Spin Magazine - June 1994
"Teenage Wasteland" - A reclusive Eddie Vedder talks to Cindy Lamb about surviving life in a small town.
After draping himself over the shoulder of the press for Pearl Jam's debut, Ten, and smash follow-up, Vs., it seemed that Eddie Vedder had completed the task of confinding in the media. Whether he was inspired or embarassed by hid Mt. Rushmore-esque appearance on the cover of Time may never be known, but his shy, rambling sage-speak has penetrated the psyches of hippies, metalheads, yuppies, Deadheads, and public press. The questions of how Vedder is put together and what tears him apart top many an interviewer's list, even one who works in Russell Springs, Kentucky, for a weekly newspaper with a paid circulation of 5,400. With Pearl Jam set to play Louisville on March 24, I went through the requisite motions to snare a few moments of phone time with rock 'n' roll's most heralded and wary star. After several formal attempts to chat with the label's publicist as well as the band's management in Seattle, it became clear that the Russell Register was going to have to make do with some black-and-white glossies and a record review. (An Epic assistant returned my call from the 502 area by asking, "Where is this?!") One bleak weekend afternoon, I decide to take advantage of the cheap rates and leave a dissapointed "thanks, anyway" message with Kelly Curtis, Pearl Jam's manager. Instead of a machine coldly explaining that I've reached a company not open till Monday, I get a low, cautious voice asking, "Hello?" I inform this weekend underling that I am looking for the band's manager. "Oh, he's not here," he responds. "This is Eddie." (This is the part of my own personal sitcom where I look dead ahead into the camera and go, Booinnng!) I'm in Kentucky, I say, and it's four below zero, and I want a brief interview with you. "Hmmm," he says, before a phone ringing in the background sends him into an I'm-in-this-office-alone panic. "Oh...oh, hold on!" I do just that for a while, before begrudgingly hanging up. Maybe I've been duped. Five minutes later, I try again. Vedder picks up immediately. "Is this Kentucky?" He seems to smile through the phone.
[Cindy Lamb]: I'm calling from a small town in the middle of Kentucky and I just wanted to know if you had any advice for young people.
[Eddie Vedder]: Well, you know, I think about that a lot, how people are different in small towns. I believe people consider the most hedonistic parts of our culture lie in New York or Los Angeles, "where the weird stuff happens." One thing that makes me very aware of middle America is the way talk shows treat certain individuals and their circumstances. You know, the kind of people you see on Hard...uh, Current Copy...Lurid Affair... whatever they're called. Glorifying these everday problems those family members or criminals have. When you sit in L.A. and look at some of the guests on these panels, you say, "Now, these people are kind of strange!" That can be shocking.
[CL]: There are a lot of stereotypes that kind of misshape this area of the country, though.
[EV]: Listen, if you're looking for the truth, you don't have to be in any size city. Young people in the country may not harbor the same emotions as those in the urban areas, but really, it's all kind of the same. I've traveled a lot and the more I see in other countries, other languages, or with gossip, employees, lifestyles--it all boils down to, we're sharing a common thread.
[CL]: Lots of grunge fans or rock fans get picked on here. Country music, Skoal--you know.
[EV]: In small, less experienced towns, compared to New York, you won't be encouraged to be different or a little strange. And if you don't act normal you may be persecuted for your clothes or hair or music. It's opressive to be chastised just for that. Just decide you want to be a certain way and go on. You end up being a little more free because of it. In doing so, you're expressing yourself as an individual--not necessarily as a group. It may produce rage and happiness but it will keep you alive inside.
[CL]: It would be okay for the most part if kids could get some glimpse of life beyond the bluegrass curtain. I have to drive two hours in any direction to pick up most magazines, CD's, instruments, clothing.
[EV]: There are certain parts of the country where certain kinds of music, or magazines about that music, will never be able to be obtained. People in rural areas don't have the access to that culture. Whether you play your songs for 20 people at the roller rink or 20,000 at a stadium, you have to be true to yourself. I'm fascinated by letters that come from musicians in smaller cities--they want to either stay and be a big fish in a little pond or leave and try to make it in a bigger place. I say, get out. Go for it. See what other ponds have--or maybe swim in an ocean.
[CL]: Have things changed since Pearl Jam took a leap into an "ocean"?
[EV]: Things will always change, so don't resist. When you get that response to your music, it doesn't matter whether you work in a gas station or are very successful. The bigger the rewards, the bigger the problems. But change is something that we have all tried to reject at one time or another. It doesn't mean compromise, though. Sure, things have changed for Pearl Jam, but we didn't start out being an unsuccessful band; we always stuck to our music and our beliefs. Our audience has changed, grown. Now more people can share that. Not too long ago we were written about in underground magazines and now we're considered to be sort of--palatable, the status quo almost. Sometimes I start to believe it, then I'm reminded of those who don't have access to new and upcoming kinds of music, and some who never will.
[CL]: So what can we accomplish in the world--after the music stops?
[EV]: A lot. It's so important--everyday we wake up, we're creating our memory. We have to create the best ones we can, even if for one day. Find your goals and take them one step at a time. Your happiness and control form responsibility. It takes work and you must do things yourself. Don't expect anyone else to do it for you. Don't feel sorry for yourself. I've learned that about myself. I once thought I was under the lion's paw but when I decided to take on more reponsibility, I became much more free.
[CL]: Not much time to waste.
[EV]: Either we have one go around at life or maybe there will be other times. It's like an acid trip, I suppose. The main thing in this journey, I believe, is to create a better trip.
[CL]: I like that idea a lot. I want to thank you for your time. You shouldn't pick up a ringing business phone on a weekend.
[EV]: Well, congratulations, I've been hiding from Rolling Stone for weeks. Will you do me a favor? Could you please try and make my quotes as concise as you can. Sometimes I have a tendency to, uh, ramble.
[CL]: I'll double-check for rambling.
[EV]: Thanks, Cindy. We may never see each other in this life, but I wish you as much happiness as you can get.
[CL]: Thanks. I have to ask you, after all you've gone through, are you happy?
Hmmmmm...I'm swimming in the ocean.