News Flash: R.E.M., Pearl Jam Share A Christmas Single

R.E.M. and Pearl Jam fans are in for a

serious sonic surprise when they rip open the double B-side single soon to

arrive in their fan-club Christmas package.

Not only will they get the final recorded contribution of recently departed R.E.M.

drummer Bill Berry on the song

"Live for

Today" (RealAudio excerpt), they'll get an experimental, spooky Pearl

Jam track, "Happy When I'm Crying" (RealAudio

excerpt), whose lyrics and music were written by the band's most junior

member, drummer Jack Irons.

The 7-inch, in the R.E.M. fan club version, comes in a gold-flecked sleeve

designed by Sedona, Ariz.-based Independent Project Press. Pearl Jam, who

have a larger club base than R.E.M.'s 4,600 fans, produced their own version,

which was not available yet. The R.E.M. fan club version's packaging reads

"1997 R.E.M. Holiday Fan Club Single," although there is no reference to Pearl

Jam's presence, apart from the label on the vinyl itself. Both tracks are labeled

as B-sides.

The odd, super-power project came about, according to a source in the R.E.M.

camp who preferred to remain anonymous, when the Athens, Ga. band were in

Seattle's Bad Animals studio in the spring of 1996 and Pearl Jam singer Eddie

Vedder stopped by at about 1 a.m. "Eddie started telling them about Pearl Jam's

fan club single," said the source, "And they agreed to surprise their fans by

doing a joint single that year."

Unfortunately, the two camps couldn't pull the project together quickly enough

to make the Christmas 1996 deadline, so the idea was held over until this year,

when the surprise was somewhat spoiled by reports about the collaboration that

leaked out as early as last month.

R.E.M.'s track was recorded in April and August of this year in Hawaii and

Athens, Ga., while the band was in writing sessions for their next album, due in

early 1999. "Live For Today" is a mostly instrumental song with two struggling

guitars, one distorted, the other one twanging in a battle to create the messiest

noise. Stipe mumbles some unintelligible words ("walk away, gone away,

walked away, live for today, I had to laugh not to cry") over the lo-fi buzz of the

guitars. Some vibraphone and maracas, provided by Athens, Ga. musician Kai

Riedl, lay in the background, alongside Berry's quasi-electronic-sounding

drums. All four members, including Berry, who called it quits last month after 17

years with the band, are given a writing credit.

Meanwhile, Pearl Jam's track, "Happy When I'm Crying," opens with some

Italian spoken by a woman named Francesca, one of Vedder and his wife

Beth's "connections" that last year led the Pearl Jam singer to perform in Rome

in a small club with local, unknown musicians. "Eí per noi un piacere

augurarvi insieme ai R.E.M. un buon cetriolo," she says in Italian, which

roughly translates into: "It is a pleasure for us to wish you, together with R.E.M.,

a merry cucumber." Yes, that's "cucumber."

The melody, based on a fuzz guitar, sounds like a '60s-garage song mixed with

some new-wave attitude, topped off by Vedder's unusually relaxed, multi-

tracked, almost playful vocals. "There's peace from out of fighting, and truth

comes out of light. I'm happy when I'm crying," he cryptically announces.

Vedder also plays bells in the song, which closes with a "Santa Claus" voice.

The R.E.M. version of the package also features two bookmarks, a sticker, an

elaborate screened "Live For Today Yeah" 1998 calendar and eight postcards

featuring lyrics from songs on the band's most recent album New Adventures

in Hi-Fi accompanied by photos taken by Chris Bilheimer, Stipe and his

friend, supermodel Helena Christiansen. -- Gil Kaufman and Gianni

Sibilla

Color="#720418">[Thur., Dec. 4, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]