Pearl Jam Talk About New Documentary
Neil Young joined Pearl Jam onstage at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on Sunday , September 11 for a roof-raising encore version of his own classic song, Rocking In The Free World. Besides playing the first of two huge shows in the city, the Seattle rockers were also attending the Toronto Film Festival to launch their new documentary, Pearl Jam Twenty.
Words: Stephen Dalton
Chronicling two decades of high and lows, director Cameron Crowe’s career-spanning retrospective is a lovingly assembled collage of powerful live performances, recent interviews and rare archive footage. Neil Young also appears briefly in the film, as does Pete Townshend.
“When we didn’t know how to get through, when it was hard talk to each other, some of these people gave us advice on things that you can’t teach,” singer Eddie Vedder explained to reporters in Toronto. “Like Neil, or Kim and Thurston from Sonic Youth, or Pete and Roger (Daltrey) – all these groups, for some reason, we’re grateful that they saw something in us and recognised that we might need a little help. And that we were worth helping.”
The tone of Pearl Jam Twenty is warm and celebratory, as we might expect from a director who is also a long-time friend of the band. But Crowe’s film also captures the grunge survivors at times of stress and tension, briefly touching on the unhinged stalker who rammed her car into Vedder’s front wall in 1996, the band’s bruising legal battle with Ticketmaster, and the Roskilde festival tragedy of 2000, when nine people died in a crowd crush during their set.
A former rock journalist for Rolling Stone, Crowe is better known today for movies like Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. But the director insists Pearl Jam Twenty is as engrossing as any Hollywood blockbuster. It certainly opens dramatically with the fatal 1989 heroin overdose of Andrew Wood, singer with proto-grunge Seattle rockers Mother Love Bone. From this tragedy, Pearl Jam was born.
“The story of Pearl Jam is beyond just a rock story,” Crowe said in Toronto. “In fact, it takes the usual rock story and turns it on its head. The usual rock story is: incredible promise, brilliance maybe, then tragedy cuts it short. Pearl Jam is exactly the opposite, it was a tragedy that was surmounted. These guys found joy through survival, and from studying what had happened before with some of their rock heroes. In some ways it’s a hard story to tell, because it’s a happy ending, and it’s not even an ending. But it is unique.”
Initially befriending guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament when he relocated to Seattle in the mid 1980s, Crowe later featured Pearl Jam in his grunge-flavoured 1992 rom-com Singles. One of the most amusing clips in Pearl Jam Twenty finds them playing an ill-tempered, fall-down-drunk set at the Singles launch party. A tense subject for almost two decades, this bratty incident still embarrasses the band. “We owe you an apology,” Gossard confessed to Crowe in Toronto. “This was your moment, lesser people would have said: ‘You guys are assholes! Can you just lay off the tequila for another hour…?’”
Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain features only briefly in Crowe’s film, deriding Pearl Jam’s music but praising Vedder as a nice guy. Although often painted as musical rivals during the grunge boom, they were on generally friendly terms personally. One remarkable piece of amateur footage in Pearl Jam Twenty captures Vedder and a beaming Cobain slow-dancing together at the 1992 Video Music Awards while Eric Clapton plays onstage. “The first time I saw that footage it was incredibly emotional, I think just because he smiled,” Vedder said. “You just think, he could have pulled through.”
Released with an accompanying soundtrack album and deluxe photo book, Pearl Jam Twenty enjoys a one-day cinema run next week (Tuesday, September 20) before its DVD launch in October. Meanwhile, the band are working on their first new material since their 2009 album Backspacer. In Toronto, Vedder claimed the film provides a solid launchpad for another 20 years together.
“We just want to keep doing it,” the singer explained. “Just to keep getting better, and maybe to push the boundaries of music too. I don’t see it stopping. I don’t think any of us see it stopping.”
The band also currently offering a free track for download. You can get Ole here.
Find out more at www.pearljam.com
Tags: Andrew Wood, Burvana, Cameron Crowe, Eddie Vedder, Eric Clapton, Jeff Ament, Kim Gordon Thurston Moore, Kurt Cobain, Mother LOve Bone, Neil Young, Pearl Jam, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Sonic Youth, Stone Gossard