REARVIEW MIRROR: A LOOK BACK AT MY WEEK WITH EDDIE VEDDER

August 24, 2008 – 5:42 am

When Eddie Vedder comes to town as part of his solo tour, Karen Barry Schwarz decides to cosy up to the man. Well… as close as she can get to the Pearl Jam frontman.

So I just spent the week with Eddie Vedder, who was in town this week and flying solo. You better believe that I was going to take full advantage of my chance to spend some time with HIM, oh yes I was. We really weren’t getting along at first, but by the end of the week we really connected, and ended up sharing a tearful goodbye last night. I mean, you know. When he left. The stage. I was… in the audience. For each of his three sold-out shows in the area. What did you think I meant? Honestly.

Eddie Vedder is currently on a solo tour, one of his very first. I was intrigued. And I have to say, somewhat skeptical. Eddie Vedder? Solo? How is that going to work? The only Eddie Vedder I knew was the larger-than-life front man for the mighty Pearl Jam, all rock star ferocity and great hair, all jump growl and scream. Hmm.

I have a pretty vivid imagination, but I couldn’t really imagine the larger-than-life Ed Ved up on a stage, all alone, seated with an acoustic guitar. It seemed incongruous, somehow. Like he wouldn’t fit on the stage or something. His presence is so huge. But, hey, I’ve seen Neil Young solo and that works (understatement of the century), so I was game.

And, on second thought, who was I kidding? There was no way I was going to miss this. Being a longtime Pearl Jam fan but only recent convert to their live show phenomenon (The Pearl Jam Experience!), I had the fever. I sought out tickets for all three area shows, two nights at The United Place in New York City and one at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, and voila! Off she goes. Again.

So our first night together, the first of two nights at The United Palace in New York City, was a little rocky. For me. I wasn’t feeling it. I mean, there were some great moments, a decent setlist, that incredible voice, there HE was, it was EDDIE VEDDER all right, but yet… something.

I found myself wanting to say RELEASE THE HOUNDS! (What?) It seemed like, oh I don’t know, Eddie was in some kind of invisible cage? I wanted to let him out! Take him off the leash! Release him! Come ON! Now look, let me be clear about something before I continue. I love the guy. I was trying.

I sang along when he wanted me too, clapped where I should, stood up, sat down, all at his direction or suggestion. I applauded beyond what I thought reasonable. Smiled until my face hurt, hoping that he would see me and feel encouraged, spurred on! (Even though I was in like the 25th row. Hey, anything is possible in my freaky little fantasy world, folks.) I was trying hard to get into it. I was. But… It just wasn’t happening for me.

So our first night together, the first of two nights at The United Palace in New York City, was a little rocky. For me. I wasn’t feeling it. I mean, there were some great moments… but yet… something.

I thought Eddie seemed almost uncomfortable. Hesitant. Scared? At least lacking the confidence I was used to seeing in him. (And I didn’t think this was possible. For God’s sakes, he’s EDDIE VEDDER!) At the very least, Eddie didn’t seem like he was having much fun. How could this be? Eddie Vedder? He looks like he is having the time of his life at every Pearl Jam show I’ve ever seen.

The fact that it seemed kind of like Eddie just wanted to get it over with, that he was just trying to get through our time together was upsetting to an overly sensitive, overly connected-to-the-artist audience member and fan like me. It feels… well, it feels kind of like you’re out on a date with someone and you were maybe not their first choice. Like, your date’s mind is somewhere else. Like he’d rather BE somewhere else, you know?

It’s kind of a crappy feeling. (Now if you are a giant EV/PJ fan and you feel your ire rising and are in fact at this very moment warming up your fingers to crank out some hate mail on your keyboard because I dared to be even mildly displeased with anything Ed Ved, hang on. Let me be clear, I shall say again: I love this guy. And yes, I realize I wasn’t on a date with Eddie. But listen, my friend, you are just going to have to read this thing all the way through to get where we’re going, and I think you’re going to want to get there with me. And if you’re not an obsessive fan and you’re still puzzling as to why I went to three of the same shows in the same week in the first place, well, you should prob just get off this bus right now, you’re not gonna get this at all.)

In Eddie’s defense, he had told us that night that he had been ill. And that he had recently gone cold turkey on the prescription pain meds he had been taking, which left him with a massive headache. He even pointed out to the crazed fans who felt it was necessary to continuously shout “EEEEEDDDDDD!” or some Pearl Jam song request that the shouting really wasn’t helping his headache. The audience reaction? “EEEEEEEEEEDDDDD!!!!!! WE LOVE YOU! EEEDDDDIEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!” (Aaargh!)

Eddie, looking small and defeated, kind of shrugged and went back to singing, his resolve on that night more present than his passion. Mine too. Sigh. I left the venue that night feeling… unsettled. Not disappointed, exactly, I mean, in no way did it actually suck, but I guess it’s just that I had been hoping to get to know Eddie Vedder better out on his own, doing his own thing. But I didn’t feel like I knew Eddie any better at all.

So my next show was the very next night. I was hoping against hope that maybe that first night had just been an off night. Hey, even Eddie can have an off night, right? Or! I know. Maybe it was me. Maybe I had an off night! How can you really tell what the hell has happened during any interaction between people. Was it him? Was it me? Who knows. One can never know, really. So I arrived at the United Palace on Tuesday night with a clean slate. I was hoping Eddie did too. I was ready for a whole new experience. I was psyched! I was not disappointed.

He proved on this second night at The United Palace that he has the finesse and grace to reign it in and let it out at will. It was lovely. Perfect! Almost. Things took a turn when the yelling (”EEEEDDDIIIIEEEE!!”), which truly must be annoying as hell, finally got to Eddie.

The second night at The United Palace everything was different. (And this is a good reason to go to more than one show, folks. Maybe the artist is different, maybe you’re different, maybe it’s the moon, but it’s always different, to a serious fan.) Eddie was on fire! Alive! Present. I was on the edge of my seat the entire night. Completely engaged. I was so thrilled for Eddie (for me!) that this show was so good.

I was worried (what can I say? I’m a mom, I’m a worrier), after my first Eddie solo show, that maybe his voice and his presence was just too big for this kind of thing. That maybe he needed a huge band sound (like the mighty Pearl Jam!) behind him to equal his awesome personal power. To equal that VOICE! But no. He proved on this second night at The United Palace that he has the finesse and grace to reign it in and let it out at will. It was lovely. Perfect! Almost.

Things took a turn when the yelling (”EEEEDDDIIIIEEEE!!”), which truly must be annoying as hell, finally got to Eddie. Frustrated and angry, he suddenly answered one particularly loud yeller from the balcony with something like “I can’t hear you. You know, it’s funny, but no matter where it is, no matter if it’s male or female, when you all yell to me, all I hear is ‘I’m an idiot!’” Wow. You could feel the air being sucked right out of the room. Clink, clink, clink, hearts breaking all over the floor. Wah! Eddie yelled at us.

Now don’t get me wrong. I absolutely agree that people should not be yelling at a show like this. But I also know that sure, some of these people are drunken idiots, but some are not. And ALL of these people are yelling out of excitement, enthusiasm, love. Worship! Especially this crowd, who are obviously Pearl Jam fans (who else would be there?). And at Pearl Jam shows, as discussed in a previous article, fans are encouraged (by Eddie and the rest of the band), to participate. To be part of it. You can’t expect the PJ fans to change overnight, Ed.

And frankly, on this particular night, the fans were not that poorly behaved. You should have seen the Neil Young shows at The United Palace last year, holy shit, those fans were HORRID. But Neil handled it like a gentleman, addressing one “idiot’ at a time, never including the entire audience in his sarcastic replies. But it should be noted that I was maybe the only person in the audience who was mad at Eddie. The rest of the audience forgave him immediately, singing along with the very next song. I didn’t.

I was sulking. (Wow, that was so mature of me! And I’m sure it had a big effect on Eddie! Not.) Look. I know I probably overreacted to Eddie’s outburst, but I was insulted. Hurt. I don’t think he should have addressed the entire audience in his scolding, and I don’t think that in his position as leader of the pack (and believe me, he is that) that he should have addressed his entire audience as “idiots.” It was poor form. He should have apologized. He didn’t.

The third night… After several failed attempts to speak into the microphone and calm the crowd, Eddie finally just sat down and took it all in. It went on. And on. And on. It felt as if every single person in the room had read the NYT review and wanted to send Eddie a message.

But forgive me, I am going to just leave the second night of my little Eddie Odyssey right there, and go right into my third and final show, because even though the second show was fucking fantastic, except for that little tiff near the end between Eddie and the audience, or, um, maybe just between Eddie and me, the third show was otherworldly. Let’s just go there.

So. Off I went to my third and final Eddie Vedder solo show at The New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. Even though Ed didn’t send flowers or anything, I wasn’t mad at him anymore. I listened to “Ten,” my first Pearl Jam album (My first? And your first, and their first, d’oh!), and fell in love with Eddie all over again (that little shit), so there you have it. How can you stay mad at Ed Ved? I couldn’t.

Now I should note here that something interesting had happened between the second and third shows. The New York Times had published a review, and it wasn’t exactly a bad review, but it wasn’t glowing either. Called Eddie “brooding” and “righteous.” Both of which, of course, he can be, and is, but what the hell, isn’t that much of what rock and roll is about? So fucking what. I think Eddie should have taken it as a compliment.

But he didn’t. It affected him. He came out looking very small. Nervous. I thought uh oh, here we go again. We’re back to square one. But… Something amazing happened. The audience (the idiots!) fixed everything. Everything! The applause - a standing ovation before he had even begun - was like a giant wave of love that just got bigger and bigger and bigger and crashed all over that stage, all over Eddie. And it didn’t stop. It just kept coming.

The love was palpable. After several failed attempts to speak into the microphone and calm the crowd, Eddie finally just sat down and took it all in. It went on. And on. And on. It felt as if every single person in the room had read the NYT review and wanted to send Eddie a message. It was as if we were saying “We don’t care what that guy says, Eddie! We love you! We ADORE you! You’re the man!” with our cries of “EEEDDIIIEEEE!” and our foot stomping and furious clapping. It felt like we were… protecting him. Just like back on the playground, someone dissed our boy, we’re gonna stand up and fight after school, you know? Yeah. It was… beautiful. Loyalty at its very best. Love, to be sure. Geez. God bless New Jersey.

Eddie was clearly overwhelmed. He kind of cocked his head a little, watching, listening, and started kind of biting on his thumbnail in a shy, aw shucks kind of way, alternately looking down at his feet and then back up at the audience, unable to suppress a half smile. Forgive me, male readers, but this was nothing short of adorable. (And ladies, OHMYGOD! I wanted to jump up there and hug his head off.) Finally, finally, the crowd calmed down and the evening began.

The setlist was amazing (And I hope you’re not reading my reviews for the setlist, ‘cuz I don’t usually talk about that. I’m trying to tell you what it felt like to BE there, you know? Not just tell you what he played. You can find that out anywhere, go look it up.) And on this night, this glorious glorious night, Eddie was so fucking on it was incredible. I had chills all over my body on several occasions, tears, laughter, highs, lows.

And Eddie’s interaction with the audience was brilliant. He had a new strategy for dealing with the yellers. And I am still in awe of this. He said early on “Maybe we’ll have a Q&A session or something,” when he was trying to quiet the more vocal. Amazingly, it worked.

For example, he scared the living bejesus out of me when he sang, nay growled “and for threatening my BABIES…” in Dylan’s “Masters of War,” Jayzus H. Christ almighty I almost ran for the door, he was so scary. And that’s the thing about Eddie. He has so much emotion, so much power, so much DRAMA in his voice, that he is like no one else. No. One. Else. He matched his playing with the ebb and flow of his voice beautifully, matching furious with furious and whisper to whisper as if he and his guitar were all one being.

When he really leaned into it you could see a dance beginning to form. His eyes closed, his jaw working busily side to side, as if stretching itself out to make room for that very big voice, he would suddenly pull back and dip his left shoulder down, and then his right hand would sweep down low on the front of the guitar, again and again, caressing it, as his left foot stomped time so hard you thought he might put a hole right in the floor… aaah. These are things only the psycho fan would notice, so just skip that part if you’re not of that mind. And, just as an aside, when he is like this, this fucking guy is sexy as all hell. Holy shit. Forget about hugging his head off. You want to jump up there and rip your clothes o… uh, never mind.

Anyway. Eddie mentioned the NYT review, calling it his “first bad review,” and saying that geez, he has been a lot more brooding and righteous than he had been that night, haha, laughing it off. But clearly, it had bothered him, here he was talking about it. Thinking about it. But with the love in that room that night, there was no way he could hang on to it anymore.

He started saying that he wasn’t bothered by it really, and then furiously strumming his… ukelele. When that got a laugh, he did it a couple of more times. “Really, it didn’t bother me…” (Furious ukelele strumming, furious face.) Finally, laughing at himself, he broke the audience into hysterics when he said “I am so tough up here with my… ukelele.” He went on “Badass, motherfucking ukelele…” (more furious strumming). Ha! He was charming. Funny. Real.

And his interaction with the audience was brilliant. He had a new strategy for dealing with the yellers. And I am still in awe of this. He said early on “Maybe we’ll have a Q&A session or something,” when he was trying to quiet the more vocal. Amazingly, it worked. They shut up. Wow. The power of Ed Ved! And he was true to his word. When he decided he needed a break, he said, “Okay, Q&A. You, here in the front, in the white hat. Do you have a question?” OMG! You could hear a pin drop.

The guy was like… Uh… Uh… Thanks for the music (or something. Hey, he was on the spot! What would you have said with no notice?!) And it went on and on. Eddie had a conversation with the guy and everyone was listening! In a 2,750 seat theater! Kind of amazing when you think about it. The guy in the hot seat finally said “Can I request a song?” Eddie quickly shot back, “Well I have to think about that. What song?” That set the audience off into a frenzy of yelled requests, so Eddie laughed and said that the Q&A was now over, and went back to the beautiful beautiful show.

Eddie said it himself in a song he did last night, when he sang in THAT voice, “I’m open, come in.” What more can you ask of an artist than that?

But. One fiercely determined balcony yeller persisted. At the end of every song (thank you for waiting until those moments, determined yeller), he shouted “I have a question, Eddie.” Every single time a song ended. Finally, Eddie shook his head and laughed and looked up there.

“Okay. What’s your question?” The audience hushed. (Again! Amazing at a show like this.) From the balcony: “Can you tell us the words to ‘Yellow Ledbetter.’” The audience erupted. “Yellow Ledbetter” is one of the few songs on the exhaustive Pearl Jam website song index that has “lyrics unavailable.” Then, silence. You could feel the crowd waiting with bated breath. What would Eddie say?

After looking stumped for a brief moment, and mumbling “Where is Mike McCready when you need him,” he said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Do you mean. To tell me. After all this time. That there are words to that song???” Hysterical laughter. When he wants to, Eddie knows how to work a crowd, that’s for sure.

But THEN. (And I promise, I am going to stop writing at some point.) Eddie told the story of the song. It was a beautiful story. The song was written during the time of the Gulf War. About a guy in Seattle who looked “like we all did back then… long hair, shorts, tights, whatever.” A counterculture type. An artistic, activitist type, Ed explained. A guy whose brother had been killed serving our country in that war. He had gotten the yellow letter, explaining. He went for a walk, in his suburban Seattle neighborhood. Every step ahead of him like an abyss. He couldn’t shake the horror. What had happened? How could this be? His brother! Why why why!

He saw an older couple, up on their porch. A big American flag hanging down from the porch. And he felt connected to them, then. Not so alone. They looked at each other, and slowly, he raised his fist in solidarity, kind of nodding to the flag. As in “America. My brother. He died for us.” And what did the older couple do, up there on their pretty porch, with their American flag? They practically spit on him. Looked at him like “You piece of shit.” Because he looked different. Like how people used to look at the hippies, back in the day.

And when Eddie told this story, when he got to the part about how the couple treated this guy, his voice caught. Right as every one in the audience was feeling the horror of this, the injustice, the prejudice, right as all of our throats were catching, Eddie’s caught too. He got choked up. Just like us. The guy is so well loved not just because of his amazing voice, his songwriting and front man abilities and talent with an ax. But because he is so real. So very real. So genuine. He’s one of us. Except he is up there, baring his soul, for everyone to see. Inviting us in. And that, my friends, is, in a nutshell, why he can pull off these solo shows, why he is going to become a great solo artist.

I mean, isn’t that just the essence of it all? Isn’t that what art is all about?

I mean what is art anyway? The famous American drama critic and editor George Jean Nathan said, and I love this quote, “Great art is irrational. It is mad with its own loveliness.” That’s kind of a good way to describe Eddie’s singing the other night. Mad with its own loveliness. But Picasso once said that “painting is just another way of keeping a diary,” and I think that maybe this gets to the heart of the matter best of all.

What is art but an attempt, by the artist, to know him or herself, and his or her relationship with the world, more intimately? What is art but an attempt by the artist to create for himself a varied and complex self-portrait that is so accurate and so encompassing and so revealing and so insistent over time that one might see hear or read this artist’s lifework and actually be able to know his or her life story? To know him. Really know him. Or her. To read his diary.

To me, that is art. An artist brings you into their world. For a second. Or a minute. Or an hour. Or an evening. Or forever. Art is intimacy. Art says, I think, “Come in here, with me, for a bit. Come, be with me. Come. Know me. Come in here and see the truth about me. Come in here, and hold my hand. Together, for a bit, we’ll sit and look at the world together and think about things.”

Eddie said it himself in a song he did last night, when he sang in THAT voice, “I’m open, come in.” What more can you ask of an artist than that? When Eddie Vedder sang “I’m open, come in,” last night at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, I believed him. And I went in. And I liked it in there, in Eddie’s world.

And I was sad, very sad, when I had to leave it. Thanks for inviting me in, Eddie. When you open the door again, I’ll be there, ready to step in and hold your hand, and sit and look at the world together and think about things. I’ll always be there. Because you know what, Eddie? I saw your madness. And I saw your loveliness. And I feel like I know you better now. Better than I did before. And there’s something about you that feels like home.

Articles by Karen Barry Schwarz:

Assault In Battery
Off She Goes… To First Pearl Jam Concert… Or Four
A Prairie Wind Blows Through Nashville

  1. 3 Responses to “REARVIEW MIRROR: A LOOK BACK AT MY WEEK WITH EDDIE VEDDER”

  2. Oh my God ! I’m crying. What a read was that. I think this is the first I’ve heard of another person as freakishly I love with the man.

    By RAINO on Aug 24, 2008

  3. thank you for capturing what it’s like as an individual seeing pearl jam and eddie - i appreciate the style, the attempt to get at what it is for you to experience the show, to feel part of whatever happens when a crowd gathers there.

    By g on Sep 5, 2008

  4. i always used to send flowes on my ex-GF but now i seldom do so’.:

    By Owen Murphy on Oct 5, 2010

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