Exclusive: Interview with PJ20 Book Author Jonathan Cohen – Part 1

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Posted by Greg on September 14, 2011 at 7:05 am
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Did you pick up your copy of the new PJ20 book yet? I had a chance to sit down with author Jonathan Cohen to discuss how the book came together in this exclusive interview.

You got know the band pretty well during your time at Billboard magazine, who contacted you and asked you to write the PJ20 book?

At the Philly shows in the Fall of 2009, the movie was just starting to be talked about within the band.  I think I may have mentioned to someone that I would love to help out with a book or anything regarding the project. Sure enough, a month later, I got a call from Nicole Vandenberg, the band’s longtime publicist, asking if I was interested in helping out with this project. I was beyond thrilled. It was something I had thought about maybe doing at some point down the road and was completely honored that asked me to be a part of it. But we had to move pretty fast, as we were closely approaching the date when all this stuff was happening…

You had a little over a year to create this book and balance your day job as the music booker at Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. How did you balance this?

I have to give much thanks to the hiatus schedule of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. We were off 12 or 13 weeks in 2010 and that was the only way I was able to get this done on time. I blocked off every day that I wasn’t working on Fallon to write, do research or jump on the phone with somebody. That allowed us to compress the time period. Without it, there’s no way the book would have been done on time.

You’ve said that Eddie Vedder came up with a timeline concept for the book. But besides that, how did you wrap your arms around how to do put the band’s rich history into the book?

Initially, we really weren’t sure how we were going to do it. That coincided with Eddie’s idea to divide things up by year. That eliminated a ton of the stress, as we now had a set framework. We could now focus on the most important things to include in each year. That was a huge benefit to our focus and research. Without that, this book might have ended up double its final length.

Was there an early decision on the book length? Did that go out the window as you accumulated more and more material?

Yes. It’s to the credit of Simon & Schuster that we had the freedom to do something more robust than maybe what they initially intended. I think the book was initially supposed to be about 250 pages and wound up closer to 350 pages. We had so much good stuff and we didn’t want to make a lot of cuts. They were happy with the first draft and so we didn’t have to cut a lot out of there. The goal was to make the focus on the music, which sometimes gets lost in the overall conversation with Pearl Jam. It’s easy to forget that it’s actually the music that bonds people to them and is what has kept them going for 20 years.

It’s the Pearl Jam die hard fan that you’re trying to speak to, right?

That’s right. The book is definitely geared towards someone who has more than just a passing familiarity with the band. Along those lines, we also tried to go above and beyond to make sure that we had stuff that would entertain the longtime fan. By the same token, I think the book will appeal to people who just like music and it will be interesting for people to dig into that era and learn how the band made it through for the past 20 years.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of our interview with Jonathan!

The PJ20 book is available now! It includes an introduction by Cameron, along with interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Neil Finn and Dave Grohl. It’s filled with a wonderful pictures and mementos from Pearl Jam’s twenty years and is published by Simon & Schuster.

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