Friday, August 16, 2013

No. 293 – Footsteps

Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriters: Stone Gossard, Eddie Vedder
Original Release: Jeremy single
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: None.

Astute Pearl Jam fans know that this song—the opening acoustic-guitar chords, anyway—also appeared on the Temple of the Dog album as Times of Trouble. That’s a good song, but in my opinion, what Eddie Vedder brought to the table makes Footsteps a better song—the difference between good and great.

Footsteps was one of the main songs I knew of but hadn’t heard when I bought the Five Musketeers bootleg CD at the record show at Vets Memorial in 1994, and it quickly became a favorite. The same thing can’t be said, however, for the actual bootleg itself.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved that I had an album’s worth of uncollected material to listen to in the long months between Vs. and Vitalogy, but I hated the title. Pearl Jam would NEVER title an album so self-referential and pretentious—particularly not then, when they were working fastidiously to tear down their mushrooming reputation. Besides it was a lame title. Fortunately, I had a brother in the graphic-design business who might be able to do a little sumthin-sumthin about it.

At about the time that I was hatching a plan to improve upon the title of my bootleg Pearl Jam CD, Scott came to me with a proposition of his own. It seemed that starting with—but not exclusive to—our Seattle trip in 1993, he had run up substantial credit-card debt. (I long had forgiven most of his debt to me.)

He was looking for a loan. He couldn’t go to Mom and didn’t want to go to Dad for reasons that were abundantly clear. So, he came to me. Of course, I would help. What are we talking about here? I about snapped the phone receiver in half when he said, $5,000.

After the requisite dressing down, I said I’d do it, just this one time. Honestly, I didn’t have $5,000 that I could part with in one shot. I told Scott I’d send him five monthly payments of $1,000. After that, he would pay me off in $100 chunks—more if he could do more. His choice was clear: Take it or leave it. He took it.

I drew up a loan contract, and one of the terms—believe it or not, but by now given what you know about me, you should believe it—was that he would make me a new cover and back page for my Pearl Jam bootleg CD. I had a clear idea of what I wanted on the cover; he just had to make it happen. The rest was up to him. I ordered delivery ASAP.

My idea was based on the concert T-shirt that he, Shani and I bought in Louisville in March 1994. The art was a grotesquely grinning marionette wearing a shirt that says, “Freak.” I thought Freak would be a great name for an odds-and-ends album—these are freak songs that didn’t make the final cut.

And that’s what Scott made me. Essentially he copied the logo of his T-shirt and sized it so it would fill the cover of the CD. For the back, he got some psychedelic artwork made by a friend of his at his Kinko’s store and swirled the song titles in a loop around a disembodied eye in the artwork.

I don’t know whether Scott made himself a copy, so, as far as I know, I’m the only one who has a Pearl Jam Freak album. In 2001, as I mentioned, Scott rebuilt and expanded the Freak songlist, so it’s now a double-CD—still with the same cover and back art.

As for the loan itself, Scott repaid it in full several years later. He skipped a few months, and at times, getting money from him—money I didn’t really need—was like pulling teeth. It wasn’t fun for me, as I suppose it wasn’t for him, but it needed to be done on principle.

I don’t know the nature of his financial situation today. Given that he has two kids it can’t be great, although I don’t believe it’s bad. I’d like to think he learned a lesson two decades ago as a result of our arrangement. I sure did: Never lend money to a family member that you expect to have paid back. In the end, it’s not worth the stress.

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