From the start, Pearl Jam were dogged by skeptics who saw the band as little more than a cuddlier, more MTV-friendly version of the genuinely anarchic and dangerous Nirvana. Among Pearl Jam's most vocal doubters was Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, who described Pearl Jam as a "corporate, alternative and cock-rock fusion," and bridled at comparisons between the two groups. "I would love to be erased from my association with that band," Cobain told Rolling Stone in 1992, as Nirvana and Pearl Jam became mutual poster boys for Seattle's grunge explosion.
Vedder, perhaps in reaction to such scathing criticism, seemed determined to prove his alternative bona fides. As early as 1992, he instituted an array of "alternative" promotions geared toward maintaining a grass-roots connection with Pearl Jam's fans: a series of unadvertised fan-club-only shows, live concert broadcasts distributed free to radio stations, vinyl album releases a week before CDs and cassettes shipped to stores, and moderate ticket prices. In the current documentary Hype!, which details the commercial rise of the Seattle music scene, Vedder assumes the role of grunge spokesman, the impassioned voice of the city's punk-inspired ethos: "If all this influence that this part of the country and this musical scene has . . . if it doesn't do something with it . . . if [we] finally get to the forefront and nothing comes of it, that would be the tragedy."
For Vedder, changing the industry meant setting himself, and his band, in opposition to it. Thwarting the conventional means of mass marketing, he put an unprecedented ban on video and drastically restricted press access. He has always claimed that these commercially risky moves were made to prevent overexposure. But others suggest that Vedder's crusades actually stem from his need to maintain rigid control over all aspects of Pearl Jam's image – just as he had done with Bad Radio. Vedder was incensed, for instance, when a teen-music magazine ran outdated pinup shots of him that he'd posed for a year earlier – one of the many small indignities that would lead to his press ban. He seethed when MTV put "Jeremy" into endless rotation, robbing the song of its emotional power – a contributing factor to his ban on videos. By this year, Vedder seemed leery of promotional efforts of even the most innocuous kind. Prior to Pearl Jam's recent performance on Late Show With David Letterman, Vedder personally dialed the show's host, requesting that the appearance not be heavily promoted by the network.
To a generation reportedly suspicious of advertising and hype, Vedder's prohibitions acted as the ultimate anti-commercial promotional tactic. In 1993, Pearl Jam's second album, Vs., broke single-week records, selling 950,000 copies its first week out and going on to sell 5.4 million, according to SoundScan. In 1994, Pearl Jam released Vitalogy, which sold an impressive 877,000 copies in its debut week before achieving platinum status five times over and establishing "Corduroy" and "Better Man" as rock-radio staples.
Then came Ticketmaster.
Perhaps bolstered by Pearl Jam's success at rewriting the industry's rules for stardom, Vedder might have believed that changing the entrenched ticketing industry was within his power. Today the Ticketmaster fight stands as the band's most public defeat – and an example of Vedder's overreaching himself. The seeds for the Ticketmaster feud were sown as early as 1992, when Pearl Jam played a benefit concert in Seattle and demanded that the ticketing giant donate to charity $1 from the service fee that the agency adds to each ticket. The agency agreed, then slapped an extra $1 charge on tickets. According to one source, Vedder was furious at this personal betrayal and began to talk about Ticketmaster "incessantly."
For Pearl Jam's 1994 tour in support of Vitalogy, the band tried to proceed without Ticketmaster but could not find venues that did not have exclusive agreements with the ticketing agency. The tour was scrapped – and Pearl Jam's battles with Ticketmaster ratcheted into high gear. "They truly felt ticketing in this country was monopolized and [that] live entertainment was being held hostage by [Ticketmaster]," says Peter Schniedermeier, co-founder of ETM Entertainment Network, the ticketing company that Pearl Jam selected to handle their 1995 tour. "They felt they owed it to their fans to fight."
And fight they did. In May 1994, the band precipitated a Justice Department investigation into the alleged Ticketmaster monopoly. While it was Pearl Jam's Ament and Gossard who testified before Congress about the alleged monopoly, those close to the band have never doubted that the fight was Vedder's. Indeed, when the band later shopped for an alternative ticketing agent, Vedder was the lone band member present at the meeting with ETM. "He was definitely out front," says Schniedermeier.
With the tiny and unproven ETM at the helm, Pearl Jam went ahead with a 1995 summer tour, thus opening a Pandora's box of bureaucratic, logistical, security and climatic snafus. The tour began to unravel from Day 1. The opening June 16 date, in Boise, Idaho, had to be scrapped – the state-run facility required government approval to use an alternative ticketing system – and moved to Casper, Wyo. At the second stop, Salt Lake City – where the band was obliged to play an out-of-the-way outdoor venue – a bone-chilling rainstorm descended before the band even took the stage. The concert was canceled, and 12,000 fans were sent home.
Disaster also struck in Vedder's hometown of San Diego, where Pearl Jam was slated to play at the Del Mar Fairgrounds – at the same time as the annual county festival. Overzealous local cops, fearing that rowdy rock fans would overrun fair goers, moved to have the two shows canceled. During a week of back-and-forth squabbling over the venue, Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis announced that the band would, if necessary, tour with Ticketmaster. "It's time for the band to get back to doing what they do best," Curtis reasoned, "making music and playing for their fans." But a few days later, an impassioned Vedder called a San Diego radio station and overrode his manager. "If it turns out that we can't feasibly tour without Ticketmaster," he said, "then we'll just go home and make albums."
The fight was clearly taking a toll on Vedder. On June 24, the singer went to a local hospital, suffering from digestive problems. That afternoon, he faced a crowd of 50,000 at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. He made it through seven songs, then stopped to announce: "I just went through the worst 24 hours of my life." With that, he walked offstage and did not return. Later, Vedder would privately blame his illness on food poisoning from a room-service tuna-fish sandwich – an excuse that did little to explain the cancellation of all the band's remaining tour dates. Most of the shows were made up by year's end, but the damage had already been done.
Reaction in the press to Pearl Jam's scrapped tour was swift and scathing – especially in cities left in the lurch by the cancellations. "For a group that bellows so incessantly in favor of its fans," read a column in the Austin American-Statesman, "Pearl Jam sure left a whole bunch of them out in the cold, including the 25,000 people who went through a lot of trouble to get tickets [to the local show]. Pearl Jam's reputation has been damaged, the band's mystique punctured."
"Obviously, Eddie is attuned to the evils of the business," adds the manager of another multiplatinum rock act. "But how many of your fans really give a fuck? The majority of them don't. They don't care if it's in venue X, Y or Z, or what the ticket company is. They want to hear you play good music." Even Pearl Jam's former allies in the Ticketmaster fight abandoned Vedder's crusade. R.E.M., who had expressed support for Pearl Jam's Ticketmaster fight in 1994, signed on with with the ticketing agency for R.E.M.'s 1995 Monster world tour. "I don't like Ticketmaster, but I also am not going to not tour," R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck told the Chicago Tribune. "I'm not going to cripple my band just because society is not run the way I like it."
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