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Pearl Jam: Five Against the World

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Today in Dublin, the day before Peal Jam play for an estimated 50,000 at nearby Slane Castle, Abbruzzese stands and watches as 30 or so young Dubliners sing resolutely to street-busking versions of "Black" and "State of Love and Trust." Abbruzzese is grinning, handing out flowers on Grafton Street, playing with street kids. Gone is the bleachy sunshine of Italy. In its place is rain . . . pale faces . . . romantic beery arguments in the street . . . it feels like home.

Elsewhere, there are rumors that McCready has fallen off the wagon, running naked through the streets of Dublin late the night before. McCready, shopping for bootleg tapes today, does not confirm or deny this behind his reflector shades. "I love this place," he says.

Backstage the next day at the show, there are few of the trappings of big-time rock. No open bar, no stereo rack pumping psych-up music, no bodyguards, no supermodels. Just Vedder talking about why he couldn't care less.

"I'm embarrassed for some of the 'veterans' of music," he says. "They had their original [macho] image, and they're still hanging on to it. The sex thing, they're still working it. This-dude-looks-like-your-grandpa kind of thing – it's so silly, it kinda makes you sick. These guys are still using that ancient version of what's sexy, the bikinis and tongues. It's over. I relate to the people that are coming up now, and that's not there, that's long gone."

Vedder's relationship with Liebling, a writer, is the strongest one in his life. They've been together nine years. Perhaps soon, he says, they'll be married. And when it's time to start a family, he predicts he'll be a devoted parent. He cites Michael Jordan's father, then still alive, as a perfect example. "The ultimate parent is, if they've made a decision to have kids, that means they're going to give someone else a chance, and they're going to do whatever they can to boost that kid up so he can really shine," he says. "I feel like, in the last 20 years, that's been drained out of parenthood. I'm into real life. I'm into getting the most out of real life."

Sitting now in the shadow of the 200-year-old Slane Castle, the hazy sun shining on his face, Vedder is asked about his own youth. What about his father?

"I never knew my real dad," he says. "I had another father that I didn't get along with, a guy I thought was my father. There were fights and bad, bad scenes. I was kind of on my own at a pretty young age. I never finished high school."

He was Eddie Mueller then. After moving briefly to San Diego, both his parents had returned to Chicago. Vedder, who subsequently took his mother's maiden name, had stayed behind to pursue his career in music. There was a rough goodbye to his stepfather. They haven't spoken since. Later, Vedder was living in San Diego when his mother visited from Chicago with some important news for him.

"She came out with the specific purpose," he says, "to tell me that this guy wasn't my father. I remember at the time I was like 'I know he's not my father, he's a fucking asshole.' And she said, 'Oh, Eddie, he's really not your father.'

"At first I was pretty happy about it, then she told me who my real dad was. I had met the guy three or four times, he was a friend of the family, kind of a distant friend. He died of multiple sclerosis. So when I met him, he was in the hospital. He had crutches, or maybe he was in a wheelchair."

Vedder plays with his ripped-out shoe. Somehow, a half-world away, the words flow easily as he recalls, as he puts it, "the day I found out."

"There was a piano in the room," he goes on, "and I remember really wishing I knew how to play a happy song. I was happy for about a minute, and then I came down. I had to deal with the fact that he was dead. My real father was not on this earth. I had to deal with the anger of not being told sooner, not being told while he was alive. I was a big secret. Secrets are bad news. Secrets about adoption, any of that stuff. It's got to come out, don't keep it. It just gets bigger and darker and deeper and uglier and messy.

"Musically, I tried to think if I had a goal, what it was, and I think more than anything it was to leave something for my kid, if I had one, to listen to. I'm actually a junior. My real name is something-something the third." Fans can find it in the song credits to "Alive," on Ten.

Vedder's biological father, it turned out, was a musician himself, an organist-vocalist who sang in restaurants. Once Vedder knew the truth about his heritage, other relatives stepped forward.

"There were all these things they wanted to say," he recalls, "like 'That's where you got musical talent,' and I was like 'Fuck you.' At the time, I was 14 or 15, I didn't even know what the fuck was going on. I learned how to play guitar, saved all my money for equipment, and you're telling me that's where it came from? Some fucking broken-down old lounge act? Fuck you."

Vedder says this quietly, but time has barely mellowed his emotions. It's no surprise that Quadrophenia, the Who's 1973 classic tale of disaffected English youth, was Vedder's Catcher in the Rye. (He once told an interviewer, "I should be sending Pete Townshend cards for Father's Day.") Music saved his life, he says, but the turbulence of Vedder's youth still fuels the music. It's a painful circle. "My folks are very proud of me now," he says. "And again, I'm thankful that they've given me a lifetime's worth of material to write about."

(Recently, a meeting with his real father's cousin left Vedder with a sense of closure. "The strange thing," he says, "is that there are so many similarities between my father and I. He had no impact on my life, but here I am. I look just like him. People in my family – they can't help it – they look at me like I'm a replacement. That's where 'Alive' comes in." He pauses. "But I'm proud of the guy now. I appreciate my heritage. I have a very deep feeling for him in my heart.")

Have fun with it. You hear the phrase often around Vedder. He rarely has a response. Have fun with it. Certainly, his rock dreams are coming true: to sing "Masters of War" at the Bob Dylan tribute concert last year, to sing with the Doors at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and to finally meet his hero Pete Townshend. But to have fun with it, it seems, would put him one step closer to those rock stars in the magazines, the ones flipping their hair, the ones who caused him to write Pearl Jam's defining statement in "Blood" – "It's my bloooood."

It's way too late to be Fugazi, and Vedder knows it. Still, Pearl Jam offer fans a challenge: Bootleg us if you can, take our album, pass the music around, don't glorify us. Vedder long ago traded away the brown thrift-store jacket given him by Gossard, the one remade and marketed by the fashion industry as a $1,000 piece of grunge wear. The band no longer condones stage diving for safety reasons, and even Vedder's scaffold climbing appears to be history. He offers an interesting perspective:

"That climbing happened out of me saying: 'Look, this is how extreme I feel about this situation. This is how fucking intense I'm taking this moment.' You can't do that for long, because what they really want to see is, they want you to chop your fucking arm off, hold up your arm, wave it around spewing blood, and believe me, if you did that, the crowd would go fucking ballistic. You only get four good shows like that, though. Four good shows, and then you're just a torso and a head, trying to get one of your band mates to give you one last hurrah and chop your head off. Which they probably wouldn't do, which would really be hell.

"But," Vedder says with a laugh, "they'd say, 'Sing from your diaphragm, at least you still have that going for you.' "

The Dublin audience is fierce, awake, fueled by anger and ale. Van Morrison performs to the hometown crowd, and he is greeted like a beloved uncle. He is offstage only a few minutes before the audience, in anticipation of Pearl Jam, surges to the front. "I love some kind of pressure in the air," says McCready, peering out at the boiling mass of Irish fans. "Some kind of weirdness in the crowd, good or bad. That's what we thrive on."

Pearl Jam take the stage, and the crowd packs closer, straining the barriers. It's brutal down in front, and security is already pulling the semiconscious out one by one, before a note is even played. Vedder walks on in a gorilla mask, pulls it off and hurls himself into "Why Go."

It is a crowd happily perched on the edge of danger, and today they get the best out of Pearl Jam. Onstage, the band is narrowly missing each other as they all, in different ways, leap for joy, pogoing and twirling, just missing each other's skulls with the instruments. The volatile crowd does not scare Vedder; he's seriously singing to those serious faces listening to him the way he listened to the Who – with their whole lives attached. He stands on the edge of the stage, just watching them, and turns to share it with Liebling, who catches it all on Super 8.

It's the show they've been waiting for, a glimpse of the future. "If it all ends tomorrow," Abbruzzese says, "I will be the happiest fucking gas-station attendant you ever saw."

Best of all, Pearl Jam are no longer a band with only one very, very big album to their credit. "There's no school to go to for some of the weird shit that happens," says Vedder. "The fucking weirdness of it all. But some of these guys, they can help out a bit. Bob Dylan's advice was 'Go to Dublin.' I wrote him a postcard today.

"It said, 'Made it.' "

This story is from the October 28, 1993 issue of Rolling Stone.


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Van Morrison | 1968

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