In October of 1993 (hard to believe it’s been 20 years) I moved to Philadelphia to attend college at the age of 20. There I was, all alone in a brand new city, with maybe one or two friends to speak of that I’d met at orientation. I’m happy to say that one of those guys would become my roommate for a time (‘sup, Matt!), but that’s another story for another day. I was living at the International House on 37th & Chestnut in University City while attending classes and working at Structure (thanks, Rob!) in Center City, and whether walking or taking the bus, it took the same amount of time. My saving grace was my Walkman, and just two short weeks after I got to Philly, Pearl Jam would release their landmark second album Five Against One. You people can call it Vs. all you want, I had the cassette labeled Five Against One, so as far as I’m concerned, THAT’S the title.
It’s not often that a band’s sophomore album buries their debut, but that was the case with Pearl Jam. As much as I loved Ten, I loved this one even more. So much so that it went everywhere with me. To work, to school, the first train ride home back to Massapequa to see Mom for Thanksgiving, everywhere. There was really nothing like seeing and exploring a city for the first time with this record in my ears day and night. I can’t listen to these songs and NOT think of Philadelphia. I remember when the opening strains of “Go” first hit me, followed by the sheer rawness of “Animal” somewhere around 30th Street Station. I was fortunate enough to cover that one years later. Then hearing the acoustic-driven “Daughter” and garage appeal of “Glorified G” while browsing at Strawberries, a record store also on Chestnut.
“Dissident” really served as a bridge between the two albums in my opinion, and I don’t know anyone who wasn’t affected by both the story behind, as well as the powerful arrangement of “W.M.A.” which closes out side one. Flip the tape over and “Blood” just punches you right in the face like a sonic jawbreaker. Another powerful tune is “Rearviewmirror”, both to listen to, and sing. I was always affected by this one, but I never realized just how cathartic it could be till I started performing it with Red Down Below a few years later. We often ended our second set with it, and by the time it was over, I think we were all spent, both physically and emotionally, myself and Tony the drummer, especially.
“Rats” is a quirky little tune, but it’s not the least bit out of place on the album, even though it was a bit weird first time I listened. This brings us to another outstanding acoustic number: “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”. I love this song, so much that I was also doing it in an ill-fated acoustic project of my own that sadly was over before it began. But it really is something special. The sharp edge of “Leash” quickly brings us out of our reverie with its teeth-bared snarling chorus, “drop the leash / get out of my fucking face!” Finally, we come to the greatest song in the Pearl Jam universe, “Indifference”. When I close my eyes, I can still feel the blasts of heat from the grates on Chestnut St on those cold nights I walked home from work, occasionally looking up at the night sky, oftentimes not believing where I was.
This Pearl Jam album has so many wonderful memories for me. From my aforementioned city explorations, to sitting up at 3am on a Saturday night with my girlfriend who would often visit me for the weekend from NY (I’ll leave her name out of this; dating me was punishment enough). We would sit and listen in the dark through my crappy little speakers that attached to the Walkman, usually eating Entenmann’s Rich Frosted donuts in bed, just enjoying one another. And of course, playing some of these songs with my bandmates at venues all over Jersey, Philly, and Delaware.
I had a lot of inner demons at that time, and sometimes something as simple as leaving it all out there during a particularly harrowing performance of “Rearviewmirror” made all the difference for someone like me who was going through hell. So yeah, 20 years later, Pearl Jam’s Five Against One still holds a special place in my heart, and it always will. I hope some of you can relive your own memories to this album, and maybe, just maybe, make some new ones. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. ~dc