When Did Pearl Jam Fans Get so Old?

Back in the late fifties and early sixties my mom was a teenager and liked the popular music of the time. The rock ‘n roll of those days is much tamer compared to what followed, but it still irritated the hell out of her father. I smile when I think of my grandpa yelling across the hall for her to “Turn that crap off!”

I’m a handful of years younger today than my grandpa was back then, but rock ‘n roll still appeals to me, thankfully.

I’ve been going to see Pearl Jam live for sixteen years. I saw them in Lincoln, Nebraska last week for the first time in three years. And as I stood among the general admission crowd, a few rows back from the stage, it occurred to me that Pearl Jam fans aren’t as young as they used to be.

My infatuation with Pearl Jam began in 1998, when I was twenty. They’d already been around for seven or eight years, and I knew the ultra-popular songs that are still played on the radio today, but I wasn’t familiar with all of their work. As soon as I thoroughly listened to them, and especially when I saw them in a live show, I was hooked.

At my third show in 1998, in Auburn Hills, Michigan, I distinctly remember the remarkable number of college-aged people in attendance. Of course there were a fair number of “old people” too, and my friends and I both admired them for their coolness, and tried to imagine whether we’d still be going to shows when we were “old.” But the crowd was predominantly young, probably 80% aged twenty-five or younger.

Sometimes I’ll watch an old movie and see an actor for the first time. In the movie they’re twenty-two years old, fresh-faced, just beginning their careers. Then after the movie I look them up on IMDB and of course they lived to be eighty-five years old and they’ve been dead for twenty years!

That’s what last week’s show in Lincoln was like!

In my mind the Pearl Jam audience is young college students, enthusiastic about life, ready to rebel against something, and just waiting to spend a few hours jumping around and singing along with 20,000 of their closest friends.

Somehow I forgot that we’ve all aged in the past sixteen years. I’ve been to more than a dozen shows since 1998, and obviously I look in the mirror everyday, but the stark difference really hit me last week.

I listened to a guy near me talk about a promotion he got at the bank in Omaha where he works. A friend asked him what he’d be doing and he said, “Still selling mortgages, just getting paid more for it now.”

Pearl Jam played at Metro in March 1992 with Smashing Pumpkins. How many mortgage bankers do you think were at that show?

Turns out, time has marched on. It’s not 1998 anymore, and I’m not twenty years old anymore. And, of course, neither is the band. They cut their long hair years ago, and now, like the rest of us, they have less than they used to. And watching a couple of the guys on stage, I couldn’t help but notice that they, too, look older. Gone are the years where they’d play 120 shows. Now they play twenty or twenty-five shows per year.

For a while I was bummed about how old everyone looked. As a friend from high school mentioned on my Facebook page, “Our days of being cool PJ fans are over. I felt that same feeling not to long ago. We are now like the hair metal fans were in our teen years.” Great, I’ve become like that guy who just can’t let go of how cool the band Ratt was in 1985.

But then the show began.

And I realized that it doesn’t matter. Of course I’m older. Time doesn’t stop. But like my wife said, “Fine wine, baby!”

And young people still love Pearl Jam and rock ‘n roll. In Lincoln a five-year-old boy stood in the front row with his dad. A young James Franco-looking dude stood near us in the crowd, along with his friend, who was at his first Pearl Jam show. I’m hoping to bring my own kids the next time they play Alpine Valley, and I have no doubt that will be my favorite show ever.

Pearl Jam plays tonight in Detroit and I’ll be there in the crowd, maybe feeling a little old. But with a good band—for a few hours—you can be young.

Like my Facebook page, Brett Baker Writes.

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