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Jeff Ament Takes Us Inside Pearl Jam’s Epic Seattle Exhibit

Eddie Vedder’s handwritten lyrics, the letters from the ‘Ten’ cover and a statue of a Seattle rock pioneer are all on display ahead of the band’s hometown blowout

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Five years ago, Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament and his future wife Pandora visited the grave of Ament’s former bandmate Andrew Wood. Wood was the lead singer of grunge pioneers Mother Love Bone; his overdose in 1990 at the age of 24 forced Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard to regroup and build the band that would become Pearl Jam. Ament never forgot the frontman’s larger-than-life personality and the role he had in shaping Seattle rock.

But Wood’s grave was disappointing. “I was just like, ‘God, this should be so much more rad,’” Ament says, adding that someone had pried a decorative star off of it, leaving a gaping hole below Wood’s name. “So the whole way home we were riffing, ‘If anybody I know deserves a statue, it’s him.’ He would be the one that would love it.”

Now, fans can see that statue as part of Pearl Jam: Home and Away, a new exhibit at Seattle Museum of Pop Culture’s (MoPOP). Ament commissioned the nearly eight-foot monument from Mark Walker, who was Pandora’s bronze instructor at the Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle. Ament told Walker his memory of seeing Wood perform at the local club Metropolis, which has been called the birthplace of grunge. “And he was like, ‘We’re just down from Mount Olympus, people!’ So when we were sort of conceptualizing this, we thought, ‘Let’s make it like he’s coming out of the rain forest.’ Moss, starfish, tide pools. I think that’s all there.”

Walker surrounded himself with photos of Wood and went into the forest to create the tree-trunk base from which Wood’s figure emerges, arms spread. Walker started by making a small model that he had scanned by a 360-degree camera, enlarged, printed in foam and then cast in bronze. The final statue weighs 13,000 pounds. It cost “a lot,” Ament says with a laugh. But it was worth it: “There’s a lot of things that would be different not just for me, but for the entire Seattle musical community, had it not been for him.”

Pearl Jam: Home and Away opens on Saturday and runs through early 2019. The opening comes just after “the Home Shows,” the band’s first Seattle gigs in five years. Before the lights went down, the shows had raised $11.5 million to combat the city’s overwhelming homelessness crisis.

MoPOP curator Jacob McMurray and Pearl Jam archivist and videographer Kevin Shuss put together the exhibit, featuring more than 200 items. Shuss pulled nearly 30 years worth of artifacts he’s collected during his time as the band’s videographer and friend: Eddie Vedder’s marble notebooks and typewriter, sheets of handwritten lyrics, stage and video props, show fliers. There’s even a recreation of the band’s rehearsal space — and the actual towering letters from the front of the band’s first album Ten (a major photo-op for fans). When Shuss originally started working with the band 28 years ago, the idea of any of it being museum pieces was a pipe dream. “It all reminds me of everything I’ve gotten to do over the years,” he says. “There are certain things that, monetarily, are are probably more valuable than others. But the small flyer from somewhere can mean just as much.”

For Ament, the hometown shows are a bigger version of the band’s legendary “Drop in the Park” show in Seattle’s Magnusson Park in 1992. That ticketed show was free. At that time, the band had played 15 shows in Seattle and wanted to give something back: “Our way of giving back then was to do a free show and now the way to give back is to try to eliminate homelessness in Seattle,” Ament says “Our ideas have gotten bigger over the years and that’s kind of one of the great things about the band. We sort of feel like anything is possible.”

After these shows – which are expected to draw 100,000 fans – Ament is going to think further about where Wood’s statue will eventually land. He’s been talking with officials at Seattle Center, where the Space Needle has just been refurbished, complete with a glass floor on the observation deck. “We’re trying to figure out if there’s place for it,” Ament says. “Originally, I was perfectly happy just to have him be in the woods out in Bainbridge Island somewhere [the town where Wood was raised].” 

That would be fine with Wood’s mother, Toni, who showed up to the exhibit to see the statue for the first time. “I’ll be doing some crying later today,” she said. She still lives on Bainbridge Island, in a mobile home that Pearl Jam members bought for her three years ago. “That’s where it belongs,” she said of the statue. “On Bainbridge by the Town & Country” grocery store. “That’s where I always used to pick him up. He’d say, ‘Hey Mom, could you give me a ride?’ And so he’d be sitting there waiting for me. He’d be so cute.”

Just the other day, an acquaintance gave her a well-worn Mother Love Bone T-shirt and a drawing of Andrew. “And I just looked at him and my heart started to break. ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘I wish you were here. I wish you were here.'”

“And there he is,” she said. “He would love this thing. He would adore it. Heaven is not going to be the same now. He is going to go around bragging, ‘Jimi! You’re not the only one who gets a statue, baby!'”

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