Avid Pearl Jam fan Caryn Rose could hardly ask for a better start to what is making itself out to be a banner year for the band.
But, ask or not, the webmaster of PJ's fanzine and other collectors of the band's music have one more big-ticket item on the way in late April or early May, when the band -- after six years of performing the tune -- finally releases "Hard To Imagine" on the soundtrack to the upcoming indie film "Chicago Cab."
"There aren't that many songs that we don't know about," Rose said. "Demos that have made it out have pretty much been [the same songs that are on] the albums."
Already in 1998, the Seattle mega-group has released surprise bonus track ("Leatherman") on their "Given To Fly" single, and before the month is out, they'll host "Self-Pollution Radio II," a free-form syndicated broadcast. Then, on Feb. 3., they'll issue their much-anticipated fifth album, Yield, with tour
dates in Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand set to kick off shortly thereafter and
promises that PJ will return for a U.S. tour in the summer.
While these may all be highly anticipated events for '98, the dark, brooding "Hard To Imagine" has been on many fans' wish lists ever since Pearl Jam began playing it during their 1992 headlining stint on the Lollapalooza tour. The cut was originally recorded for the band's 1993 Vs. album, according to Kim Robbins, general manager of Loosegroove Records, the label founded by PJ guitarist Stone Gossard and Regan Hagar, Gossard's bandmate in his side project Brad.
"They've redone it, like, three other times," Robbins said of the 4 1/2-minute song. "Stone picked the best take. He went scrambling to find all the takes and he picked the best one. The song is played over the credits at the end of the film."
That the song is finally seeing its official release is "pretty incredible," said Rose, co-webmaster of the Five Horizons Pearl Jam Internet fanzine. "It's not like the Smashing Pumpkins who have zillions of songs stored away somewhere."
Rounding out the soundtrack will be unreleased songs from Helmet leader Page Hamilton ("Underscore"), Supergrass ("Don't Be Cruel"), Hi Fi Killers
("Pomona") and Fu Manchu ("Swami's Last Command"), along with previously
issued tracks from Sparklehorse ("Hammering the Cramps"), Grifters ("Radio
City Suicide") and Joey Altruda ("Cha Cha 69").
Still, of the songs on the LP, "Hard To Imagine" stands to garner the most attention in music circles. Opening with Spanish guitar flourishes akin to the Doors' "The End," singer Eddie Vedder quietly intones, "Paint a picture, 40 shades of gray/ Light your pillow, lay back, watch the flames/ I'll tell a story, no one would listen that long/ It's hard to imagine, it's hard to imagine."
After another verse comes a downcast bridge then leads into the chorus: "Things
were different then, all is different now/ I tried to explain, somehow."
Over the years, "Hard To Imagine" has assumed what one PJ fan calls "Holy Grail" status among
hard-core PJ fans. Some treasure its rare, live performances so much
that they don't want to see it released, according to Rose. "I
think it's, like, for some people who have heard the song, it's become a
one-upmanship sort of thing. It's a very personal song, and some people
hypothesize that's why it's never made it out."
The rest of the Chicago Cab soundtrack amounts to something of a
Pearl Jam family reunion. In addition to "Hard To Imagine," the collection
will include previously released cuts by Pearl Jam ("Who You Are"), Brad
("Secret Girl") and Hovercraft ("Haloparidol"), the last of which includes
Beth Vedder, Eddie's wife.
The film, which is being released by Chicago-born actor John Cusack's production company, A Child's Will, also will feature the song "Brainstorm" by Seattle favorites Critters Buggin'. Stepping in to lend a hand with "Brainstorm" are Gossard and Brian Wood, brother of Andrew Wood, with whom Gossard played in the pioneering grunge band Mother Love Bone.
"Chicago Cab" is based on the Will Kern play "Hellcab." "It
follows the scattered route of one Chicago cabby on a 14-hour stretch
during the Christmas holidays," Robbins said. "It's alternatively
frightening, sad, funny, crazy, like a cross-section of the passengers that
hop into the backseat of the cab."
Paul Dillon stars as the harried hack, and "X-Files" actress Gillian
Anderson takes a turn as a fare. [Thurs., Jan. 15, 1998, 6 p.m. PST]