Oh, Oh, I’m Still Alive

I feel as if I’m being haunted by Pearl Jam recently. Perhaps it’s the same impulse that brought me back to Matthew Sweet decades after the fact — an update on that: nostalgia is a powerful thing, powerful enough to overcome thin production and nasal harmonies, it seems — but I’ve been thinking more than I should about Eddie Vedder’s overwrought jam band of well-meaning misfits in the past few weeks.

What started as an offhand mention on the podcast remained in my mind as I thought of more and more of their songs that I remembered, and then I got a couple of work requests loosely affiliated with band. It’s been as if the universe has been trying to send me a message delivered in a particularly strangulated voice that yelps a lot.

I was a Pearl Jam fan for roughly two albums, after a fashion. Being of the age I am, their debut held an appeal that it didn’t truly deserve, thanks to the self-importance of singles like “Alive” and “Jeremy” and a 16-year-old’s inherent desire to find things deeper than they actually are. I was a fan in the sense of getting the album from the library and not really digging it that much, but wanting to, because they really cared, man. Far more than the reality, the idea of the band really appealed to me.

Their second album, I actually owned. It came out around the time I left home for the first time, and I’m pretty sure I was given it as a birthday present. I remember that I had the initial release where it was untitled, before it became known as Versus, and I also can tell you that, despite it being played countless times that fall and winter, I literally can’t remember one song from it today. I can’t even remember a title of one, it was so non-descript.

After that, I moved on to music I actually liked and wanted to listen to. Britpop was getting started and that proved to be far more my thing, and Pearl Jam got left behind in my memory… until now, it seems. If this is some kind of undead thing happening for October, I’m really not impressed.

Who Where Why

It’s a strange thing to say, but I’m not entirely sure what my nationality is  anymore. I mean, I know the answer from a legal perspective: I’m American. As soon as I became a naturalized citizen, I legally became an American and officially renounced my British citizenship. That, at least, is straightforward… kind of. It’s complicated, a little, by the fact that I didn’t actually surrender my United Kingdom passport — in fact, the last time I traveled to the U.K., I actually left the U.S. using my American passport and entered the U.K. using my British one, and vice versa, to make matters worse. My British one has lapsed by now, though.

But beyond the legalities of it, am I British or am I American? I can never quite find a tidy answer for that; I wouldn’t call myself a patriotic person by any stretch of the imagination — indeed, I think patriotism is almost inherently suspicious, to be blunt — but there are, nonetheless, things that get me feeling as if I belong to both countries at different times, for equally ridiculous reasons.

This is on my mind lately because of politics. In terms of British politics, I find myself fascinated and distraught in equal measure, nostalgic for the days when such policies would directly impact me, and also for the days when I had a vote to try and have a say in what was happening. I pay constant attention to the U.K. parliament news and have a strange sense of relief that I’m not there anymore, shamefully.

In the U.S., it’s a very different thing, and not only because I am here. I feel, at once, an outsider to much of what’s happening because I’m made one by a large swath of the electorate and their representatives — I’m an immigrant, and as such, not a “real” American to many. (This, despite being white, which likely legitimizes me in many people’s eyes, sadly.)

But I also feel a great sense of… shame, perhaps…? Disgust…? at what’s happening. I chose this country. I believed in it, despite everything — and everything that’s happening now, at least in terms of those in power, makes me regret that, and makes me feel foolish for ever having bought into the fantasy, or believed that things were getting better, however slowly.

I don’t feel American, entirely, yet I still get to feel the shame that Americans feel. It’s a curious place to be, wherever it is.

There’s Something Happening Here

I’m worried about the election. I’m trying not to be, and failing utterly.

It might be because, like so many people, I didn’t worry enough about the 2016 election. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t paying attention, or that I wasn’t in quiet, shocked awe at Donald Trump’s ascent ahead of time — my podcast history from that period would quickly put paid to any such suspicions. Like far too many others, though, I was convinced that Trump wouldn’t win because he seemed so obviously unelectable, so clearly unsuited for office. Who in their right minds would vote for him, I’d ask incredulously to people arguing he’d win.

(I remember, still, election night and the slow horror that crept over me as I realized he’d win. The feeling of betrayal, too; we’re supposed to be better than this, you fuckers.)

And this year, watching Trump and his supporters do everything in their power to fix the game in their favor and seemingly get away with it, the fear grows in me. Even though, again, I feel viscerally that there’s no way good people could vote for the guy who’s done everything Trump has — including forced hysterectomies for women detained by ICE, which is breathtakingly horrific and seemingly met by little more than a shrug by the majority of people — I have to remind myself of two things: there are those who think, somehow, that Joe Biden is worse, and that there are a lot of not-good people voting in this election.

The Biden thing is… whatever, really. He’s not my first choice, nor even my third or fourth. He’s old, he’s slow, he’s been complicit in some shitty things in the past. It’s hard to get excited about voting for him… but still; he is in no way as bad as, or worse than, Trump. It’s not even a contest.

That not-good people thing, though — that’s why I’m scared. I’d previously believed that the majority of Americans were, ultimately, decent people with some sense of morality, and after the last four years, I can’t say that with any sense of certainty any more. And that’s the fear, really. This time around, when it’s clear just who Trump is and what he wants to do, when there’s no shred of ignorance left after four years of his behavior, what if it just turns out there’s more bad people than good?

I Bet You Think This Song Is About You

For most of my life, I can remember people referencing the line about, “living in interesting times,” and talking about how it’s clearly a curse; I’m pretty sure I first heard that in my early teens, if not earlier. It was a reading that always felt a little too cynical, a little too on-the-nose and snarkily, “I’m so grizzled, I know that interesting is a euphemism for bad.” And then, 2020 happened.

Really, the strangest thing for me has perhaps been communicating with my sisters in the UK during the whole thing. Every few weeks, there would be a new message asking, essentially, “is this true? Are things that bad?” and I’d have to explain, yes, it’s kind of true, but not exactly as was being reported: yes, there were protests, but it wasn’t full-scale rioting throughout the city, say, or, sure, the skies are filled with smoke and we’re surrounded by wildfires, but it’s not exactly the red skies of Mad Max: Fury Road that the internet and some smart photo filters was making it look like, and least not yet.

Every time I’d send these messages back, I’d fight the urge to ask them similar questions about what was happening there, because I’d seen similarly breathless reporting about the UK. Was Covid rebounding so quickly, so cruelly as the numbers made it seem? Was the country still plunging towards the economic apocalypse of Brexit? Was the Government really admitting publicly that it was breaking the law, but everything was fine because it was only a little bit lawless?

(That last one feels particularly ironic to Americans, perhaps, given our own leader’s relationship with legality.)

Everything just keeps happening. Everything is just so interesting.

I remember watching HBO’s Years and Years last year, and being horrifyingly addicted — or addictively horrified, perhaps — by how quickly things turned convincingly dystopian as the show pushed into the future. But living it now, it’s both funny and tragic that, from today’s point of view, the show underestimated how fast the slide would actually be.

I’m tired. I want to be bored, again.