An Online Archive of Articles on Pearl Jam
|October 2005 Spin Interview with Eddie Vedder
Oct 2005 Spin Magazine
Interview: Eddie Vedder by Will Hermes
Reflecting on Seattle's dangerous heyday and Pearl Jam's legacy, the grunge icon comes clean
So what are you doing in Los Angeles?
I'm at Johnny Ramone's house, my wife and I stay in touch with [his
wife] Linda as much as we can [since he died in September 2004]. Johnny
had a little pool house, and he set it up so I could visit and stay
there. I remember reading that Frank Sinatra did that for Sammy Davis,
Jr. So I felt proud to, y'know, be Johnny's Sammy. [Laughs]
When did you meet?
The Ramones agreed to open for us...I don't remember, maybe '94, '95?
We met then, and I had no idea it would happen, but we became best
friends. I loved him like crazy.
I would guess that on certain politcal topics you might not have seen eye to eye. Did you have spirited discussions?
Yeah. I feel like I could've gone on Bill O'Reilly at any time because
I was prepared. I knew the Republican playbook pretty well. He'd push
me to prove my opinion-- that was the thing about John. He'd ask you a
question like "Which Cheap Trick song is better: 'Surrender' or 'Dream
Police'?" And so you think, okay, that's just a question, like "What do
you feel?" But it wasn't about that. It was "Statistically speaking,
considering the bridge and the chorus, which is the better song?" There
was a Johnny Ramone logic to it, and he would tell you if you were
right or wrong. In that way, he was a real teacher, especially about
old music, bands he grew up with. It's strange. For some reason, I
probably wound up talking to him more than any other friend.
What were you doing in 1985?
I think I had just moved from Chicago to San Diego. I was probably
working midnight-shift security at a hotel-- which allows you plenty of
reading and writing time.
Were you in a band at that point?
That was a period when I was recording myself a lot on a four-track,
trying to develop songwriting and production skills. I lived in an
apartment, so I couldn't really play drums. I used drum machines and
banged on chairs.
Was there a San Diego scene that you wanted to be a part of?
There wasn't a lot going on. I think San Diego suffered from being too
close to Los Angeles; people wanted to put a band together and then
raise money to get a limo for some guy from L.A. to come down and see
them play. But there was a little club call the Bacchanal in a strip
mall. They got national act, and if I somehow got a chance to help lift
equipment and roll in gear, I'd get to see the show for free; then I'd
run off to my midnight-shift job after. I saw Chuck Berry, Ramons, A
Flock of Seagulls, Youssou N'Doubt, Tracy Chapman. I'd get to see how
people acted, too-- the musicians who had an attitude and the ones who
were just happy to playing. I think Lenny Kravitz was probably the only
person play clubs who had his own masseuse.
Did you know that when you went up to Seattle, you were about to become part of a "scene"?
It was interesting, because you read about the San Francisco bands--
Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Big Brother-- or the music coming out of
Britain in the mid- to late '60s, like the Who, the Kink,s and
Yardbirds, and it was like "Wow, that was a scene ! Tuesdays at the Marquee. What that would've been like. I wish I'd
have been there." I used to think about it all the time. But it was
just something you read about. And then you live in Seattle, you've
been up there for a year, and you see how people are responding to it.
It felt like the real thing. I was a transplant, so I didn't see the
beginning, but I was like, "This is incredible." It was really exciting. Of course, the next thing you know it just got terrifying. It really felt dangerous.
Like fucking life threatening. It sounds bizarre, I know. I can talk
about it now. When I talked about it then...I look back and it seemed
like, "Fuck that asshole, complaining about having one of the best jobs
in the world." But things got...tricky. It felt like you were gonna
lose your best friend or your best girl or youself; like something had
to give. I don't know, I can't explain. The speed at which it all
happened, it was a lot to nagivate. It did
feel like a dangerous situation. And it may seem ridiculous to think of
it in those terms, but then you look at Kurt and a few other, however
people navigated this extreme version of reality, there was danger
involved. It was serious.
I've always looked at it as the second coming of American punk, the one where bands managed to get paid.
My understanding from talking to people like Johnny and Marky [Ramone]
is that the first punks were all waiting to reap some spoils from it.
But it never really took off. The Ramones never took over the radio
like they should have. But they were huge in Brazil--I went down there
with them once on a tour, and there were, like, thousands of people
mobbing their hotel. That's what the world should've been like. I think
the Seattle stuff, because of the timing and commerce involved, things
like Lollapalooza, it was accepted by the masses. And it wasn't crap.
Nirvana, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails--it wasn't crap. It was good
music being sold to the masses. Something to be proud of.
How did Kurt Cobain's death affect you?
I think a lot about if he was still around. How we might be sitting by
the water in Seattle, by a campfire or something, talking. It could've
been. We were running on parallel trains. But even if I'd been on his
track, I wasn't in his car, so I don't know exactly what was going on
and if that situation could've been saved. Mainly, I just think: What a
Did it make you think differently about what you were doing?
At the time, after the immediate shock and sadness passed, I remember
thinking maybe it was a gutsy move. I think anyone can imagine
that--someone taking a stand, for better or worse. That's how I saw it
at the time. Now I don't see it like that at all. Part of the equation
has to be his health, whatever chemicals he was chained to, just like
with Layne Staley [of Alice in Chains] or Stefanie Sargent [of 7 Year
Bitch]. It's just a crying shame.
How old are you now?
I don't feel as old as I am, that's for sure. Time goes quick. And I
started off feeling older-- working midnight shifts makes you older,
every year ages you two. So by that math, although I was 25 when I
joined the band, I was really 33 then, which would make me 48 now. But
I'm really just 40.
You've cultivated friendships with a number of old-school rockers.
Did you get any tips about longevity from guys like Neil Young or Pete
With Neil, we spent time making that Mirror Ball record,
spent time Bridge School [for children with speech and physical
impairments, cofounded by Young's wife, Pegi], and we'd take walks with
him out at his place . He didn't explain what we should be doing, but
we got to see where he was then and appreciate where we were. We were
about to make our second record and worried about it, and he said "You
guys are lucky; you don't have all the baggage. You can write what you
want." He was envying us! Which made us realize, c'mon, don't fucking panic. This is really good.
And if there's anyone whose shoes you'd wanna wish yourself into, in
terms of longevity, songwriting, experimentation with sound, whatever,
it'd be him. And there's Ian MacKaye and Fugazi. What he does and they
do is different from what we do. But the fact that he respects the way
we've kind, to use his line, "navigated the empty field"--that's from a
new record he put out called The Evens; a two-piece thing,
incredible--is important. For him, it's about the purity of the
experience, the potential music has to reach people and communicate. It
doesn't matter the size of the communion, y'know? Thirty, 40, 150
people. It's so powerful. So for me, and many others, even kids who aren't in bands, he's been a shining energy, a good force.
You were involved in a lot of anti-Bush efforts. Did the 2004
election alter your belief in the role music can play in politics and
We raised money for MoveOn.org and tried to honestly motivate people
and disseminate information and get out the vote, and that was
positive. But looking back, maybe that's not the way. I'd rather charge
a few dollars more for tickets, and without saying a damn thing, take
that money and use it in that town for someone who needs it rather than
trying to convince someone to be active or not. I think that what
happened recently with this Live 8 concert is a futerisit model for how
music can change the world. We were asked, and it would've been great
to be a part of it. But we just don't have it in us to play
festival-seating shows after the Denmark thing [nine audience members
were crushed to death during Pearl Jam's set at the Roskilde festival
in 2000]. Putting pressure on world leaders before a G8 summit meeting,
appealing to their sense of legacy, and their pledge of 50 billion
dollars--I mean, you couldn't raise that much money. I was incredibly
impressed. That's the future, I think.
What are you proudest of Pearl Jam accomplishing?
Probably that we're still playing and communicating and making what we
consider to be more interesting music than we ever have. And that,
through communicating, we can withstand harsh criticism of each other.
That happens a lot, especially when you're recording, which is what we
have been for the past few months.
What do you think your legacy will be?
I don't think we've focused enough for there to be a legacy. We are a
group with five individuals, and we have different things that are
important to us. We've helped women's clinics that were gonna be shut
down and helped get skate parks built. We should've thought more about
it. [Laughs] I would hope good records would be part of it-- records
people will be able to listen to in future years and get something out
of. You talk to certain people, musicians, or younger guys, and they
respect how went about things, and that's nice.
I hear you've been trying to quit smoking. How's that going?
This is my first nonsmoking interview. It's been tough. [Laughs] I
started smoking after the Kurt thing--I kinda thought I'd do the same
thing, just slowly, y'know? Now I don't feel like doing that at all.
Johnny Ramone was young; he was about to turn 56. At one point, you see
a number like that and you think, "I don't have to worry; I've got
plenty of time." Then you get to a certain age and you think, "Well,
maybe I don't have as much time as I thought."
[Typed up by PearlJamIsLife1 from Haven]