We Are all Hall of Famers too
On April 7, 2017, I had the honour, along with other fans, to attend the induction ceremony for Pearl Jam into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. But what makes a hall of famer?
In sports, it is considered the ultimate achievement for many athletes. Beyond any individual accomplishments and accolades, being inducted into the Hall of Fame for their respective sport is not even something you can try to attain on your own. It can only be evaluated once your career has completed. Were you successful? How long did your success last? What kind of impact did your career make? These are some of the boxes that need to be checked just to be in the conversation. In some cases, your career performance can more or less be measured with your stats within the sport.
For musicians, however, it is not as simple. For starters, how do you even qualify for the Hall of Fame, since your career may not necessarily be over. The Rock Hall of Fame states that artists become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. Criteria include the influence and significance of the artists’ contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll. So being a good fan, I, along with other Pearl Jam fans, have had this year circled in our calendars for, well, almost 25 years.
Now what about their career performance? I guess record sales are the closest thing to any kind of measurable stats to gauge from. But these have become less relevant in the industry for the past 20 years, since most artist don’t really sell many records anymore.
There was little doubt in our minds that Pearl Jam’s explosion onto the music scene and long sustained success would make them a no-brainer pick to be included. And I’m sure it didn’t hurt that they have always shown their enthusiasm to the process, when helping the likes of Neil Young, REM, The Doors, Ramones and Heart during their inductions. You could say that they have been sucking up to the Hall of Fame all along. But maybe it is just the fact that they are also fans of other musicians whom they idolized. Either way, as fans, we were still nervously waiting for the announcement in late 2016 that our bands was in fact going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Once it was confirmed, the very next day, we all started looking into flights and hotels for Brooklyn, New York. As Pearl Jam fans do. Luckily for me, we have family living only a few blocks from the Barclays Center. So we are set.
There was no touring plans set for the band this year, so this was it, if we wanted to see them perform. In fact, it had been a slow few years for me already, with 2015 being the first year since the late 1990s that I didn’t see a Pearl Jam show live. That was a good run.
When we arrived in New York at the beginning of April, word apparently got out that I was there (through social media), and I was contacted to do an interview with CBC.
On the day of the induction, we had a similar feeling as going to a Pearl Jam show. We all met up at the Wishlist Foundation preparty, which raised an incredible $18,000 for the local beneficiaries. All over town, we met up with and ran into familiar faces, who were part of our Pearl Jam journey as we were to their journey. And, as usual, there were more than a few drinks shared and laughs exchanged. I did decide to put on a jacket and tie for the momentous event, though, and I wasn’t the only one. So it kind of felt like we were going to prom as well.
When show time hit, we packed into the venue and quickly realized that very few of us actually knew what was on the agenda for tonight. Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Jann Wenner came on stage to start the evening and introduced each of the inductees along with a quick bio: Joan Baez, ELO, Journey, Yes, Tupac Shakur.
As he says “and last…” without hesitation, the entire Barclay Center erupts in anticipation of who he will say next. For the next couple of minutes, the place is defining. Wenner can’t continue just yet. On the big screen, they show the band sitting at their table and you could see how taken back they were with the reaction. “And last… Pearl Jam.” Wenner finishes without any further information needed. And the evening begins.
With each subsequent inductee, we come to see the pattern of how they are presented. A video montage starts it off, the person doing the induction gives a speech with a personal touch, the artist comes on stage to give their reaction and thanks, and then they walk over to the next stage to play 3 songs from their repertoire. Simple and effective.
With Pearl Jam closing out the evening, we would need to wait a couple of hours before we can hear what David Letterman has up his sleeves. The other inductees are enjoyable though, and you can’t help but be happy for all the artists being honored tonight. But of course, most of us were there for one reason only.
Letterman, a last minute substitution when Neil Young became ill, comes out after the video montage for Pearl Jam and addresses the crowd. “I can’t begin to tell you what an honor and a privilege it is for me to be out of the house,” he explains while sporting a beard thick enough for that statement to be true.
“Now here’s what I like, the song Yellow Ledbetter. Doesn’t make Ten because they have too much good material,” explains Letterman as he starts listing song names. “So later, it’s released as like a B-side. 25 years (and) it’s an anthem. It’s a musical icon,” he continues. “For a lot of people that song would be a career!”
That kind of sums up how many Pearl Jam fans feel. We not only love the big hits and popular songs, but we often tend to favor the lesser known songs and rarely played ones even more. Actually, that is usually the case for most. It is common for us to still feel that this little band is a little secret of ours who speak directly to us. We try to share the band and everything we love about them to others at every opportunity we get, so that they are let in on our secret. Most of the time it is not successful but sometimes it is. Whatever the case, we continue to think of Pearl Jam as our little band.
As we all cheer and laugh every time Letterman pauses, there is a feeling that we are all in this together with them as we have been through their career. This band, which many of us have followed relentlessly for the past 25 years, is a part of us, and uniquely close unlike any other band/fan relationship that exists. The Grateful Dead would probably be the only parallel, but even that phenomenon seemed to be on a different energy level.
“Thank you so much to the greater Pearl Jam community whose fierce autonomy and evolving manifestation is still a source of amazement and wonder to us all.” Stone says into the mic. “Keep doing what you’re doing, we’re having so much fun watching you.”
Of course, everyone always thank their fans. We are the ones who buy their records and go to their shows. But when each member of Pearl Jam mentioned the fans and how we are “the life’s blood… to (their) art form,” as Matt Cameron described, we felt it.
The evening felt like watching your children graduate or seeing your best friends receive the highest honor. Our little band was being recognized, and it felt like we, as fans, were also being inducted into the Hall of Fame.