Sold Out -- When Your No. 1 Band Becomes Everyone Else's No. 1 Band
The Hype Warriors
Hundreds of little T-shirted grungers and grungettes, few of them of sufficient age to enter most Seattle rock clubs, are lined up outside the downtown UA Cinemas on a Monday afternoon in October. The teeming mass begins at the big glass doors, stretches north to the corner of Sixth and Blanchard and curls west toward the waterfront, squirming in excitement. Already a television crew is feeding parasitically on the front of the line, gorging itself on sound bites while the creature prepares to lunge through the doors, worm its way inside and spread itself all over the theater.
This is an event - it must be, considering three radio stations are involved - and over the past few days people have spent hours on the phone storming the contest lines while others have tracked down radio promotional vehicles, all clamoring for tickets. Station KISW-FM, 99.9 on your radio dial, says anyone wearing its call letters automatically qualifies for entry, so ticketless waifs find ink markers and scrawl K-I-S-W all over themselves, on their T-shirts, on their arms, on their heads in places where hair used to be.
Forget the absurdity of it all - this is survival of the fittest, where the Hype Warriors win and the rest listen at home. It's not the way it once was, the way it still is for other Seattle bands you can see any given night for less than 10 bucks. Pearl Jam has moved into an entirely new arena, where those skilled at the art
of being fans have the advantage.
And this, on the scale of fandom, is yet another event of the season - no, wait - of the year. There was PJ's Labor Day weekend show at the Gorge in George, and now this, and then their long-awaited second release, and if you've still never heard of Pearl Jam, would you recommend the Peace Corps, now that you're back? Good Hype Warriors know that the vinyl version of "Vs." is going on sale the next day, not forgetting that, technically, the next day begins at midnight, and so some music stores will be open late to serve up the treats. Those in the know - radar-minded Warriors of Hype - get the goodies first.
Inside, Epic Records' local rep Debi Lipetz-Holman assures the UA Cinemas' manager that adequate security measures are in place and that the theater's smoking regulations and seat cushions are in no danger, as far as she can tell. In boxes are rolled-up posters to be distributed promoting the new record - the image resembles a distorted, maniacal camel fleeing the fires of Kuwait, but it's actually a doctored shot of a sheep poking its nose through a farmyard fence outside Missoula.
What will happen here and during three subsequent shows today is that a few hundred raging torch carriers will pack the theater and watch a slide show set to the new album, images halfway left to interpretation. Not your typical radio-exec-populated listening party: This is the World Premiere of "Vs.," and as the evening progresses the audiences grow older, more job-holding. There has been nothing like it, and some will go home mesmerized, some perplexed, others unimpressed.
All this over Pearl Jam, the Seattle-based band that splashed onto the covers of major magazines everywhere this fall. They've been fitted with the same labels applied to fellow Seattle band Nirvana after 1991's "Nevermind" and the belated, misguided "Seattle Sound" craze, only more so. The nation's critics, recalling how their own teenage traumas were resolved in the '60s through the three-chord music of the day, proclaim that Pearl Jam's material embodies the collective angst of today's young. The band's debut album, "Ten," has gone on to eclipse "Nevermind" with 5.4 million copies sold as of late October, still one of the nation's top-25-selling albums two years after its release. This summer, Pearl Jam won four of five MTV award nominations.
Reclusive, soulful lead singer and former surf dude Eddie Vedder, who takes to media exposure the way vampires respond to sunlight, was hailed as the voice of a generation. Rock music's exclusive circles welcomed the band with unequaled immediacy.
A week after the listening party, "Vs." - with an unconventional whatever-Pearl-Jam-wants-Pearl-Jam-gets mixture of low-key promotion, the shunning of MTV, and vinyl released a week before the tape and CD - hit the stores and went platinum in five days. With their second album, Pearl Jam became the biggest media phenomenon in rock music in years, spawning hordes of newspaper and magazine articles straining to capture in some way whatever mystery lay behind those possessed Vedder eyes, even while never permeating the band's wall of selective silence. Here comes another one now.
The Search For Pearl Jam, Part One
Go find Pearl Jam, they said.
OK. Um . . . exactly what leverage do we have here?
Hello, may I speak to Pearl Jam?
What? Who is this?
This is Pacific magazine, voice of a generation.
Oh, well, you know, the band isn't doing any interviews right now. They're busy working on their new album. They don't want to do any press just yet. We've been trying to get them to do Rolling Stone, and they won't even do that.
Well, can you at least add my name to the request list? The band makes such a huge deal out of staying true to their local fans, and at least Pacific magazine, voice of a generation, is local. Plus, my editors - those demons, those satans, those -
Yeah, yeah, we got it. OK.
Thank you. Bye.
A Pacific Exclusive
So one day in October, we are sampling the turkey hash breakfast at Jack's in Ballard, having obtained an exclusive interview with . . . Andrine Olson, a 30-year-old recently unemployed computer-systems instructor who remembers the old days of what is now known as Seattle's scorching-hot rock-music scene. So dust off those memories and turn back the pages to 1988 or 1989 or so.
Back to the time when everything now tiredly referred to as the "Seattle Scene" was enjoyed by a small core of club devotees, the legendary early days when grunge was something you found on the inside of the toilet bowl, when guys like Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready were making pizza or cracking eggs at Julia's, before the Vogue earned the moniker "the Vague." The same 500 or so people were hitting the clubs every night and Olson, a bouncy redhead of considerable effervescence, knew members of most bands she saw, bands like Variant Cause and The Life and Runaway Trains. And it was right around this time that Green River split up to produce Mudhoney and the tragic Mother Love Bone, from which sprung Mookie Blaylock, which quickly became Pearl Jam.
Olson says she saw them once, but she doesn't remember where - what she remembers are the eyes, the freaky electric presence of Eddie Vedder, whom the band recruited from San Diego to replace the late Andrew Wood after heroin took Wood's life. She is amazed that Vedder's eyes translate so well on MTV: "They just bore into you," she says. "I was like, those eyes, what is behind those eyes?"
But not long afterward "Ten" became a monster, and the days of casual small-club gigs were gone. The success the band had always sought began to limit them to occasional Elvis-like sightings at Seahawks games, unannounced club appearances or hole-in-the-wall taverns where Vedder would pour everyone's beer. With the hype now out of control, oldtimers like Olsen find themselves having to compete for tickets with . . . kids! Kids half their age, who know nothing of the early days. It is conceivable that these little rug-rats are out there going straight from Barney to Pearl Jam, and - well, the whole thing is just really appalling.
With the fall's barrage of media drool, people were saying, god, if I read one more story about Pearl Jam or Eddie Vedder I'm going to throw myself in front of a Darigold milk truck. Band members were crawling from rock to rock so as not to be recognized. Pearl Jam's local management staff found itself besieged and went into panic mode, suddenly closing ranks and fending off requests with false assurances and clumsy rejections.
Meanwhile, the rise-to-stardom cycle remained true to form - a band hits the big time, and all those fans faithful since the beginning get lost in a sea of teenyboppers and metalheads and pop rockers, elbowed aside by professional Hype Warriors. But Pearl Jam went one better, appealing to a large, emotionally tortured segment of the young broken-home population, thus becoming: The Voice of a Generation.
What $5 Will Get You These Days
Billie, an energetic little RCA-type dog named after Billie Holiday, is bouncing off the walls of the Ten Club headquarters in the offices of Kelly Curtis Management, near the monorail track on Denny Way. One wall is covered with Pearl Jam posters, another one decorated with the band's gold and platinum records.
It's amazing how fast this thing has grown. (The club, not the dog.) Shelley and Chris, the two women who run the club, say that just a year and a half ago, membership numbered around a thousand, many of them leftovers from the Mother Love Bone days. Then "Ten" blossomed, and Eddie was baring his soul on MTV, and as of October, membership had boomed to near 40,000. This is why Shelley and Chris won't give their last names, for fear of being sought out by fans. It is also why the club can now charge: $5 a year earns two newsletters plus a Christmas single.
Toward summer's end, a guy sent in a copy of his recently mailed check for $5 and wrote, Where's my newsletter? Where's my Christmas single?
And Shelley was, like: "Well, dude . . . `Christmas single' comes out at Christmas."
OK, so sometimes fans aren't so smart. But they can lick stamps, and they write from all over the world: On the floor are piles of letters and postcards from places like Cameron, Texas; Rockford, Ill.; Australia and Croatia and Brazil. Also Puyallup. A couple of guys come in - members of the sound crew that will be working the band's upcoming Labor Day weekend shows in Vancouver, B.C., Portland and the Columbia River Gorge at George, Wash. - and rummage through the Ten Club line of clothing stuffed into a nearby cabinet. The shirt referred to as the "candle" shirt, with the lyrics to "Black" on the reverse, is still the top seller.
Not that the club is making out big - yet. The band, which used to answer all its mail when it was humanly possible, still supports the operation. But Pearl Jam's success makes it hard to find hired help. "We're trying to find the right person," Shelley says, "because you don't want to find someone who's, like, a total groupie who's gonna flip out if the band comes in the office. That would really be a drag."
Then again, who else would work for free?
Along with their letters, fans often send in pictures of themselves, twentysomethings with license plates reading PRRL JAM and EDDIE V, kids wearing basketball sportswear. Shelley and Chris, not knowing what else to do with it all, started compiling photo albums. Shelley opens one to show page after page of montage - slackers, giggly Tiger Beat teens, infants, cats and dogs.
The typical member is between 14 and 18 years old, but letters frequently arrive from women 35 to 40, sometimes accompanied by photos showcasing lingerie and swimwear: "Like, a lot of them talk about their kids," Chris says. "They go, `My kids really love your band. Eddie is really hot.' You know, you think she's writing because her kids are interested, but it's really because she wants Eddie."
Shelley: "I think it's because he presents this vulnerable and confused but still sensitive type of person, and women are just really drawn to that. They all want to take care of him."
It's the teenagers, though, who send the most intriguing correspondence.
"A lot of them say, `I can totally relate to your lyrics. Everything you say - it's like it was written about me,' " Shelley says. "They've really hit a nerve as far as what kids are dealing with these days and how dislocated they feel from everything and how unhappy they really are. . . . I just think it's unfortunate that the kids don't have any other outlet for it except to write to a fan club, because there's a lot of people who write to us expecting some kind of help."
The Search For Pearl Jam, Part Two
Hi, this is Pacific magazine, the vulnerable, confused but still sensitive Sunday magazine of The Seattle Times, just checking on that request to speak with the band?
Yeah, your request is still here.
They're still not talking to anyone?
Isn't the new album coming out soon?
Yeah, they'll probably do something then. Who is this again?
Pearl Jam, Pearl Jam, Burning Bright
So much national press had been generated on Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder during the rise of "Ten" that the band's recording label, Epic, a division of Sony Corp.'s Sony Music Entertainment, was able to produce three L.A.-telephone-book-size collections of it all.
Early reviews from the college campuses weren't all positive: "It is quite amusing the way the lead singer tries to hit the high notes." Or, "Good god, I don't understand Seattle."
But for every one of those, there were 10 that said: "Mark my words, this guy will change the world." And he was often compared with Jim Morrison of the Doors.
In interviews, Vedder emanated discomfort with celebrity status. He had no gift, he said - he'd heard singers with a gift, and he wasn't one of them. As far as he was concerned, he was still the same old guy working the night shift, who in one surf session composed the lyrics to three tracks sent to him by lead-singerless Mother Love Bone just a year before.
"We were blown away," guitarist Stone Gossard told RIP in December 1991. "He was really the first who had it. We had a few other types of singers, but it was always people singing Love Bone songs or trying to be like Andy . . ."
The more successful the band became, the more Eddie seemed to withdraw. He was so actual size, so everyday gas-attendant normal, that he became all the more heroic in the eyes of everyday people everywhere. He wasn't particularly striking, but there was something about him - except that now so many teenyboppers have adopted Eddie as the heartthrob du jour that people have taken to calling the band Girl Jam. He dons masks in publicity shots.
He is 28 years old. As a child, he locked himself in the bathroom to shelter himself from unpleasant situations at home. His music reflects exploitation of power - between government and the people, police and their communities, men and women, parents and their children, humans and animals - yet says nothing of Ticketmaster. The emotion Vedder projects on stage seems to come from somewhere so deep that one reviewer called him "a lightning rod of fan catharsis."
In "Alive," he sings:
Is something wrong, she said
Of course there is
You're still alive, she said
But do I deserve to be? Is that the question? And if so, if so, who answers, who answers?
"Getting a gold record," he told The Washington Post last year, "was cool for about two and a half minutes."
Mamas, Don't Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Beavis And Butt-head
The true Hype Warriors are here, never mind that it's 3 p.m. on a school day. Listen for your chance to win tickets? We're glued to the frequency! Get in line early? Just tell us where to stand! The youth of Seattle, in their denim and Docs and reversed baseball caps, file into the UA Cinemas for the unveiling of the "Vs." album.
Four glimmering candelabras decorate the corners of the seating area. A half-dozen headbangers, first in line, assume crash position in the front row of the theater, ready to rock and hear songs about child abuse and police oppression and gun control. A few hundred people are seated when a KISW rep steps up to the microphone.
"Ladies and gentlemen," she says, "you are definitely the diehards."
Recognition of the Hype Warriors! Her good sense is rewarded with applause.
Guitars slam and bore over the speakers, loud and clear, as the album begins. Ken Gay, 19, and Jon Hoke, 16, go into headbanging mode while slides flash lyrics to the song "Go."
Don't go on me
The lyrics alternate with comic-book images of pain, solitude and darkness. Ken and John realize they can't throw their heads around and watch slides at the same time, so they switch into second gear like everyone else, bobbing in rockable theater chairs perfect for the occasion. A blaze of drums and guitar, and the frenzy of the first song of the first world premiere implodes into nothing justlikethat.
A moment of unsure silence.
"Cool!" Ken Gay finally roars.
The Hype Warriors whoop and clap - what else are 300 people supposed to do? There's no precedent for this thing, this experiment falling somewhere between innovative and ridiculous. Normally they'd buy the tape off the rack, pop it into their car stereo or cassette deck at home and appreciate it as it goes along, and maybe they and a couple of friends would rate it between songs or whatever, but they definitely wouldn't applaud . . . Doesn't matter! They're here!
"Animal" is next, then the delicate "Daughter":
She holds the hand that holds her down . . .
Followed by "Glorified G," "Dissident" and "WMA," a drum-and-bass-driven eeriness on police brutality. The second side begins and ends and the TV cameras pounce again.
A second crowd, those following on the heels of the Hype Warriors, is ushered inside. It includes Andrine Olson and Ava Chakravarti, friends since their freshman year at Roosevelt High. When she emerges, a dazzled Olson says: "It's like someone came up to them and said, `Write a song about every major issue in this country.' They couldn't have done any better."
Boeing laid her off in July. She hated it anyway. Thirty years old and unemployed, she can't even think about shelling out the 20 bucks for one of the three Pearl Jam shows scheduled this week and sure to be bursting with sweaty little Hype Warriors. Where do these kids get the money?
The Search For Pearl Jam, Part Three
(Or, Why Not Go On Vacation During A Story In Which Remaining In The Loop Is Of Prime Importance)
So, welcome back. Did you go to the Pearl Jam show last night?
What? What Pearl Jam show?
Surprise show at the Off Ramp. Last night. You heard about it, didn't you? What's wrong? You look a little pale.
This is the kind of thing Pearl Jam periodically savors as one way of massaging that bond with its fans, but stardom has made it increasingly harder to pull off. The bond and the music matter most, but Vedder feels torn apart, spread thin by celebrity, every nod to publicity detracting from the art. He's said as much. Not that he says much.
He dissed Time magazine but was sentenced to its cover anyway. When he has control of things, though, he's the same guy who throws himself onto a crowd's raised arms until they pass him back onstage. The night before "Vs." was released, Vedder was at it again, giving out his home phone number on a nationally broadcast radio interview.
And so it came as no surprise that rumors, already in progress, of a Pearl Jam appearance began to circulate around an Oct. 25 show scheduled at Seattle's Off Ramp rock club by Green Apple Quick Step, another band in the Kelly Curtis Management stable. When word spread that Green Apple Quick Step was actually touring Eastern Washington, folks started lining up outside the Off Ramp at noon. (Just tell us where to stand!) By the time the doors opened, there were hundreds, maybe a thousand people queued up in several directions.
The first people allowed to enter were overjoyed, jumping and running around inside like the winning team in the last game of the World Series. When Off Ramp managers announced the club had reached capacity and that everyone else might as well go home, hundreds stayed, content to remain outside until club officials handed out cookies and other items that the disappointed fans accepted before slowly drifting away, like balloons.
Toward Thee I Roll, Thou All-Destroying But Unconquering Whale . . . From Hell's Heart I Stab At Thee
Against the impressionistic sunset setting of the Columbia River Gorge, Pearl Jam is about to play on a September evening for 19,000 yelping fans. Blind Melon has opened and Neil Young is yet to come, and as soon as Pearl Jam hits the stage the fence separating the bleacher seats from the grassy terrace below ruptures like a soggy garbage bag.
Dozens of fans spill dangerously down the earthy precipice in a scene reminiscent of the Omak Stampede Suicide Race. Another section of fencing dividing the terrace from the ground-level area later blows a leak, and throughout the show security officers have their hands full trying to stem the hemorrhage.
A curious group of people, two middle-aged couples flanked by their children, watch in wonder from about mid-level. They have large coolers of beer and a videocamera, items that got nixed at the gate for everyone else, and so it becomes clear that these are folks with very special connections.
A Pacific magazine staff writer, unflinching, persevering, in competition with every major publication in America and fearful of pain inflicted by rabid editors, quickly gets to the bottom of the matter: This is the family of Pearl Jam bass player Jeff Ament, come all the way from Seattle and Oregon and the northwest Montana farm country, where Jeff grew up.
"He's worked so hard to get where he is," says his aunt. "You have no idea how proud you can be."
Jeff's three sisters and a brother are here and so are George and Penny, his parents. George, a barber by trade, is working the camcorder, preserving the event for posterity. The tape will come out "not too bad, really," he says later. "We got some fair ones of those idiots coming off the hill there."
They wish they could see more of their son, but they have come to realize that being part of the most enormously huge rock band in the world is a busy profession. Still, every once in a while Jeff will pop in and surprise them at dinnertime. Last time he was so unexpected that Penny just made leftovers.
"He's really patient," Penny says. "He likes to talk to kids one-on-one. I don't know what it's like when you have thousands and thousands of people pulling on you in every direction. But he's got a big heart."
George: "Course you know, we are a little prejudiced."
Andrine Olson, back in Seattle, might be thrilled to know that she and Jeff not only are the same age, but share a common childhood trait: They were the kind of kids who brought home stray animals or other children, particularly those who'd been shunned by their peers. The similarities end there, though; neither Jeff nor Eddie nor any other Pearl Jammer is unemployed, strapped for bucks or unable to afford a house in the neighborhood in which they grew up. Being the Voice of a Generation has its privileges.
By the time Pearl Jam closes its spirited set, giving fans a dose of songs from their forthcoming second album, night has fallen. The Aments pack up and negotiate their way through the crowd on their way backstage, territory achieved by only the most valiant of Hype Warriors. But flanked by Aments, it becomes possible, for one fortunate moment, to blend in.
And with that, Pacific, the big-hearted magazine that often brings home stray animals, closes in on the ranks of the big guys - Melody Maker, Musician, Rolling Stone. Sworn to music, anti-establishment to the end, Pearl Jam won't hang out with just anyone. Not even Time.
The Aments wait for Jeff, whom Vedder often takes along to interviews because he'll do most of the talking. George and Penny share rock-star-parenting stories with Louise McCready, mother of Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, while young delegates from the nearby Yakima Indian Reservation, among a group invited by Neil Young, roam the premises trying to catch a glimpse of Vedder.
Jeff finally appears in a black T-shirt and a Charles Barkley basketball cap, trading hugs with his three younger, twentysomething sisters. One of them tells him she's getting married toward the end of May, wondering if he can make it. Jeff thinks a second.
"Uh . . . that could be borderline," he says.
He tells them he would have come out to see them sooner except that the band was intercepted immediately following the show and herded into a press tent in front of waiting reporters and flashing cameras. Tsh! tsh! he says, mimicking the cameras. "We felt like cattle. Every time we looked up - tsh! tsh! So Eddie goes, `Hey, guys - watch this' " and looks up quickly, making a crazy face that he knows hungry photographers will snare without thinking.
Jeff tells them about the house he's planning to build, then fills them in on the MTV awards ceremony in Los Angeles, from which the band has just returned. And just like that, it's time to go. McCready is the only other band member who makes an appearance.
"When will we see you again?" his family asks.
"When will we see you again?" asks Pacific magazine.
They are five guys who play music just like a hundred other bands back in Seattle, but when he answers, it seems to come from another world.
Marc Ramirez is a Pacific staff writer. Harley Soltes is Pacific's staff photographer. Lance Mercer is a Seattle freelance photographer.
Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.