One night, Vedder and Springsteen – who famously worked out his own father issues in his music – stood on a Manhattan rooftop, drinking tequila. "We were talking politics, and then got into family politics, of which we'd experienced a great deal and had a lot in common. It was a pretty intense conversation," Vedder says, haltingly. "He exposed me to some truths that he'd processed in a healthy way, that for me were still in a diseaselike state. He helped me cure some things I had been living with for a long time."
That night, Vedder told Springsteen how he used to play "Independence Day" and how his music had affected him. "You helped me as a voice coming from a piece of vinyl," he told him. "Now you helped to put it away by being a human being in front of me."
Not long after the conversation with Springsteen, Vedder attended the wedding of one of his brothers. There, he came face to face with his stepfather for the first time since the Eighties. "When I finally had to meet that guy again, Bruce was the one who got me in the right space to handle it," he says. "I have three younger brothers – if it affected them that I didn't have a relationship with this guy, that was enough reason to forgive and resolve things. I didn't want them to be torn between the two of us."
We move on to another tough subject: the 2000 breakup of Vedder's marriage to Beth Liebling, whom he had dated since he was a teenager. He won't explain the split, but he does say that he was devastated. The divorce happened around the same time as the biggest tragedy of Pearl Jam's career: Nine young fans were crushed to death on June 30th that year during a set at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. "You can imagine what kind of fetal position I was in," he says. "I just remember thinking that there was no way out. I was listening to The Who by Numbers and there's a line in 'Slip Kid' – 'There's no easy way to be free.' I was thinking, 'I couldn't agree with you more.' "
Then Vedder met Jill McCormick. She was a model, a profession that Vedder had savaged in the Vitalogy track "Satan's Bed": "Such fine examples, skinny little bitch/Model, role model, roll some models in blood/Get some flesh to stick, so they look like us." He laughs when I ask if he apologized for those lyrics. "Look, the person I fell in love with, that happened to be her job. There were a couple days where it was like, 'Wow, this seems contradictory.' It had to pass a harder test than falling in love with just anyone. And it did.
But before the new relationship, while Vedder was still despairing over Roskilde and his divorce, the band went on with a tour. Sonic Youth opened, and Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon's then-six-year-old child, Coco, came along. "Coco gave me drawings, we played pingpong. Coco reminded me to open up my world, kept me from being the bitter asshole I had every right to be. I thought after Roskilde, 'OK, this is my chance, I can be that asshole forever.' Coco led me to the light.
"And now I have one of my own." He shows me some adorable pictures of Olivia Vedder, born on June 11th, 2004. It's nearly five o'clock in the morning. Vedder shakes his head and looks me in the eyes. "Roger Daltrey has this thing he always says: 'Be lucky.' It took me a few years to reach it – but I took his advice."
This story is from the June 29th, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.
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