Pearl Jam Twenty –

Pearl Jam Opens Up Preserves

As rock ’n’ roll survival sagas go, the 20 years together for the Seattle rockers of Pearl Jam may not seem all that big a deal.

The Rolling Stones next year hit the half-century mark, if Mick and Keef can stop feuding. U2 is now in its 36th year (just like TIFF), and the band members are set to reach bifocal age together.

There’s even a Seattle precedent that tops Pearl Jam: sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson are approaching the big 4-0 for their evolving band Heart.

Still, few bands can top Pearl Jam for drama: born out of a tragedy, struck by another near the 10-year mark while fighting for musical integrity and social causes all the while, this has been an uncommonly challenged union.

You can’t fault the lads for wanting to celebrate the occasion — “It’s pretty great,” bassist and co-founder Jeff Ament allows — by working with Cameron Crowe, the filmmaker and former rock journo, to makePearl Jam Twenty, a documentary premiering at TIFF.

It screens again Monday at the Ryerson theatre (there are also Sept. 20 commercial screenings at Cineplex theatres), in between concerts Sunday and Monday by the band at the Air Canada Centre.

It’s a little strange, though, that the tight-knit Pearl Jam quintet would let an outsider tell their life story so far, even as accomplished and simpatico a filmmaker as Crowe.

“I think he had 99.5 per cent control,” says singer Eddie Veder, “but saying, ‘Sit on my lap: I’ll let you take the wheel for the next mile, but I’ll work the brakes.’ ”

Band unity is evident in the laughter sparked by Vedder’s remark and also in the gang’s-all-here circumstances of the interview with The Star.

Joining Crowe and Vedder around the boardroom table in the Prime Minister’s Suite are bassist Ament, guitarist/co-founder Stone Gossard, guitarist Mike McCready and drummer Matt Cameron, ex-Soundgarden and the relative “new guy” — he’s been in since ’98.

Pearl Jam Twenty covers it all: the 1990 heroin overdose death of Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood that forced bandmates Gossard and Ament to head in new directions, first by adding lead guitar McCready and then baritone powerhouse Vedder, an ex-surfer and security guard new to rock.

Then came the grunge explosion of the 1990s that launched Pearl Jam worldwide, mere moments after its birth, along with such fellow Seattle rockers as Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Alice in Chains.

As the group worked to define its melodic hard rock, crafting such early monster albums as TenVs.and Vitalogy, the world seemed to be conspiring against the band, wanting Pearl Jam to be another video hits jukebox creation.

The band fought back against the rock establishment. It refused to make videos after the early hit “Jeremy,” and took concert ticket agency Ticketmaster to the U.S. Justice Department, insisting fans were being ripped off by ticket surcharges.

It was an exhausting and only partially successful fight. Just as it seemed the band was entering a great new phase with the arrival of Cameron, tragedy struck again on June 30, 2000, when nine fans were crushed to death and many others were injured at an outdoor Pearl Jam concert in Roskilde, Denmark that got out of control.

The band wasn’t to blame, but the incident nearly destroyed the group. Pearl Jam opted to soldier on, as Pearl Jam Twenty shows.

Crowe had access to some 2,000 hours of band-made video to tell the story, and the decision was made early on to allow him to tell the whole story, including the bad times like Wood’s death and the Roskilde tragedy.

“I think if we had gone with what we would normally have felt protective of, you could’ve kept about 20 minutes of that movie,” Vedder says.

“You really had to just go, ‘Okay, whatever. It is what it is. We’re not going to try to control this.’ There were only a couple things that were difficult to revisit. I think the main couple things we asked to take out was just references to other groups, not even by us. Just something that friends of ours might take offence at, or something like that. It was more just protecting a couple of people.”

Crowe was grateful for the faith Pearl Jam put in him: “They were incredibly generous and trusting about the structure of the movie and how to tell the story. We started out trying to do a kind of impressionistic version of what the Pearl Jam story would be and it just started boiling down to a kind of simple story about strife that hits early and then the real story begins as survival and joy arrives.”

There was also pure madness, such as the media-fuelled insanity over Seattle “grunge” sound, a punk-derived term Pearl Jam and other band quickly came to hate. It also engendered band rivalries, which magazines like Rolling Stone whipped into a frenzy, in particularly trying to set Pearl Jam and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain against each other.

“The media wound both sides up about it, for sure,” Ament says.

“One of the first things that came out was in a Michael Azerrad article in Rolling Stone and I know for a fact that he talked to Kurt and talked to me and then talked to Kurt again. That was the first thing I remember.

“He was saying we were a bandwagon thing . . . It was ridiculous to even engage in that but that was a guy winding us up, saying, ‘Well he said —’ so how are you going to respond to that?”

Gossard chips in: “But that’s the kind of stuff that goes on in daily life all the time — people talking s–t about each other — but when you splash it across headlines, people are all like ‘Whoa, that’s for real!’ When it’s out there like that, suddenly it becomes what everyone’s talking about. Makes you a little crazy.”

“Crazy” is not the word for these guys now, all now well into their 40s, tied to families and as grounded as they always hoped they would be.

And together, still.

“Only in a boardroom,’ McCready jokes. “Then we go our separate ways. Separate limos as soon as we leave. Separate helicopters.”

Not true, of course, but the problem remains of what you get a rock band for a 20th anniversary gift? If this were a wedding anniversary, it would be something made of china or platinum.

“How about titanium?” Gossard offers.

“Yeah, we should all get a titanium tooth!” somebody else yells.

Courtesy of – Peter Howell – September 12, 2011