As we await the upcoming new album from veteran Seattle rockers, Pearl Jam, our minds have begun wandering back to the past. Pearl Jam may be one of the last remaining lights of Grunge in 2020 but back in 1994, the scene was thriving. Here the band delivers a stunning cover of another legend, Daniel Johnston, as they take on ‘Walking The Cow’.
The late, great Daniel Johnston is your favourite musician’s favourite musician. The Lord of lo-fi’s career was painfully marred by mental health issues and never saw Johnston reach the peaks of stardom he so rightly deserved. But, while chart-topping success may never have been on the cards, Johnston is without a doubt one of the most influential artists of his generation.
The singer sadly passed away last year and saw his family release a poignant statement, “Daniel was a singer, songwriter, an artist, and a friend to all,” they said. “Although he struggled with mental health issues for much of his adult life, Daniel triumphed over his illness through his prolific output of art and songs. He inspired countless fans, artists, and songwriters with his message that no matter how dark the day, ‘the sun shines down on me’ and ‘true love will find you in the end.’”
It was this sentiment that Johnston put into all his work, no matter where he was or how crappy the equipment he was working with so happened to be, his message was worth spreading. And he did spread it. But not with the simple click of a button but by meticulously designing and handing out bootleg cassette tapes.
While most of his best work was completed during the 80s, it wasn’t until 1993 that Johnston’s star really had lift-off. Kurt Cobain, a huge fan of Johnston, would launch the recluse’s career by wearing his ‘Hi, How Are You’ t-shirt. It welcomed a bidding war over his unreleased material and saw Johnston signed to Atlantic records. All while Johnston himself was in a mental hospital.
It was around this time that Pearl Jam were invited to take part in Neil Young’s annual concert benefit for The Bridge School. Perhaps influenced by Johnston’s new resurgence into the public consciousness, Eddie Vedder and the gang decided to care out a slice of their small set to pay homage to Johnston with this beautiful cover.
They chose to give an extra special moment to the Hi, How Are You record with the cover of one of his most beloved songs, ‘Walking The Cow’. It’s a touching moment that would be replicated throughout the years as Pearl Jam picked the track back up during a couple of occasions. But Eddie Vedder opened every night of his 2008 tour with the track and also played it in March 2018 in Brazil.
It shows that Vedder’s connection runs deeper than most to the track. The gentle sentiment and vulnerable delivery emboldened by the singer’s own take of the track. While later performances of the track are more robust, we don’t think you’ll do any better than Pearl Jam’s 1994 cover of ‘Walking The Cow’. Except, of course, from Johnston himself.