For several years now, Pearl Jam have been sort of like that shy kid with the
shocking blue hair in your high school. He desperately wants to be left
alone...but that hair. The further they ran from the publicity spotlight, not
playing shows, taking on Ticketmaster, swearing off videos, the greater the
urgency felt by fans to embrace them and seek them out.
An article in
today's (Dec. 22) L. A. Times finally begins to peel back some of the
many shrouds of mystery surrounding the band, revealing a
stunned-but-finally-recovering group of young men who were not only shocked by
their sudden, meteoric rise to fame and visibility, but simultaneously saddled
with the death of a comrade, the realization they didn't really know (or maybe
even like) each other and the frightening prospect of having their personal
lives taken away by a rabid public.
The Times reporter, Robert
Hilburn, caught up with the band in Barcelona on their recent European tour and
in the wide-ranging article, answers some of the most puzzling questions
surrounding a band whose 1991 debut sold 10 million copies, but whose current
album, No Code, is quickly falling off the charts, with barely 1 million
copies sold (many pundits have ascribed the poor sales to the group's seeming
reluctance to tour).
"I guess what has happened to us with this record
shows that promotion really does matter, just like everybody told us," Vedder
admitted during the interview. "If you don't operate in that framework, which
we don't, it's obvious that you won't sell as many records. And that's fine. We
expected this to happen much sooner than it has."
But Vedder conceded that if that's the way it has to be,
so be it. "To us, it's about choices and lifestyles," he said. "Do you want to
spend your time on the road and doing promotion, or do you spend your time
making [new] music and living your life? At the end of the day, what is most
important? To us, I'd like to think it's our music and the quality of our
lives." Guitarist Stone Gossard said the band nearly didn't record No
Code. "All the success happened so fast that it took awhile for us to get
our balance, to get past all the bickering and the infighting--and we are still
learning," said Gossard of the internal tension that almost broke the band up
during sessions for their previous album, Vitalogy.
Gossard said a
key turning point for Pearl Jam came at the show they played with Neil Young at
the Polo Field in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park last year. "I think we've
learned something about long-term relationships and pulling together, and I
feel good about it. . . .," said Gossard. "There was a time around
Vitalogy when I didn't know if Pearl Jam had a future. It feels like a
band now. We realize what a great opportunity we have to make music together,
and we don't want to throw that away."
Guitarist Mike McCready revealed
that soon after the group's first success, he dropped into a drug and alcohol
haze to deflect the scrutiny, almost getting kicked out of the band; Gossard
said he thought of quitting in 1994 when lines of communication between band
members began to seriously break down due to the pressure. One change that
apparently helped was the addition of drummer Jack Irons (to replace Dave
Abbruzzese), an old friend who brought better lines of communication between
the drifting members.
But the band members say they really turned the
corner at that Neil Young show in Golden Gate Park in the summer of 1995.
Vedder had to leave the stage due to food poisoning and the band knew it was
the pressure that got to him. So they made the unexpected decision to call off
the tour and send everybody home.
"That was the day we acted as a band,"
Gossard told the Times. "In the past, we had kind of allowed Eddie to
steer the ship in some ways, and it's still that way. You want him to feel good
about the situation, because when he's feeling good about it, it makes the
whole thing work. But that day you could see he was totally sick but still
trying to push himself. When we saw what was happening, the band finally said,
'This is insane. We've got to stop.' We couldn't let him feel like he's got to
tour because we're expecting it from him. We all got together after that and
talked things over. . . . Why are we in a band? Do we really like each other?
Do we really want to play music together?
And about that Rolling
Stone article? At one point during Hilburn's interview Vedder acknowledges
it by saying, "I know who I am, and I don't need to read someone else's bitter
take on it."