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Pearl Jam: Five Against the World

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"Fuck you," yells a chorus of fans near the front.

There is little poetry in the Italian crowd. Forty thousand fill this Roman soccer stadium today, but there isn't much they're interested in seeing outside of the group on the ticket – U2.

"Fuck me?" repeats Vedder, out on the lip of the stage. "Tell you what – you fuck me, and Bono will fuck you!"

The band launches into "Even Flow" and attempts to build a consensus, good or bad, anything. The struggle for acceptance ends in a draw. This is one of the few countries in the world not to have fallen under the Pearl Jam spell, and the band feels the chill in its first of two shows opening for U2's Zooropa '93 road extravaganza. It would be easy to write this audience off as lackadaisical, but within seconds of leaving the stage, the Zooropa DJ spins Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," and the entire stadium thunders along in beat, instantly.

Back in the dressing room, the band mills about, somberly picking at food. Abbruzzese already has a game plan for tomorrow: "I'm gonna lower the drum riser so I can see the audience. I'm gonna connect with those people."

Within a few minutes, Vedder emerges upbeat and finds some American fans. "I wish we'd played a club here," he tells them, signing some shirts. He and Beth Liebling head out to the mixing platform to watch U2 with the rest of the band. Before long, a cluster of super- and semi-supermodels position themselves just behind him, clucking and whooping, taking pictures, trying to get his attention. Vedder remains fixed on the spectacle ahead. Finally one of the models manages an introduction to him. She speaks earnestly to him, shaking his hand. Vedder nods politely, turning back to the show. Total time investment – three seconds.

Later the band rides the tour bus back to the hotel. Stuck in traffic, a crowd of Italian fans discovers the bus and strains to look inside. Their expression is unmistakable. "Oh," they seem to say, "it's the other band." But still they stare, as if looking inside a fishbowl. "Wish we'd played a club date here," says Vedder to no one in particular.

The conversation turns to Neil Young and the upcoming show with him in Dublin, Ireland. The band is soon talking about its next chance to jam with Young on "Rockin' in the Free World." But even this venerable topic is soon exhausted. And still the Roman faces stare inside the windows of the stalled bus. It's unsettling. It is as if Zoo TV has gone off the air, and the test pattern is Pearl Jam.

Until about a month before release, the album was going to be titled Five Against One. The name comes up during a meeting in a hotel room in Rome as the band approves the final mixes of the record. There are already rumblings from the record company. Can you raise Eddie's vocals? And there is the issue of video. Can we get a decision on a director? And the press interviews. You gotta do some. The answers to the questions are Not really, No and Later. Decisions swirl around them hourly, but Pearl Jam are intent on doing it their own way. The album title feels appropriate. The phrase comes from a new song, "Animal."

"For me, that title represented a lot of struggles that you go through trying to make a record," says Gossard, who picked out the phrase. "Your own independence – your own soul – versus everybody else's. In this band, and I think in rock in general, the art of compromise is almost as important as the art of individual expression. You might have five great artists in the band, but if they can't compromise and work together, you don't have a great band. It might mean something completely different to Eddie. But when I heard that lyric, it made a lot of sense to me."

It's now Day 2 in Rome. Vedder sits at the top of the stadium bleachers on this blazingly hot afternoon in July. He wears a tourist shirt that says I ♥ GRUNGE. He is rather anonymous in this country, and it agrees with him. "The whole success thing, I feel like everybody else in the band is a lot happier with it than me," he says. "Happy-go-lucky. They kind of roll with it. They enjoy it, even. I can't seem to do that. It's not that I think I'm better than it. I don't know. I'm just not that happy a person." He shrugs. "I'm just not. What I enjoy is seeing music, getting to watch. Watching Neil Young. Or I get to watch Sonic Youth from the side of the stage. That's what's been nice for me.

"Music is an incredibly powerful medium to deliver a story by. But the best thing is, you have to have volume. You're supposed to play it loud. I would do anything to be around music. You don't even have to pay me."

Vedder confesses having some recent difficulties in writing for Pearl Jam. As Gossard had pointed out earlier, the other band members now call him their spokesperson, and with that comes a certain Eddie ethic. Vedder works hard with manager Kelly Curtis to keep ticket prices low and to police the powerful promotion machine of Sony Music. But therein lies the grand contradiction. The artists he most admires are the very ones who have turned their backs on the machinery of big-time rock – like Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye of Fugazi.

And Vedder, the guy who never slept, still doesn't sleep. "Never have," he says. "Never have, and now I really don't. I have that spasm thing. I wake up and go, 'Aaarrrgh.' I'll get up and start pacing. I'll walk through a room, and the TV's on, and my face is on, and I start to freak out. I want to call a friend and say: 'Did I lose my mind? I need perspective.' I talked with Henry Rollins one day. I said, 'Dude, I need some perspective real quick.' And I really felt bad doing it. Because I was calling him up for the same reason kids call me up."

You wonder, of course, if this is all part of Vedder's elaborate defense mechanism. How can you attack the man who attacks himself? How can you doubt the credibility of a man who won an MTV Video Award for "Jeremy" and then told 50 million viewers, "If it wasn't for music, I would have shot myself in front of that classroom." For all his open-wound honesty, there are many mysteries that Vedder still clings to. Even a close band mate like McCready says: "No, I don't know if we've ever had that big, bonding talk yet. Our relationship is still growing. We'll probably have it sometime soon."

Asked about his childhood, Vedder plays it close to his chest. He tells an anecdote about waiting tables back in Chicago. He tells of moving to San Diego and buying beanbag chairs and his first bad stereo. He tells of bootlegging shows, something he still does with a pocket-size microrecorder. All perfect sound bites for populist myth making, but when confronted with questions about his childhood, Vedder becomes vague. Of his earliest memories, he says only: "I'm confused. I'm mixed up about everything. I don't know what's happening now."

He still answers fan mail, though less frequently, and tour manager Eric Johnson sometimes visits the Seattle office late at night to find Vedder calling back troubled fans. But as Vedder had carefully told one fan in San Francisco after a show: "I'm really not in your head, I'm not thinking all your private thoughts." The fan had looked so disappointed. Vedder, in turn, has learned the public effect of writing well about damaged personalities.

"I was surprised and a little upset that so many people did relate," says Vedder. "Everyone's fucked up. Actually, now I understand those religious channels more. Everybody needs something." He pauses for a long time. "There should be no messiahs in music. The music itself, the music, I don't mind worshipping that. I've done that. And with that comes a little bit of admiration for the people who make it – or awe or whatever – but I never asked for nose hair from Pete Townshend."

Back in Rome, on the second day, Pearl Jam offer a combative performance. "I'll meet you back here at a club next time," Vedder says, to sprinkled applause. Later, he begins to goad them, telling them their stadium was built for soccer, not music. And below a neon Zoo TV sign, he playfully taunts further: "Are we animals?" Let it never be said that Vedder doesn't enjoy the fine taste of the hand feeding him. His green T-shirt contains today's gaffer-taped message: Paul is Dead. (Look up Bono's real name.) The set closes with Vedder donning a huge fly mask, dancing as if caught in a web. It is Pearl Jam's own lo-fi answer to Zoo TV. Not many fans here get it, but one who does is Bono, who watches curiously from the pit.

Bono responds later that night, onstage. "So you can't play music in a soccer stadium," he muses. "Well, if you do, it better be good music. . . ." But before the set is over, he hails Pearl Jam as "a great rock & roll band." And Vedder, Liebling and Ament will stay up all night with Bono and the Edge, talking passionately in a diner, debating the issue of the day, the emotional exchange rate on success. And at 6 a.m., there are Vedder and Ament exchanging hugs with Bono on an empty Roman street, arriving at the bus just in time for the trip to Dublin.

"I got all my questions answered," Ament confides. In the course of the dates with U2, he had discussed the hugeness vs. purity issue with all four members of that band. "And they basically told us this: 'We used to be like you. We used to be anti-anti. . . . We used to be angry. But we love technology, like you love what you love. Next tour we might only play 3,000- seat halls. But this is where we are today. Ten years from now, you tell us where you are.' "

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