Pearl Jam drummer Jack Irons, who has opted out of touring with the band
this summer for unspecified health reasons, spoke in depth about his
ongoing battle with depression in a recent magazine article and described
how the condition has affected his role as one of the foremost drummers in
In an article in the current issue of Modern Drummer, the one-time
Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer catalogs his daily struggle with the
psychiatric disorder bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, describing how he had to
leave both the Chili Peppers and the band Eleven due to the disease. Among
other things, he said that his involvement in music helped to trigger his
bouts with the illness.
Irons, 35, who said that he's been taking medication and living with the
disorder for 10 years, described experiencing "intense periods of anxiety"
that forced him to change the way he lived and worked. "I would try to
avoid any situation that might trigger this condition," Irons said, "the
music business seemed to be one of those situations."
Manic depression is a major mental illness thought to be caused by
a disturbance in brain chemistry, according to Dr. Mark Leary, deputy chief
of psychiatry at San Francisco General Hospital. The disease results in
serious disturbances in mood that can either cause the sufferer to fly into
a manic state or a depressive one, Leary said, adding that it is a
life-long illness that commonly surfaces in the late teens or early 20s.
The disease is often linked to creativity, although science has not been
able to explain the connection, he added.
Leary also said that the rigors of a major tour, which typically involve
the interruption of sleep patterns, could be difficult on someone suffering
from manic depression. "It could be very stressful to be up late every
night and have the normal sleep cycle altered," he explained.
Irons, who will be replaced by former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron for
PJ's highly anticipated tour, performed with the group on a recent
Australian tour but dropped out soon after, citing an unspecified illness.
The group's publicist, Annie Ohayon, said Tuesday that she had not been in
contact with Irons and would only say of his absence, "it's his private
life and you have to respect that."
The drummer said in the interview with the magazine that he
gradually figured out strategies to help get him through his episodes and
that he stopped taking his medications last May after exploring such
alternative therapies as acupuncture and holistic medicine. Additionally,
Irons explained that while the band was touring with Neil Young in 1996,
blew out his elbow and developed a condition in his right wrist akin to
tendinitis that created problems with playing live.
"So I started compensating by using my arm differently," Irons said of the
injury, which he partially attributed to his having to alter his usual
approach to playing the drums to fit in with Pearl Jam's sound. "I can't
even tell you exactly what I did, but I guess it's just like limping. You
don't intentionally do it, you just do because that's how your body
compensates. Nothing was too threatening in a permanent sense, but it just
was a nagging problem that happened over time."
The call from Pearl Jam in 1994 for Irons to replace then-drummer Dave
Abbruzzese couldn't have come at a better time, he added. "I was just
starting to put my life back together at that point," Irons said, "and I
wasn't ready for anything big. I certainly couldn't have gone on and lived
with what Pearl Jam had to endure early on. When I joined they wanted to
still be out there, but they wanted to get off that super-fast pace, which
really suited me then -- and now."
Although Irons said in the article that his first tour with Pearl Jam -- an
Australian and Far East tour in support of their previous album, No
Code -- was like a rush of adrenaline at first, his problems
persisted. "We did fine musically and I think I played well," Irons said,
"but the internal problems I'd experienced before, this inner life, still
existed. It didn't go away; it doesn't go away with success. And when we
came back from the tour, I was at my old point again, just mentally
collapsed and exhausted."
Irons credits the members of Pearl Jam with having the patience to give
him time to deal with his disorder and time off to spend with his children
As for his decision to go off his medication last May, Irons said the
switch occurred thanks to his spiritual teacher. "A friend of mine in
Seattle was a devotee of this guru," Irons said, "and he asked me one day
if I'd like to see him. And this teacher made such a difference. My
relationship with him has been life-transforming and his teachings have
made it possible to live life without medication. For me, it's a miracle."
Ironically, at the end of the article, Irons expresses excitement about
Pearl Jam's summer tour. "We're doing over 40 shows," Irons said. "I
definitely have great, new feelings about music and being a part of that