TAKE TEN FROM THE VAULTS
by Brad Balfour
(Ed. note May 30, 2016: Pearl Jam has been putting on one of the biggest tours of the year, in which they celebrate the 25th anniversary of their debut breakthrough album Ten. Due to the renewed interest in that classic rock album, our writer Brad Balfour has decided to dust off this iconic interview which he did with the band while they originally toured to promote the album in 1992. It is particularly of historical relevance since lead singer Eddie Vedder has severely limited his interviews over the years. The story originally ran as the cover story of CREEM Vol.1 Num. 9 in August, 1992.)
“WELCOME TO OMAHA!
“Food items not found on the ‘GOD’ aisle must be returned to the Jesus rack immediately. All violators of the Lord’s biblical shopping commandment will be forever cast into eternal damnation.” – Eric Johnson, Tour Manager, Pearl Jam, on napkin 1992 tour
Eddie Vedder perches under the shading maple in front of the University of Colorado’s Glenn Miller Ballroom where Pearl Jam will be playing tonight. “I’m just a midwife for the music,” he says with a slightly puzzled look. The band’s scruffy-maned singer glazes over when something reflective strikes him. But it’s not the possessed look he has when he explodes on stage.
Adds the enshagged singer, “I can’t really take credit for a lot of this because it’s this in-between thing where I’m just focusing on this space; where it’s just the music coming through and I’m feeling these words, not thinking about how my voice sounds or the technique that goes behind it. So I’m letting myself go to push this stuff out.”
Letting go is what Vedder is all about. Cresting on waves of energy, he leaps into the audience, riding on shoulders until he gets handed back to the scrim like the surfer he’s been. Back in San Diego, where he was hanging before the call came from Seattle, he would hit the beach after working all night and cruise on the cold 8:30AM water, riding the waves like his life depended on it.
But now Pearl Jam’s lead singer slips into the pensive track as he talks about his life. Later that night, working the tougher-than-nails Grateful Dead-bred Boulder crowd into a typical Pearl-Jammed frenzy, Vedder proves his worth. Live is where Pearl Jam honed itself; experience, skill and vision sharpened to a stiletto pointed to the throat – Eddie’s throat. When Vedder rages, his eyes gloss and his head shakes with an almost pained passion, So involved with the music, this compact vocalist isn’t conscious of what he’s doing. “The best shows are the ones I don’t remember at all.”
The meditative mode isn’t unusual for Vedder. In fact he appears more comfortable with the repose of introspection than the bust out rave of the mislabeled metallic vision that Pearl Jam is.
Nonetheless, joining forces with founders guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament, and bolstered by the blazing guitar of Mike McCready – with the recent added drumming of Dave Abbruzzese – has made this team’s first outing more than a testing ground. While the album Ten kicks with all the glistening power of joyous holy noise, their live performance ratifies this compressed celebration of grunge and melody.
A history of public trauma behind them, and a maturity rare for a band with such a debut charging out from the starting gate, make this LP all the more appreciated. From the atmospheric instrumental snippet which opens the eleven track CD, through the hits “Alive” and “Even Flow,” to the final cut, “Release,” the album possesses an oxygenated mix of the kind of changes that Led Zeppelin was famous for, and a mysticism in line with the Blue Oyster Cult spiritually infused metal rants (witness “Cities On Flame With Rock & Roll.”)
Now with the Lollapalooza tour kicking in this June, both the pressure and the glory rides on Pearl Jam. Scrutiny falls on them as one of the key teams while the Perry Farrell-borne extravaganza wends it’s way through large venues on a make-it-or-break-it summer. Like last summer, the tour hails a political rightness – booths trumpet causes while the entire event espouses the notion that the generation these bands belong to still retains values that weren’t destroyed by the Reagan/Bush years.
The vets of Pearl Jam really define a youth subculture – where it’s at now – with a rejection of values seen from that era.
Like their peers, this crew veers towards 30 (Jeff, the oldest, is 29; Dave is the youngest at 23) and are looking for things to believe in. Flannel-shirt imagery and teen rebellion alternate without cynicism, adopting a lot of the idealism of the Sixties, shared with an authenticity and organic sense of proper behavior for today.
“The only way to make it work is to make yourself more openminded,” says Ament. “We push things a bit in this band. At the same time, we don’t lock ourselves into doing things a certain way or always doing it from certain angles. Hopefully everyone’s recreating their way to make music and deal with each other – that’s what’s gonna keep it fresh.”
Eddie has been preparing for this opportunity for a long time as well. His strength as a persona and artist lies in his skill at catharsis and his ability to control the moments in which he acts upon it. “Right now my environment is changing daily,” he proclaims assuredly. “Ultimately you have to take control, and what I fought for since I left home at an early age was control of myself. Probably, as soon as I realize I have it, I’ll just lose my mind completely.”
As he speaks, his hands go to his face like a meditating monk. In his reverie, he is approached by an attractive young woman; University of Colorado blonde, fresh faced, unshaven legged.
“Are you Eddie from Pearl Jam, really?”
“Yeah,” he says in his lighter than Mahogany husk (not unlike Matt Dillon’s voice, without quite the same mumble.)
Before she can respond Vedder adds, “We’re in the middle of an interview. Why don’t you go join your friends and I’ll come by if I’ve got the time.”
Talk continues past the start of sound check. A roadie stands before him. “It’s time.”
“Wait just a minute,” the enflanneled Vedder says.
Standing by the stair rail are the girl and her friends. He’s promised to stop by and he does.
Earlier in the day, Eddie rang road manager Eric Johnson’s room. Vedder’s not going to join the group interview. It’s not his style to talk within the standard rock interview situation. He’ll meet later. Just as Pearl Jam itself sets its own agenda professionally, so does he. What makes him the conversant individual also removes him. Similarly, while the whole interview scenario was set, the band had to be tracked down, not on Denver’s elite downtown hotels but a cheesy Holiday Inn off the highway to Boulder.
Johnson himself represents the band’s homespun ethos. A well-read former writing major, he chose the road instead of school, but spends time off browsing bookstores. There’s talk of Bukowski and other writers; everybody among the Pearl Jam gang is into Buk.
Lunch commences at the Harvest, Boulder’s premier natural foods restaurant. Orders go around for all the requisite veggie stuff. The group decides on Mexican cuisine – vegetarian enchiladas and taco salads. Given the rock star mythology of gastronomical indulgences for junk food and fatty red meat, it’s a pleasant change of pace.
But then Seattle is known for rock and idealism still reigning while the edge remains. The ensemble formed by Gossard and Ament, Green River, was the progenitor of the Sub Pop label’s grunge sound so infamously established world round by the surprise success of past labelmate Nirvana. After River released an LP and EP, the quartet dissolved. Then came Mother Love Bone, so widely perceived as Seattle’s logical extension of the grunge core into the metal underground. To some, it was a betrayal of the Seattle scene, but with lead singer Andrew Wood’s heroin O.D., they weren’t left with much other than mourning and rage.
The next project, Temple of the Dog – a semi tribute/purge in collaboration with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron – brought them together with guitarist McCready, who rages supreme with Buck Dharma (Blue Oyster Cult’s legendary lead guitarist) influences, and was tapped for the beginnings of Pearl Jam. Hard-gained experience is transformed into a dynamic for this band to realize its history now.
“After Andrew’s death was definitely an intense time, at least on my end,” Ament states with lurching emphasis. “When you’ve spent over two years of your life just overcoming different things and getting to the point [where] we’re gonna go out and just play shows – that’s all we wanted to do – then suddenly Andrew dies and it ends. I had a lot of anger initially.”
“That was a learning experience,” Stone agrees. “There wasn’t a lot of touring, or opportunity to really enjoy being in a band. Dealing with being on a major label for the first time and new people who had their two-bits worth to say; not able to go out on tour, waiting for nearly two years and thinking you’re on a major – that kind of pressure kind of fucked us up.”
Here’s a band which kicks with fury, but not self destruction; they’ve seen the death pallor and lived through loss and tragedy. Poised for ultimate success, Wood is a consistent symbol of rock demise. Unlike peers such as GN’R’s Axl Rose, Pearl Jam doesn’t glorify or present rock as a decadent exercise, but an acceleration of the contemplative into electric overdrive. Not a group for death worshippers – though certainly caught in their own murk and ambivalences – Vedder’s ambitious lyrics and the Gossard / Ament / McCready moody melodies forge a bond.
It’s no secret that the Seattle scene – caught up in its own rock mythos – has had its share of drug casualties. Various members of its rock establishment toy with their share of hard drugs while this crew now clearly veers away from them.
Nonetheless, the scene has bred a major rock development on its own terms. Says Stone later in the tour bus, “The Seattle scene was ignored for so long we developed our own rock culture and nobody thought about or expected such success.”
They’re all riffing on the same chords that Vedder strums on – with tones of introspection and insight. Gossard’s got the leader’s air; Ament’s the insightful gadfly; McCready is the real chord freak, and Abruzzese adds a humor while being a sincere newcomer.
Adds Stone, “Just being thrown in that atmosphere every night, I think that we developed on the road in a way without being consciously aware of it. It is not based on doing it the way you were when you normally put A and B together; we weren’t thinking about being famous or thinking about being anything. It’s like…you liked the way the guy plays; you feel you can get along with him, and you go along with it. We all kind of went along with it [and] made a decision to make a record after only being a band for three months; to go out on the road right after that, and we made a decision to do a live version of the video just to keep things fresh and moving forward.”
Eddie is, in a sense, their discovery, their creation. They’ve bonded with him in order to form something different, something durable.
Recalls Vedder, “So the next thing I knew, I flew up to Seattle, and I just remember the coolest thing playing ‘Alive.’ That was the first thing we played together. We were in this little basement of this art gallery – so the vibe was really cool – and here were these guys, and I finally had this music I felt I like, there was something about the music, to write the way that I do.”
Eddie is probably most hard nosed about his aversions; he doesn’t subscribe to that self-destructive punk ethic. “To some people, a punk ethic would be just getting sloshed before, during, and after the show, staying up all night and shooting heroin. But to me, it’s more punk to be in control, strong enough and able to do things with your body that you wouldn’t be able to do if you were weak, or weak of spirit as well.”
And no matter how much they should play the moronic rockers stumbling along the ramparts like Axl Rose after a binge, bassist Jeff Ament can’t help but speak in deft revelatory tones about heroes rich in both bile and intellectual revolt as Robert Anton Wilson and Aleister Crowley (in the line with other Crowley fans like Jimmy Page and Daryl Hall). Such intellectual ferment is rife among this band. But so is a love of pure pop rock from Matthew Sweet to the more edgy Neil Young (they cover “Rocking in the Free World”) and various icons of the classic rock generation, such as Aerosmith and David Bowie.
“So much has happened so quickly it doesn’t seem real, so I don’t put much in it. I don’t,” Vedder says adamantly. “We just found out we sold a million records… It doesn’t matter; it doesn’t change how you look at music, or how I’m going to play tonight. Getting a gold record was cool for about two-and-a-half minutes, [but] tonight we’re playing for people I care about.
“My mind is in these songs, it doesn’t change ME towards these songs at all. What changes is how other people look at you. It changes how everyone else thinks. The media and critics are going to come down on the second record and dissect it. The fact that I’ve been open about emotions and real life this whole time, maybe that’s why it has sold a few records. I can’t care about any of that stuff though, so I hope people have a field day – I really don’t give a fuck.”
We’ll see where success takes them, but at the moment, money hasn’t changed them. Of course, as Ed says, “We haven’t seen the money yet.”
So far, so good.
Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 30, 2016.
Photos © 1992 Courtesy of Sony Music.