One of Rock’s reluctant stars, Eddie Vedder, turns 46 today. Born Edward Louis Severson III on December 23, 1964, Eddie is among those who kind of lose out by having their birthday synonymous with the Christmas season. I have a March birthday myself and I kind of like it. Forget about images of my parents getting busy in the back seat of a ’57 Chevy in June of 1959, having a Spring birthday as The NCAA Tournament and the baseball season are heating up each year suits me just fine. It’s only encroached on by St Patrick’s Day, a drinking holiday for most people, and I’m 7/8 Irish. I can live with the spot on the calendar my birthday occupies. The Ides of March. I’m your “Vehicle” baby, I’ll take you anywhere you want to go. I’ll take one hit wonder bands for 500 Jack. Having a birthday so close to Christmas Day has to be a downer of sorts, no offense to the baby Jesus intended. I’m sure it doesn’t mean so much to Eddie anymore, but when he was seven or eight it probably bothered him. Vedder was born in Evanston, IL (my high school prom queen lives there today ironically), a suburb of Chicago, to Karen Lee Vedder and Edward Louis Severson Jr. The marriage didn’t last long and they were divorced by the time Eddie was one year old. Karen re-married an attorney named Peter Mueller and for all intents and purposes became Mr Eddie’s Father (an esoteric reference to the little known and long forgotten 1969-1972 ABC Sitcom starring The Incredible Hulk, er, Bill Bixby). In fact, Mueller adopted Eddie, along with seven other children according to our friends at Wikipedia, and he went by Eddie Mueller for the first 17 or 18 years of his life. Unfortunately the Vedder-Mueller marriage too went south and Eddie decided, upon finding out the truth about who his father really was, to change his name to his mother’s maiden name of Vedder. It’s much cooler sounding no?
I always find it fascinating to read about stars who decide to drop out of high school and risk it all for their dreams. I never had that winner take all mentality and I think my “career” such as it is, suffered for it. I can’t sing or dance or play an instrument, but maybe if I had given, say, the saxophone a serious run I could have made a living. Still, much like making the Major Leagues as a baseball player, the odds of playing in a band that makes it big are very long and it’s a lot harder than it looks. For every U2 or Pearl Jam there are thousands of pretty good bands that just couldn’t hold it together long enough to score a record deal or feel like they were actually going places. And today, it’s even harder than ever. Getting a long term record deal that is equitable to the artist and the label is like a lot getting a good mortgage without the help of a housing collapse. If no one forces the label to be a partner, they won’t. The way it’s going these days there won’t be any labels left to make a deal with. Between illegal downloading, bands going direct and the way the labels operated for decades, the industry has been melting down slowly for the past twelve years or so. Thanks Shawn Fanning. I don’t really feel much difference myself just yet; I haven’t even listened to everything I purchased in the past year yet, but it’s quite clear the landscape has changed significantly. You can’t really be a one hit wonder band and sell 750,000 copies of something anymore. Gold and Platinum sales plateaus actually mean something once again. I would still prefer, all things considered, a hard copy of any record I purchase, but being able to download hard to find records instantly off the web is very gratifying as well. I don’t know what my total spend lifetime is at Amazon. com, but it’s up there. I’ve had to scale it back a tad the past year or so, but I hope to be back at my pre-collapse spending levels eventually. I know, I’m being overly optimistic in this new world order economy, but what can you do? Give up? That wouldn’t be very American of us would it?
Eddie’s mother gave him a guitar at 12 years of age, which would have been 1976 if my math is correct, and it’s been said that he identified strongly with The Who’s 1973 masterpiece Quadrophenia (NOW he and I really have something in common if we didn’t before) as he was learning to play. He tried living in Chicago again in the early 80′s after the Mueller divorce, but by 1984 Eddie was back in San Diego playing in various bands and making demo tapes. His real father had died of Multiple Sclerosis before he had a chance to re-unite with him. He was under the impression that he was just a family friend as a youth. How many times have you heard this story huh? It was much more prevalent in the 50′s and 60′s because of the stigma of divorce and solo parenting, but it’s still not in complete favor. Some people just never get over being lied to so early in life, whether it was done with the best of intentions or not. It’s a matter of trust (not to quote Billy Joel or anything). I was a mistake and nearly put up for adoption I was told about ten years ago, but I never held that against my mother. Papa Don’t Preach right? Eddie Vedder seems relatively well adjusted; I mean, he didn’t take his own life with a shotgun or anything, but some of his lyrics could be construed as dark I suppose. Having listened to a lot of Goth as a younger man it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s just for show. I’m quite sure Robert Smith or whomever had his share of issues, but after a few million records sold, don’t most of those melt away? Money Changes Everything right? I suppose I wouldn’t know.
Vedder has worked as a security guard, waiter, drug store clerk and gas station attendant. Sounds like most of us doesn’t it? I surmise that is part of the reason Eddie seems to resonate so strongly with certain folks. To continue with the actual Vedder story, in the late 80′s he started running with drummer Jack Irons, who played with The Red Hot Chili Peppers at one time. Irons gave Vedder a demo tape from a couple of guys he knew in Seattle who turned out to be Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, future Pearl Jammers. Vedder had recorded vocals over some of their music and sent the tapes back to Seattle. Allegedly those demos became the Pearl Jam classics ”Alive, Once and Footsteps.” Gossard and Ament were members of a band called Mother Love Bone, but they had just lost their lead singer, Andrew Wood, who lost a battle with The Big H. In truth, Vedder walked into a circle of Seattle musicians trying to pay tribute to their fallen friend. In addition to Gossard and Ament, involved in a project called Temple of The Dog, were Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell & Matt Cameron along with a relative new comer in Gossard’s boyhood chum Mike McCready. After a successful CD was released in April of 1991 Temple of The Dog, which was a temporary thing from the beginning, returned to their respective camps. Soundgarden was just hitting the big time so there wasn’t ever a question of Temple of The Dog being anything other than what it was; a one off project. Pearl Jam, originally going by the awful name Mookie Blaylock (ostensibly named after the former college standout player from Oklahoma who played 13 seasons in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets, Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors), was formed in 1990. The Temple of The Dog CD was released only a few months before Pearl Jam’s famous August 1991 (nearly 20 years ago! Man…) debut CD Ten, but even though I knew the two bands were related at the time I didn’t pay it much attention. In those days I bought anything that moved for my mammoth mixed tape collection so songs two and three on a given CD sometimes didn’t register much with me at the time.
Pearl Jam had a great name and two killer singles in “Jeremy” and “Alive.” They were instantly wildly popular amongst my crowd. At the time I was more of a Nirvana man, but my friends would come back from seeing Pearl Jam play live and rave for weeks about what they witnessed. I didn’t even get to see Pearl Jam until 2005 or so. I regret it now, but that stuff happens. I knew they were good, mind you, but I didn’t really start absolutely digging them until Vs hit the stores in October of 1993. “Daughter” was the lead track on that CD, but I loved the B cuts on this baby. “Glorified G, Rats, Dissident, Rearviewmirror and, of course, Elderly Woman Behind The Counter in a Small Town” were fantastic tracks. Their next record, Vitalogy, with the cool yet aggravating packaging (because it didn’t conform to the standard size of a CD jewel case) had even more great songs on it. “Whipping, Corduroy, Satan’s Bed, Immortality and Not For You” were my personal favorites, but the masses, most notably the female persuasion, took a shine to “Better Man.” By now there was an avalanche of Pearl Jam devotees. Kurt Cobain took his own life on or about April 8, 1994 so if there was any competition between these two titans of the Seattle scene before that date, that conversation was over. Vitalolgy was released in December 1994 and even though the first song on the radio out of the chute was the shaky track “Spin The Black Circle” it still sold millions. Pearl Jam could do no wrong. From 1991-1995 or so this band ruled with an iron fist even though they went through several drummers. Then things got a little dicey all at once; the band began to battle ticket giant Ticketmaster over fees, actual ticket prices what could be construed as anti-competitive practices. They subsequently refused to play venues that Ticketmaster controlled, which as probably 95% of the market in those days. I think it probably did more harm to their careers than good.
After Vitalogy the records were decent, but no longer wildly interesting as far as I was concerned. I’m of the (assuredly minority) opinion that the loyal fans (more like fanatics) who absolutely worship this band are more in love with Grunge, flannel, the first three CDs and the ideals that Pearl Jam seemed to stand for (Vedder would frequently espouse his political beliefs on stage) than any real tribute to their catalogue. Listen, I lived it. I could not have been more attentive to new and Alternative music in the early 90′s. I am only four years plus older than Eddie Vedder, but as great as Pearl Jam was for maybe 25 songs, there is some definite fluff in their catalogue. If it wasn’t for Eddie Vedder’s considerable talent, intensity and performing ability I’m not sure how long Pearl Jam would have remained as a top flight act. I own all of their records, but when Eddie Vedder did the soundtrack for Into The Wild in 2007 and I heard “Hard Sun” for the first time I loved it. I think Pearl Jam had some great songs on 1996′s No Code, 1998′s Yield and up until 2009′s Backspacer, but I think Eddie’s voice and delivery were and are a huge part of the Pearl Jam sound. I love the solo’s in “Jeremy” and “Alive” as much as the next guy, but I flat out got tired of Pearl Jam after 1996. I spent less and less time with their latest release as a result. I still buy them, but I don’t reach for them as much as I once did. I don’t want to come across as a music snob, but sometimes, when a massive amount of people begin to potentially overvalue a particular band I seem to head in the other direction. Not all the time, but definitely some of the time. Now, does that mean I no longer like Pearl Jam? No, not even close. It’s just that I don’t see them as the end all and be all. I think a lot of it has to do with my local Alternative Station, WFNX in (Lynn) Boston playing the snot out of them for the past twenty years while mysteriously dropping many a great artist from their playlist altogether. Last year’s “The Fixer” from Backspacer is under three minutes. They played it many times over the first six months, but that will fade into next to nothing in couple of years I guarantee it. But try to get through a day without “Jeremy” or “Alive” twenty years later. It just doesn’t happen. In fairness they play Nirvana and Jane’s Addiction’s three songs almost every day too. I have been listening to college radio lately just to mix it up, but this morning I turned on ‘FNX for two seconds and bang, “Been Caught Stealing,” it’s like I didn’t boycott them for two months. It makes me sad sometimes. That used to be one helluva station. Nobody can listen the same song every single day for twenty years. I don’t care if it’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division.
I honestly didn’t come here to bash Pearl Jam. I’m a big fan. I just think we need to keep them in perspective. Buy their records? Absolutely. Enjoy the heck out of their concerts? Without a doubt. Deify them? No. History, when they are done making records, will record them as a fantastic band, a major force in Rock and one of three or four bands that were the face of the Grunge movement of the early 1990′s. I would think that would be good enough for most bands. The way Eddie Vedder carries himself I think this is more than enough for him. I don’t think he enjoyed being as famous as he was in the 90′s. The stress and the pressure would have broken lesser men. We, at The Giant Panther, are thrilled to be able to wish a living Eddie Vedder a happy 46th. Keep doing your thing young man.