cool. But what really caught my eye was that the first 200 or so people who bought Single Video Theory, would get a CD called Give Way (a play on the word, yield, as well as the fact that it was a giveaway). The CD consisted of the first 11 songs at a January 1998 show in Australia, and it was a killer set list. I didn’t really care about the video, but I’d gladly pay the $15 to have that CD.

So I set my alarm and got up early to be at Best Buy when the doors opened at 8. About 30 other people had the same idea, and that it was a new store might have explained why the crowd wasn’t any bigger. When the doors opened, we all moved with purpose to the video section, but we soon learned there was no CD. It had been pulled at the last second.

I actually wasn’t interested in the video, so I left. Some Best Buy stores, to mollify angry people who had lined up longer than I did, gave the buyer a free CD of his or her choice. I later read stories about pallets in the back of stores being pulled back the night before.

The CD exists—Google it—so that isn’t the issue. The issue is what happened. The official story is that Best Buy acted on its own without proper clearance from either Sony or Pearl Jam. But here’s my single video theory: Pearl Jam was fine with the CD, but when Sony got wind of it, they squashed it immediately.

I can just imagine the suits going, wait, what? You guys want to give away AS IN FOR FREE a live recording when you haven’t released an official live album yet? Not a snowball’s chance in Hell.

My evidence, and to me it was a dead give way (ahem): Three months later, lo and behold, lookie what we have here: It’s an honest-to-goodness, o-feeshul live album called Live on Two Legs for a mere $15.

I bought it, of course, but I wasn’t happy about it, not only given the circumstances but also that, well, it’s kind of a crappy album. The best live albums always are those that are taken from a single show or at least a single location and not a document of an entire tour. Give Way would’ve been so much better.

But at least Sony (and Pearl Jam to be fair) got its money.

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