Friday, July 06, 2007

It's Okay

I saw Pearl Jam twice on their 2000 tour, on August 24 at Jones Beach and then a week later in Camden, New Jersey. It was a tough tour for the band. Nine members of the audience died during their performance at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark and Ed Vedder’s marriage broke down just after Binaural was finished and the tour started (on the basis of things he’s said in the years since). My girlfriend at the time (“GF”) thought that Ed looked like Jesus Christ, which is highly ironic in light of his “I’m no messiah” complex. It is true that he looked thin and ravaged when we saw the band at Jones Beach. The show was less about joy and defiance than mere survival. (I know this may sound over-the-top but we Pearl Jam fans take such things seriously.) At a key moment, as the band segued out of Daughter, Ed picked up a piece of paper and told the audience that he had a part for us. He started singing the words to a song by the Portland band Dead Moon and we echoed during the chorus:

it's okay, you don't have to run and hide away
it's okay, i love you anyway
it's okay, you don't have to run and hide away
it's okay...
this is my chance, this is my life
this is my hope in an alleyway
this is my choice, this is my voice
there may be no tomorrow, now
this is my plea, this is my need
this is my time for standing free
this is my staff, this is my day
and the world is never safe
it's okay, you know i love you anyway
it's okay, you don't have to run and hide away
it's okay, it's okay
it's okay...

You can see what we saw that night (the turn to It’s Okay takes place at 4:02):

GF and I had taken a break in our year and half old relationship that August. I had told a mutual friend that I would be proposing to her in January, but that moment had passed and I resisted the relationship on the rationale that we fought too much. We did fight, on street corners, in apartment stairwells and cars. After one particularly bad fight when she was threatening to leave my apartment at 2 a.m. and I was yelling in that stairwell, I wondered what I had become. I kept repeating lines from Springsteen’s “One Step Up” to myself:

Another fight and I slam the door on
Another battle in our dirty little war
When I look at myself I don't see
The man I wanted to be
Somewhere along the line I slipped off track

Of course, I loved her deeply and she made me very happy. I have a picture of us at a diner with out-of-town friends the morning after my thirtieth birthday party. I loved her so much that morning and I was holding onto her so tightly that she had to tell me to loosen my arms around her. She had gotten me to invite all of my friends to a dinner and assembled a book of their contributions in my honor. They had made pages of words, photos and drawings for me. It’s the kind of moment that might occur maybe two or three times in your life, if you’re lucky.

When I think back to that relationship, I always remember taking GF to those Pearl Jam shows and I cringe at the memory. She was still so in love with me, even as I expressed hesitation and asked for “time off” from the relationship. She put up with the conditions of a Pearl Jam concert: lots of white male teenagers drinking beer and wondering loudly how they could approximate the spirited moshing of a past half-generation from the Evenflow and Alive videos. We got free tickets to the Philadelphia show by walking around the venue to register new voters. GF gamely tried to register these sloshed kids and when we got our tickets sat down heavily in the midst of the crowd, tired from our interactions with the drunken masses.

When I mentioned this episode to her during a phone conversation a few years after we had broken up, she told me to forget about it. She had moved on (and now has a husband and daughter) but I was holding on to the memories. I had met an amazing woman on a trip to the west coast a few months earlier, someone who I thought might make me very happy, and perhaps I was pleading for release. When I told GF that I needed her forgiveness, my voice broke and I started sobbing on the phone. She said to me, you need to forgive yourself.

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