"I'd think, 'Those fuckers.' Maybe I would have been doing that too, if the circumstances were different... Maybe that would have made me more forgiving, but I wasn't very forgiving at all. Everything was just such a fucking struggle for years."
The Early Years
Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder was born Edward Louis Seversen III on December 23, 1965 in Evanston, Illinois. Eddie's parents divorced in 1967 and his mother would remarry, not telling her son of the divorce until much later in his life. He would use his stepfather's surname and go by Eddie Mueller until he found out the truth and adopted his mother's last name, Vedder. The experience would be the source of the Pearl Jam anthem "Alive".
Music and Survival
In the mid-70s, Vedder and his family moved to San Diego, California, where he was exposed to a whole new world of music. One day, a babysitter brought The Who's classic Who's Next album - Vedder would become hooked. Life at home would continue to get worse, as it does for many of the greatest musicians. Isolating himself in rock, Vedder managed to get a guitar by age 12. By the time he was 15, his mother and stepfather had separated. A bitter, caustic Vedder left to live on his own, paying his own rent and utility bills. Remembering high school, Vedder recalls his job in Long's Drugs in Encinitas, California:
"Well, maybe it was just that I wasn't going to like anybody because I had to work and I had to explain to my teachers why I wasn't keeping up. I'd fall asleep and things in class and they'd lecture me about the reality of their classroom. I said one day, 'You want to see my reality?' I opened up my backpack to where you usually keep your pencils. That's where I kept my bills... electric bills, rent... That was my reality."
Struggling to stay afloat, Eddie fell into a downward spiral. Constantly balancing his life to avoid being swallowed up by life, Vedder's life would begin to stagnate. Vedder's family moved back to Chicago but Eddie, trying to escape the darkness plaguing him, chose to return to San Diego with his girlfriend, Beth Liebling, a struggling writer and musician. This was 1984; it was also when he learned the identity of his real father. Vedder picked up a high school equivalancy diploma so that he could get a better job.
After a few unremarkable jobs, Vedder would become involved in the music scene. He would have a short gig with Bad Radio, but would quit because his bandmates weren't serious enough. The chronically shy young man had trouble playing in front of a crowd (he even wore painted-over goggles to avoid seeing his audience in his first show), but he still had a keen sense of what he wanted, musically.
Jack Irons, a former member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, introduced Vedder to Seattle guitarist Stone Gossard, a member of Mother Love Bone, a group regarded as having a lot of potential before the lead singer Andrew Wood overdosed on heroin. Jeff Ament, Pearl Jam's future bassist was also a member of Mother Love Bone. With lead guitarist Mike McCready, the band had all the pieces it needed - except the intense vocals they were seeking. At a time when Nirvana was about to hit big with their first major label debut, the Seattle music scene was red-hot.
Vedder listened to the demo tape Irons passed along and went surfing with the song "Dollar Short" in his head. By the time he returned, the lyrics had transformed into "Alive", considered by many to be a song that defined Generation X. Vedder recorded his voice over the music and sent the tape back to Seattle. By the time he himself made it to Washington State, Vedder had already completed a second masterpiece, the haunting "Black". The band headed to rehearse from the airport. The first song they played was alive, the first single off the album that was to come out of this meeting - Ten, which stands as one of cornerstones of the Seattle music movement of the 1990s.
"Everybody writes about it like it's a life-affirmation, thing - I'm really glad about that. It's a great interpretation. But 'Alive' is ... it's torture. Which is why it's fucked up for me. Why I should probably learn how to sing another way. It would be easier. It's...
it's too much."
Temple of the Dog
In 1991, Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell asked Vedder to contribute to a tribute to the late Andrew Wood. Vedder agreed and the two would come together with Soundgarden guitarist Matt Cameron and the surviving members of Mother Love Bone to release the self-titled Temple of the Dog. The album would skyrocket both bands and working with Cornell would help Vedder tap into an inner intensity he had never experienced before.
After a European tour, the band returned and recorded an "Unplugged". Vedder refused to turn the highly personal "Black" into a music video. The song, about one of Vedder's friends who commited suicide, still holds a tangle of emotions for him - to this day, Pearl Jam rarely plays it in concert.
"Some songs just aren't meant to be played between Hit No. 2 and Hit No. 3. You start doing those things, you'll crush it. That's not why we wrote songs. We didn't write to make hits. But those fragile songs get crushed by the business. I don't want to be a part of it. I don't think the band wants to be part of it."
At the same time, Vedder was having a hard time handling his own success. Like many of his peers who suddenly found fame and money, Vedder was caught off-guard and unprepared, unready to handle such a life. Later, when asked about the Stone Temple Pilots' "Plush", Vedder would comment:
"It's like, am I supposed to feel sympathy? Get your own trip, man. I don't think I was copping anybody's trip. I wasn't copping Andy Wood's trip. I wasn't copping Kurt Cobain's trip, even though Kurt Cobain's one of the best trips I could ever cop. But Beth and I were part of the San Diego scene. We knew everything that was going on, and it was small enough to know. Those guys came from there? I never heard of 'em."
In 1993, Pearl Jam released Vs., the follow-up to Ten. The album, although highly regarded, didn't achieve the success of their debut. 1994's Vitalogy would finally rid Pearl Jam of their "grunge rock" mantle, exhibiting a depth and musical fury that was hard to find in other bands. While other (so-called) grunge bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden matched Pearl Jam in angst and inner turmoil, Vedder's lyrics were always much grander, tragic, and ultimately more about a desire for epiphany than anything else. 1996's No Code was the band's fourth album and was just as eagerly anticipated and received. Yield from 1998 would turn out to be a lighter follow-up to the original albums. Vedder had shed some of his inner trauma but it wasn't for the worse - he had gained sharper lyrics and a better, more comfortable sense of music. The same year, the band would release a collection of live recordings, Live on Two Legs, featuring some of their best songs. 2000's Binaural would fail to match the success of Pearl Jam's best (such as Ten), but still featured heart-wrenching lyrics and Vedder's talented song-writing.
It is perhaps only fitting that Eddie Vedder's biological father was a musician himself, an organist-vocalist who sang in restaurants.
Crowe, Cameron. "Five Against the World". Rolling Stone, 10/28/93
Crowe, Cameron. "Five Against the World". Rolling Stone, 10/28/93