Alive by Pearl Jam

As published by Stereo Stories, 3 February 2015

Fairfield and other Melbourne locations, 1998

Personally, New Years’ Eve has generally sucked balls.

Almost ten years ago my father died suddenly on NYE. Obviously that was the worst. I’ve hardly bothered staying up for it since then.

At least one New Years Eve ran against the formline though when my mate Dale (whom I was sharing a unit with in Fairfield) and I went to an Indian restaurant off Swan Street Richmond. We had no great expectations. Dale only knew a few on the large table and I knew even less – a situation that demanded a couple relaxing ales on the way.

We mosied in late and the first person I locked eyes on was this English stunner straight from the Premier League. Bizarrely, I was overcome by a feeling of knowing this girl (Trish) from a past life. Or something. I dunno, but the second thing I spotted was an incomprehensibly empty seat next to her. With atypical confidence I was parked there quicker than you can say ‘chicken vindaloo’.

The party moved onto the Corner Hotel and my tagging job would have made Collingwood’s Brent Macaffer proud. Come midnight my fortunes soared with Mike McCready’s Alive guitar solo, which happened to be playing.  Poised in perfect position, I was determined this was going to be more than just a New Year’s Eve pash. And so it proved to be.

Our other flatmate at the time was Dale’s friend-since-forever, Trav. A country boy who’d travelled extensively overseas, he’d become a nomad struggling for direction. Having just moved from sleeping under a stairwell at a Melbourne backpacker’s hostel, Trav had no car license, no qualifications, no job, no girlfriend and no plans – Dale and I joked Trav was like Caine from Kung Fu – he just walked the Earth and stuff would happen.

Notwithstanding, Trav was a frustrating yet endearing character. I managed to get him a job as a bike courier which helped his situation a little.

Meanwhile Trish and I, with whom I shared an uncannily similar taste in music, were still going strong. One of our best nights was seeing Pearl Jam at Rod Laver Arena. Of course Alive (voted #3 in Triple J’s all-time Hottest 100 in 1998) nearly blew the roof off.

It’s worth noting Alive dates back to 1991 yet took years before coming to prominence. Perhaps most importantly, the song lead to the formation of Pearl Jam. Somehow petroleum company security guard Eddie Vedder came across Stone Gossard’s music. Allowing that intro riff alone to go to waste would have been a crime, so Vedder wrote lyrics, recorded a demo and mailed it to Gossard and a couple between-band musicians in Seattle.

Back to Fairfield and one mid-March Friday afternoon Trish and I were talking music and travel stories with Trav, who was looking forward to heading home to Kyabram for the annual B & S ball.

Tragically it would be the best and last chat we’d ever have.

That weekend Trav was killed instantly in a triple fatality car crash where the drunk driver hit a tree at great speed. Dale rang me at work late Monday morning with the news. Luckily he wasn’t there too. I wondered if it wasn’t for Trish whether I might have gone on that fateful trip.

In football parlance, Trav took risks and was prone to laziness yet showed signs that under the right coaching he’d be a player. His life ended at quarter time, and all of a sudden being alive was no longer taken for granted.

Having left work early, back in my room at Rathmines Street Trish fell asleep in my arms that afternoon as we listened to the stereo. I flicked on my favourite Pearl Jam album, Ten. Three songs in and the dam broke.

Is something wrong she said
Of course there is
You’re still alive she said
Oh do I deserve to be?
Is that the question?
And if so, if so
Who answers, who answers?

Much like Springsteen’s Born in the USA, for many fans the dark nature of Alive’s true meaning is lost amid a stadium rocking, amp blowing chorus and guitar solo. And it was lost on me until that moment when one of the song’s themes, survivor guilt, belted me in the face before the chorus punched me in the guts.

I’m still alive and I’m a bawling mess. But I have Trish and now she’s awake and doing her best.

I mean I had Trish. A few months later she was gone from my life too and I was again a bawling mess.

It was the best and worst of times but I’m better for knowing them both.

And I-ah-woooo, I’m still Alive.

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