Pearl Jam Twenty documentary director Cameron Crowe has been friends with the members of Pearl Jam since they all lived in Seattle in the 1980s – which proved useful when he went looking for artifacts and stories that even the band had forgotten.
For a present-day interview with Eddie Vedder in the film, Crowe dug up the original “Mama-Son” cassette, which contained the instrumental demos on which he had to record lyrics and vocals all those years ago to audition for the role as lead singer (the band was briefly called Mookie Blaylock). Vedder notices his old phone number on it.
“I’ll call the number later and see if I get the younger you,” quips Crowe.
“Tell him to be careful!” Vedder replies.
Then there’s the previously unseen footage that Crowe unearthed, such as Pearl Jam’s second show ever on December 22nd, 1990; the band playing the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” in the Lollapalooza dressing room in 1992; writing a folk tune called “Brother” in May 1992 – the song now known as “Daughter;” and a disastrous drunken set they did for Crowe’s Singles movie launch party (Vedder is wearing a loud yellow floral-print shirt).
At a press conference over the weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Pearl Jam Twenty premiered, bassist Jeff Ament said he found the backstage footage from the Cult show a memory-jogger. “I’ve told that story a lot, but then all of a sudden to get pulled back to what it really was like is pretty shocking,” he said, adding, “I didn’t know I wore hats like that.”
“I wore PJ pants for one show,” said drummer Matt Cameron – meaning pajamas, not Pearl Jam.
Throughout the film, there’s also significant time paid to Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard’s previous singer, Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood, who overdosed and was on life support just long enough for them to say goodbye. Clear from his stage show, Wood was one of a kind, a destined rock star — and wanted to be.
Gossard and Ament were in no rush to become rock stars after that. But once Pearl Jam’s Ten came out in 1991, it happened – and Vedder put up walls around his house. But interestingly, Pearl Jam’s massive success has helped expose Wood’s talent (Pearl Jam has been including a Mother Love Bone song in its current set) and the film is an underlying homage to a guy whose death cut short his promise. And Pearl Jam Twenty also covers the life-changing tragedy at the Roskilde Festival where nine concert-goers were crushed to death. Emotional interviews with the band reveal how they now look at their career as pre Roskilde and after Roskilde.
But the big find, everyone seems to agree, is the footage of Kurt Cobain and Vedder slow-dancing.
After watching the clip during the TIFF screening, Vedder said, “You see Kurt looking over and go like this [puts finger to lips] and it’s not saying, ‘Don’t tell anybody’ or ‘Keep the lid on this little private moment.’ It was actually because on the stage above us, Eric Clapton was playing ‘Tears In Heaven.’ The first time I saw that footage, it was incredibly emotional, just ’cause he’s smiling and you think, ‘You just gotta pull through.'”
He added: “And that’s the thing about today, maybe it’s a good thing that this movie just happened now. We’ve been in grateful mode and appreciation mode for each other for quite some time. It’s a galvanizing moment.”