As longtime Audiophile Style readers know, I'm a huge Pearl Jam fan. What many don't know is that I collect Pearl Jam vinyl releases. It's an obsession of mine that's had me searching not only the country, but the world for versions of albums I "need"in my collection. Before I discuss the album I finally got, as the title to this article indicates, let me take you through some high and low points on this fun journey.
In August 1991, the summer before my sophomore year of high school, I discovered Pearl Jam's debut album Ten. After listening to the entire album from start to finish, I knew my cherished hair metal albums from Motley Crue, Poison, and Ratt were immediately irrelevant to me. Ten changed my life and spoke to me like truly powerful music has done for people since the beginning of human history.
I quickly discovered the album tracks that didn't receive radio airplay and latched on to the song Black because it blew my mind. To this day I love the fact that the band never officially released the song as a single because of its personal nature. Sure radio stations began spinning the track well after us "cool kids" had spread the word and put it on endless mix tapes, but that's OK. Perhaps it was time to share this gem with the world.
How does this related to vinyl? Hang on, I'll link it up, as Johnnie Cochran used to say while weaving a story about O.J.'s innocence. In the liner notes for Ten there was a spot that said Ten Club P.O. Box 470, Seattle, WA 98104. Also in the liner notes was several sentences of names followed by a large THANK YOU. One of the names on the first line was Michele Anthony (hold that thought, I'll link it up later).
Anyway, I sent a letter to the Ten Club asking to join. I had no clue what it entailed, but I wanted in. If I remember correctly, I even put my first name and my best friend's last name on the return address. I spent so much time over at his house that I wanted to make sure whatever mail was returned, made it in his mailbox and I receive dit ASAP. Postal workers won't always deliver mail if the name on an envelope isn't for the people living at the residence.
Many weeks later, I received an envelope from the Ten Club, with my first name circled and a question mark next to it, handwritten by the postal worker. As if to say, there's no Chris living at this address, but I'll let this one through. Inside the large envelope, among other things, was a piece of paper detailing how to join the Ten Club. I believe it said $10 or $15 was required and that membership was for one year. As a 15 year old, I was devastated. There was no way I could save up that much money and send it off to a fan club. In my mind I was doing them a favor by joining! Plus, my next $15 was already earmarked for the Temple of the Dog album.
I set the Ten Club letter down and went outside for a wiffle ball tournament in my friend's backyard. At the end of the day, with a baseball diamond base path worn in the lawn, I'd forgotten about the Ten Club and was back to listening to music. With this forgotten letter went a very low Ten Club membership number and a Pearl Jam vinyl single for Christmas mailed to every fan club member. I had no idea what I was missing, but I do have Hi8 videotape from the wiffle ball tournament and it's priceless.
Smash cut to October 12, 1993. The Autumn of my senior year in high school. I had nothing to do and all day to do it. That day Pearl Jam's second album Vs. was released on vinyl, one week before the compact disc was released. I went to Down in the Valley, my local record shop, just to look at the album art and get all the track names. There was no way I could afford to purchase the vinyl, I also had no way of playing it, and have enough money to purchase the CD a week later. I went home empty handed, but with a seed planted in my head. Eddie Vedder had talked about how much he liked vinyl, the smell of vinyl, and the feel of the large format. Perhaps he was on to something.
The following Monday, myself and my two best friends drove to Cheapo Records in Minneapolis at midnight to purchase the Vs. CD. It was a school night, but that matter not. We listened to the album the whole way home and postulated about stories behind each song. Before going to bed that evening/early morning, I put the orange disc in my Sony Walkman and hit repeat as I drifted off to sleep. To this day, Vs. is unequivocally my favorite Pearl Jam album.
Fast forward many years, through the rest of high school, through college and into early Spring 2000. I was two years out of college, living on my own, with a decent tech job, when I heard Pearl Jam's new single titled Nothing As it Seems on the radio and it hit me. I needed to signup for the Ten Club so I could get great seats to Pearl Jam's concerts. Heck, I was free to drive wherever I wanted to see them as long as I had the vacation days left at work. I thought to myself, what took me so long to do this!
With my Ten Club tickets reserved and a Case Logic case holding 224 CDs, I drove my 1999 Volkswagen Beetle with incredible Alpine stereo from Minneapolis to Chicago on October 9, 2000. I saw Peal Jam play Allstate Arena in one of my most memorable concerts. Before the final encore of the night, the band came on stage and Eddie Vedder said the following, "Alright we gonna do one more, and ah, if you sing it, as best you can sing it, I think it might end up on a record." As you can imagine, the crowd was ready to sing/scream its lungs off. The floor started shaking and my ears hurting as Eddie gave Kille Knobel the cue to turn all the arena light on, by saying her first name (pronounced like Key-Lee). Here's a link to a VHS recording of the show. Scroll to the 2:17:15 mark for the spot about which I'm writing.
What about vinyl? I know, I'll get there, but the meaning of my vinyl collection is more important than the physical albums. They all mean something to me because of my love for Pearl Jam music and my experiences over the years.
OK, cut to the spring of 2001. I was living in the Uptown area of Minneapolis when the Pearl Jam Christmas vinyl single arrive in my mailbox. Christmas in the Spring? Yes. Anyone in the Ten Club knows the band is notoriously late delivering fan club singles. Anyway, I received the Crown of Thorns vinyl single and it was game on. I had a newly installed 640 Kbps DSL internet connection from Qwest and I was well on my way to catching up on the Christmas singles I'd missed and discovering that there more Pearl Jam vinyl releases than I could imagine.
I started browsing eBay for the Christmas singles and winning auctions left and right. An obsession and no real financial responsibilities as a young adult can lead to interesting times. I soon had almost all of the Pearl Jam vinyl releases to date, including the Vs. albums available in several different countries. The South Korean release even says, Registration No. 22 To The Ministry Of Culture. Passed Censorship By K.P.P.E.C. This was the former Korean Public Performance Ethics Committee (KPPEC) that censored obscene language, body exposure, and extreme violence. However, there was one version of Vs, that I couldn't find and I absolutely needed to find it, especially because Vs. is my favorite album. This was the Columbian release in blue vinyl. I setup eBay notifications and searched everywhere, but couldn't find the Columbian version.
During the ensuing years I've collected some awesome Pearl Jam vinyl including the basketball version of Ten, the clear version of Jeremy, the four album red vinyl version of the Benaroya Hall acoustic show, the yellow and black Live At Third Man Records album, and many more. I always open each album by ripping he plastic off and enjoying the large format and unmistakable smell. Sure, some people leave them in the plastic, but if one is looking to make money down the road, there are far better investments and returns to be had than crossing one's fingers and hoping a rare Pearl Jam album skyrockets in value.
I enjoy collection these albums, but I don't own a turntable. I know this sounds crazy for an audiophile, but it's the truth. I've brought some of these albums to friends' places or HiFi ships to listen, but that has never been important to me. I have the digital versions from which most of these albums were sourced and that's what I've grown to know and love. The vinyl is a tangible artifact that brings me enjoyment even if I don't listen to the records directly.
Now for the holy grail. Earlier this fall, I was talking to people who work at my daughter's Waldorf school about how I can help the school during these difficult pandemic times. Everyone has their skillset, so I offered to help with the school's external web presence. After the conversation one of the people on the call looked up Audiophile Style, probably to make sure I wasn't making up the fact that I knew how to do what they wanted to do. She read the "About Us" page and the following sentence from the last full paragraph, "The record he has been searching for since 1993 is the ultra-rare Colombian translucent blue vinyl LP for the Vs. album (91-474649)." A day later I received an email from her with a link to someone selling the album on Discogs.
I thought it had to be a slightly different version. It couldn't be the album for which I've been looking all these years. Keep in ind that I'd given up on finding it several times since 1993 and I wasn't actively on the hunt all the time. Nonetheless, it turned out to be the real deal. It was the exact album, number 91-474649 in blue translucent vinyl! I ordered it immediately without looking at how Discogs works or how much it would cost me for shipping the the Netherlands etc... No matter the cost, as Tripper (Bill Murray) from the classic 1979 movie Meatballs said in his motivational speech to the campers, "It Just Doesn't Matter!"
A couples weeks ago the blue Columbian version of Vs. arrived at my doorstep. I finally held the holy grail in my hands. Blue translucent vinyl with the orange sticker at the center, the same color my friend's and I named Vs. Orange back in 1993. Of course this doesn't complete my collection as there are some albums I still need to pickup, but the remaining ones are fairly easy. I just need to spend the time to find them. The satisfaction of finally obtaining the blue Vs. album is really something. What a fun hobby, what a cool band, and what fantastic music.
P.S. I said I'd link up the Michelle Anthony reference earlier, so here it goes. First, Michelle Anthony is the Executive Vice President of Universal Music Group and someone Pearl Jam has mentioned countless times as being very helpful to the band and one of the only people at the record label who understood and fought for them. With this in mind, I was visiting friends in Los Angeles in February 2013. At dinner, a friend of mine says, "do you want to go to the Bjork concert tonight at the Hollywood Palladium, Michelle Anthony asked me to go with her and has tickets." I nearly fell off my chair. I like Bjork, but this was THE Michelle Anthony I read about in the Ten liner notes, heard Pearl Jam thank on the live album from Las Vegas for its 10th anniversary, etc... Of course I went to the show and soaked up the business conversation like a sponge. I probably said hi to Michelle as we waited for Bjork backstage, but that's was it. More interesting to me was her talking about going to a show in New York City with Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament. I was like a groupie for the night, listening for her to say anything about Pearl Jam. That's my brush with Pearl Jam, as adjacent as it could be :~)