11 July 2010

a thank you of sorts ...

Dear Jeff, Matt, Stone, Mike, and Ed,

I’m sending you a copy of the thesis that I wrote for my Master’s degree in Philosophy. Your music has inspired me over the years, and specifically inspired me during the writing of my thesis, and I hope in some way that if you get the chance to read it, some piece, some part of it might inspire you too.

I guess I’ll share a bit about myself, to put into context the ideas that I wrote about. I’m currently 30 years old, getting ready to attend law school at Syracuse University. How did I get here? Well, I’ll start with what I see as relevant in regard to your music. I was a freshman in high school when I got my hands on your second album, Vs. That was the first one I listened to, as I was a big Nirvana fan and being a Nirvana fan at that time in high school meant not listening to Pearl Jam! Finally my friend Tyler convinced me that I was missing out on something and he let me borrow his Vs. cd. I took it home and recorded it onto a cassette with my little boom box and even cut out some construction paper and re-drew the album cover and slipped it into the cassette case. I was instantly hooked on ‘Leash”. And soon I was sold on the whole album, literally overnight. I returned to school and told my friend Tyler about staying up all night listening to the album and he said, “Oh, well you’re in luck. That’s their second album, their first album is called Ten.” I bought Ten the next day, and ever since I had that initial encounter with your music it has had a lasting, profound impact on my life.

I joined the Army as an Infantry soldier right out of high school. I didn’t have to see any combat, but I spent the first 18 months being brainwashed and looking forward to war. I spent a year in South Korea & my second year began at Ft. Campbell, KY where we were prepping to go to Kosovo. Around that time something in me began to question what the hell I was doing with my life. Part of it was being in a relationship with a college girl who dumped me after a month because, as she said, “You and your fucking friends are all crazy!” And she was right. We were all crazy. Drunk every night, looking for a fight, or to get laid, or do some drugs; anything I think not to think about what we were involved in. Her breaking up with me served as some kind of wake-up call, as I started to reflect upon the things they made us say and do. They were training us to kill people. It wasn’t a light-bulb going off in my head or anything, no great epiphany, but I did know something wasn’t right about who I had become, and I didn’t want to continue down that path. So I went AWOL from the Army. I was eventually caught in California (where I’m from), and to make a long detailed story short, I ended up serving two weeks in Mendocino County Jail in California until the Army came and got me, and eventually served 30 days at Ft. Knox Prison in Kentucky. I was ultimately discharged with an Other Than Honorable Discharge, though 5 years later it was upgraded to General, Under Honorable Conditions.

I got out of the Army still pretty much a wreck, intellectually, emotionally, and maturity wise. I surfed a lot, traveled, worked some jobs, and partied really hard. Saw my first Pearl Jam show in Sacramento at some amphitheatre (must’a been 2000). Went to community college, but I flunked out. I picked up my guitar in earnest and fooled around trying to form a band, but it all just ended in goofing around. I even tried to commit suicide once. Then I jumped on the religion train for a while. Started going to church and soon became a Youth Director at a church. Saw you guys’ play that year in Irvine, CA twice and the San Diego Sports Arena show, where Ed did ‘Arc’ (2003 I think). Got married too. Got kicked out of the church (church can be a pretty un-forgiving place). Tried to commit suicide one last time, but thankfully failed. Went back to school, the same school I had flunked out of 3 years earlier. Re-took the classes I had failed. And while I was there I discovered the academic discipline of philosophy. I had found my niche.

I transferred to UC Berkeley and double-majored in philosophy & rhetoric with an emphasis in public discourse, and studied Ancient Greek. Once I got there I knew I wanted to continue my studies and I began looking at grad schools for philosophy. Went and saw you guys in LA at the Forum and in San Francisco at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium (2006, I was right up front in SF and had glow in the dark necklaces that we threw to Sonic Youth’s kids on the side of the stage). Got divorced as I finished my undergraduate degree, having grown apart while she worked a professional job and I went to school full-time. I was accepted to a couple programs, and chose Boston University. Worked my ass off in grad school and just finished a few months ago. Got to see you guys play Buffalo and Boston in May, both awesome shows!

I moved out to Boston and I fell in love with a girl. Love. Whether it be romantic love or the love of friendship, or the love for knowledge … I do believe that love is the most powerful force in the world. More powerful than hate, violence, anger … more constructive than compliments, convention, or conviction. I have been lucky enough to experience love with someone and it really opened my eyes to what’s possible in this world. We can do things, we can change things, we can struggle to make the world a better place, but it really only is possible through love. All this is to reflect that when I sat down to write my thesis, I wanted to write something that was important to me personally and hopefully to others. I was not out to write an academic treatise per se, though I was bound by the academic rules of writing, I wanted to write something from my heart. So I wrote it in dialogue with two of my favorite philosophers: Socrates and Nietzsche.

Like I said at the beginning, you all have contributed to my life in a very awesome way, and I wanted to say thank you. My way of saying thank you is by sharing what I wrote in the hopes that it might inspire you in some way, so you’ll be able to keep inspiring all of us who appreciate what you do with your musical talents, and your political voices. ‘Cause everyone needs a little inspiration …

All the Best,

James Marvel

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