I woke up the other morning and thought to myself, I wish someone over the age of forty would just come unglued in public and start screaming about how wrong violence is, and how we're up to our necks in guns and gun-violence, and then I thought how much I needed that cleansing-rage-kind-of-thing because we are, in fact, shooting ourselves to pieces every day—more than any other developed nation—and coming up with stupid, dogmatic, and illiterate reasons for explaining it.
I woke up, and I thought that.
Then, I stumbled on this clip from the July 11, 2014 Pearl Jam show in Milton Keynes, England, part of the band's Lightning Bolt tour. Skip to 4:10 into the clip, where Vedder begins an impassioned reaction to the violence that clogs our daily headlines. If you don't have time to watch the clip, you can read a transcription of Vedder's monologue here.
But you need to hear his voice to get the cleansing: it’s strident, dramatic, zealous, and committed. I don't care how much wine he had. I don't care that he ended his monologue on his knees with a sing-a-long to Edwin Starr's "War." (Which, by the way, landed at number 5 on the Billboard Year-End Top 100 for 1970, and which song I loved at the time.)
But more than anything else that happened to me that day, I loved Vedder's whole messy, over-the-top, enraged, declaration of no tolerance for no peace.
At the same time that Vedder delivered his declaration, however, tensions were escalating between Israel and Palestine, and as a result, many pro-Israeli parties felt that Vedder was taking the Israelis to task, even though he never mentioned them by name.
Vedder responded five days later on the Pearl Jam website with a brief and pointed posting entitled, "Imagine That—I'm Still Anti-War."
Without apology, he uses John Lennon's "Imagine" to defend the pure and necessary idealism that stoked his rage that night in Milton Keynes. "Call me naïve," he wrote, but "I’d rather be naïve, heartfelt and hopeful than resigned to say nothing for fear of misinterpretation and retribution."
And when I heard this clip, and read Vedder's explanation of his stance, I realized how important it is for people in his position—visible, adored—to lose their patience with violence, and to do it publicly, to abandon the reasoned approach of diplomacy and negotiation, and simply to shriek at the brutality and barbarousness of war.
Because rock 'n' roll makes its strongest appeals without the shackles of reason.
And so here's what I said to myself that day: stop acting like an adult, and do it now, before we're all dead.
And besides, people like Vedder, speaking from their podium, help folks like me and all the others who are working, backs bent and out of sight, in the vineyards of gun-violence prevention. Or social justice. Or women's health. Or literacy. Or immigration. Just working for the love of it.
I was drawn to Vedder's howl because I have been helping to defeat a bill that would put guns on our college campuses in Arkansas. The political process, while it tolerates every sort of human foible, also depends on a kind of decorum, a sense of dialogue and propriety that is essential to the process.
But how often have I wanted simply to scream at the top of my lungs that the bill we are considering is dangerous, uncivil, ill-conceived, badly written, unpopular, and unwanted? That it puts our children at risk? That it puts a gag order on the Board of Trustees, who coincidentally have voted unanimously for two years to prohibit guns on our campuses? That it is fueled by one of the country's most powerful gun-lobbies, simply to maintain its healthy profits?
How many times? Too many to count.
I needed Vedder's public howl. It was righteous, and it was right.
And it felt good to hear it. Thanks, Eddie.
Howard Zinn (and you) were right: You can't be neutral on a moving train. And what's more, you shouldn't be.