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Eddie Vedder: Who Are You?

Page 3 of 6

If Vedder was the focal point of the band onstage, he was also the focal point offstage. Though hired simply as the group's singer, he quickly seized the reins of the operation, becoming not only Bad Radio's chief songwriter but their manager, booker and chief promoter. He xeroxed elaborate handmade publicity fliers and designed the artwork for the band's demo cassette, which he shilled to local radio stations. "It was his deal," says Marco Collins, one of the San Diego DJs who used to field Vedder's calls. "He was the one trying to plug the shows. He was the one hustling."

Vedder was, by all accounts, a tireless hustler. "Eddie was constantly promoting that band, trying to make it into something," says San Diego club promoter Tim Hall. Steve Saint, a veteran of the city's rock scene, recalls Vedder's drive: "90 percent of guys in garage bands are sitting around, waiting to be discovered, waiting for some record agent to knock on their door. Eddie didn't take that attitude. He was constantly trying to put his band in some place where it could be seen." Another San Diego music-scene source says, simply, "He was the best networker in the biz."

Vedder's main base of operations was the Bacchanal, a local club where rising alternative acts played (and which would later be memorialized on No Code's "Mankind"). Vedder was a constant presence in his signature green shorts and combat boots. "He would load equipment for free just so he could meet the Chili Peppers or meet so-and-so," says Saint. The Bacchanal's then-manager, Billy Buhrkuhl, recalls: "He'd roadie, stagehand, stick stamps on the mailing list. He knew he wanted to be in music and was focused on where he wanted to go. . . . He was asking me questions about contracts, about what's the best way to get signed, how do you find a booking agent." "[Vedder's] seen everything," confirms another San Diego scenester.

Photos: Pearl Jam Through the Years

Hanging backstage, Vedder "saw every single rock star in San Diego when they were on their way up," says another source. Vedder's ability to ingratiate himself with big-name bands was legendary. The Clash's Joe Strummer was one of many rock stars whom Vedder won over. He spent a night drinking beer and smoking cigarettes with the guitarist. On another occasion, Vedder and Silva traveled to Los Angeles to see ex-Police drummer Stewart Copeland's band play a club show. Afterward the two tracked Copeland down as he left through the kitchen and managed to corner the drummer for a long conversation. Red Hot Chili Peppers Anthony Kiedis, Flea and then-drummer Jack Irons were particularly susceptible to Vedder's charm. After meeting him at a gig, the band invited Vedder along on a backpacking expedition to Yosemite.

Some visiting rock stars, however, were immune to Vedder's ovations. Fellow surfer John Von Passenheim remembers the night when Bad Radio opened for alternative darlings the Lemonheads. "He got introduced to Evan Dando and said, 'Look at the flier I made for the show.' Evan looked at it, said, 'Oh,' dropped it on the floor and walked away." But such snubs were rare. "[Vedder's] got a personality where you don't feel threatened by him at all," says Nick Wagner, another longtime San Diego friend. "He'd just pick up an amp and strike up a conversation."

Even Vedder's romantic life dovetailed nicely with his musical ambitions. His girlfriend, (and now wife) Beth Liebling, a product of Chicago's exclusive North Shore, was well-connected to the industry. While attending classes at San Diego State University, she booked shows on campus and commuted on weekends to Los Angeles, where she had an internship at Virgin Records. Eventually, Vedder and Liebling would help promote Red Tape, a weekly gothic-rock gathering at Winter's, a local SDSU hangout. "They certainly saw the music business from all sides," recalls Jay Thomas, a former boss of Liebling's. "They booked the bands, they paid the bands and they had to get out there and market their facilities. . . . They knew exactly what was going on." "Between her and Eddie," says one San Diego club veteran, "they knew everybody."

One of Vedder's closest confidants was rehearsal-studio head Saifudinov, formerly the leader of his own rock band in Russia in the 1960s. "We would talk for long hours after rehearsal," says Saifudinov, whom Vedder lists on his liner notes for a Bad Radio demo as "mentor." "I'd tell him about Europe, books, music, culture. Bring him some sort of sense of humor. He was really interested. He knew that I started the first rock band in Russia. We had a mutual sympathy for each other. I was 18 or 19 years older than him, but it didn't feel like it." According to Saifudinov, the roots of Vedder's current anti-rock-star stance may originate in certain long, post-rehearsal rap sessions. "I would say to him, 'First you're a musician. You're a songwriter. That's what counts. Any idiot can put a salami in his pants and pose. Or become an asshole because you have money.' "

Meanwhile, Vedder worked hard to establish Bad Radio as the band with a social conscience. He booked the group at an array of benefit concerts, including a local Amnesty International benefit and a rain-forest fund-raiser. And Vedder had a song for every occasion. "His songs always took a slice of life – either it was a homeless guy or some kind of racist situation," says Saint. "So when an opportunity came up, [Vedder] would always jump at the chance to do something – and [he'd] usually have a song that would match the cause." A live-performance videotape of Bad Radio from those days shows Vedder announcing from the stage, "Here's one I like. This one's about the homeless."

Vedder didn't confine his activism to the Bacchanal stage. During a San Diego City Council meeting on low-income housing, he set up in the courtyard with his acoustic guitar and sang Tracy Chapman's then-current social anthem, "Talkin' Bout a Revolution." On another occasion, he and Liebling talked to a homeless man who expressed a wish to return to his native Midwest. The pair bought the man a meal, brought him back to Liebling's apartment, gave him the use of the shower, clothed him, bought him a bus ticket, then put him on a Greyhound home. Liebling documented the entire transformation with a Polaroid camera. Vedder later brought the photographs to the rehearsal studio and proudly showed them off to Saifudinov. Bad Radio bassist Silva even recalls that Vedder kept one of the photos in front of him while recording one of their demos – for inspiration.

According to some, Vedder's activist zeal drove a wedge between him and the rest of Bad Radio. "Eddie got so pissed off," says Pierce Flynn, a surfer friend of Vedder's. "He wanted to have them play a bunch of benefits and social-activist stuff, and the band wanted to go other ways." But Silva says it wasn't so much that they were opposed to Vedder's activism but that he kept them in the dark about it: "He wouldn't let us get close enough to him to say we want to be a part of it. He'd just say, 'We're doing this show and this benefit.' He'd go out at Thanksgiving and buy all this food, and feed homeless people. He'd tell us afterward, and we'd be like, 'Oh, my God, we would have helped.' He didn't really let us know what he was thinking." And there were other problems between the band and its singer. "We were on a different level," Silva admits. "He had already surpassed us in terms of dedicating his whole life to music."

In late 1989, three years after answering Bad Radio's ad in the San Diego Reader, Vedder invited Saifudinov to Bad Radio's headlining gig at the Bacchanal. "Afterward we were having a party," Saifudinov recalls. "That's when Eddie sat with me and said, 'I'm leaving the band.' I said, 'Why? What's going on?' He said, 'I just have to move on. I'm trying to go and do things.'"

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