The Life and Times of Eddie Vedder

For the hardcore "cult" Pearl Jam fans: I've received some angry comments from PJ fans for writing this report. Let me clear things up. First and foremost, I am not a PJ fan. You probably assumed that already, since I chose Kim Neely's book, instead of some flattering book written by a fawning admirer. However, what you don't know is that I picked up the book only because it was lying around in my house, and not as a personal attack on Eddie Vedder. Why would I? (I happen to live with two avid PJ fans and for that matter, know as much about their music and story as the fans do. I have nothing against Vedder). Just because I wrote a report based on Kim Neely's book does not mean I agree or disagree with the author. I admit, I found the book to be an interesting and easy read; a crime, I suppose to all the hardcore fans who render themselves punk at times. Anyway, I meant to write the paper objectively, and hope that my report will not offend any more of the cult PJ fans. You fans in return can try to erase your bias towards me and stop judging other people. Maybe that will stop you guys from getting mad at my paper. Think of it this way, it was a good excuse not to write about some historical figure in text books. Who cares about them?

The biography, Five Against One, by Kim Neely is about Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. It is about how he influenced people and about how he became who he is today. It is about the obstacles in his life and what makes him no different from any other regular person.

Eddie Vedder's similarity to Jim Morrison reached its true form when he covered the Doors' songs with its remaining members on January 12, 1993. Eddie was similar to Morrison, not only in appearance, but in deeper levels. "Just as Morrison did, Eddie influenced a lot of misfits with identity problems. They both strove to communicate with their audience even when it meant angering them in the process" (180).

Eddie is influential to many people, not only to his fans, because he is a regular person. He is influential to the world because he addresses numerous different issues in his music, ranging from abortion to suicide to Freud. Therefore, the lives he influences vary and cannot be clarified to one type of person.

In the album Ten, "Jeremy" was inspired by a newspaper article about a kid that shot himself in front of his English class. He had also had a Jeremy in his life. "Even Flow" was about homelessness while "Why Go" was about a teenager's fight for independence. In "Release" a boy yearned for the father he never got to know. In the album Vs. "Blood" was about media exploitation while "Rats" compared human nature to disgusting rodent characteristics. "Go" was about insecurities, while "Glorified G" was about Eddie's opposition towards guns after their drummer had purchased one in Texas. "WMA" was about police racism and "Animal" was written through the viewpoint of gang rape victims. In the album Vitalogy, "Immortality" explored love, sex, and death. "Stupid Mop" was a song in which a child was interviewed about discipline, sex, and suicide.

In 1964, Eddie Vedder was born as Edward Louis Severson III. At fifteen, his mother Karen Lee Vedder met Peter Mueller. They would raise Eddie together. Throughout high school, Peter and Karen knew much about each other's family. Then Karen Vedder began seeing Ed Severson, who would become Eddie's biological father. "On March 24, 1962, Karen and Ed were married. However, by April 29, 1965, Karen filed for divorce while reviving her friendship with Peter Mueller" (202-203). Before long, Karen got pregnant by another man and made up her mind that she would give the baby up for adoption right after she had it. In, Houston, Peter went to visit his friends with Karen. They agreed that they would pretend that Eddie was their child and that they were married. Since then, everybody thought Eddie was Peter Mueller's son. "Then on November 5, 1966, Karen and Peter were married" (206).

While living near Ed Severson, Karen encouraged Peter to legally adopt Eddie. Karen did not feel comfortable about Ed becoming an active parent in Eddie's life because of his homosexuality and his recent diagnosis with multiple sclerosis. "In June Ed signed the consent form, relinquishing his parental rights over Eddie, and that fall, Peter and Karen stood before a Chicago judge to finalize the adoption" (210).

During Eddie's adolescence, two of the biggest obstacles in his life would occur. The first was the divorce of his parents. Eddie blamed Peter entirely for the divorce because the family had sacrificed for many years putting Peter through law school. Eddie had worked as a child model and Karen held numerous jobs. For about six months, the money finally started coming in, but then separation came. Soon, Eddie's parents were divorced and Peter found a new wife urgently.

The second obstacle was when Eddie was told that Peter was not his real father. "By late 1977, when Eddie was in eighth grade Ed Severson's visits had stopped because his health was deteriorating" (219). The last conversation Peter had with Ed did concern Eddie, but Eddie would never have the father-and-son talk with Ed that Karen and Peter had hoped for. Instead, Eddie said in an interview about the time he was told that, "I was happy for about a minute, and then I came down...I had to deal with the anger of not being told sooner, not being told when he was alive..." (236).

These events changed Eddie as an individual. His behavior reverted to anger and hostility. Eddie's grades began to fall and he missed classes. He also got severely into drugs and refused to abide to strict drug policies administered by the Parent Alert program. Eddie's life became very complex and difficult for a kid to manage. "In school, with his grades already dropping, he had to explain to his teachers what was going on. One day, he showed them his reality by opening his backpack. Inside was where he kept all his electric and rent bills" (230-231). Then in senior year, Eddie shattered Peter's high expectations when failed to graduate high school because he was just two credits short of a diploma. Also during a custody battle for his younger half-brother Chris, Eddie included a declaration to be presented in the case. In it, he wrote that "Peter was rarely home and that he had to come up with all the expenses. He also wrote that Peter seldom talked with him and that he was constantly reprimanded" (239).

In order to overcome these obstacles, Eddie needed a refuge, which became music. He joined a few garage bands, joined the school musical, and treasured his growing record collection. Eddie once said to a writer, "I should be sending Pete Townshend cards for Father's Day. His records---that was more parenting than I got, just relaxing and having an outlet" (231). However, despite the music, Eddie did not have a successful recovery. Even though music served as an escape, it never settled the disputes Eddie had with Peter Mueller. The music rather allowed him to ignore the problem. Their relationship still remains tense as Peter pointed out that when Eddie is on television, "They [the Brothers Mueller and Eddie] go into a different room...They can't accept Eddie and me in the same room" (246).

The 'little moment' that changed Eddie Vedder's life was when he went camping in 1990 in the mountains of Yosemite National Park. The trip was a revelation for him, awakening something in him. Eddie impressed others by taking risks that others wouldn't dare to try. "After he grew a bit too bold and only narrowly escaped being carried over a cliff by some rapids, he said later, had made him feel alive" (59). Being expected to do crazy things, he was named 'Crazy Eddie.'

Other than pushing limits, the part that made the trip even more important was that Eddie was around so many people he respected. Among the people he admired there were Jack Irons, former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer who would later join Pearl Jam, and Flea, bassist of Red Hot Chili Peppers. "Eddie had first met Jack Irons backstage at the Bacchanal in the fall of 1989, where Jack was appearing with Joe Strummer's band" (58). That night, Eddie spent a lot of time with Jack. They developed a friendship through the phone and by occasional meetings to play basketball. Eddie idolized Jack because he knew his way around the industry after touring the world and making records with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Thus, it was Jack's invitation to Yosemite that would have a significant impact on Eddie.

Another reason why the trip was extraordinary was that Jack presented a tape to Eddie that he had never heard before. Jack explained to Eddie that the guys were from Seattle and looking for a drummer and a singer. "Then in Los Angeles, Eddie met the two guys, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard and received a bunch of demo tapes. Back in San Diego, he took the tapes to work with him so he could absorb the songs" (60). At home, he recorded three songs with only an outline for the lyrics. He titled his three song tape, Mamasan and sent it to Los Angeles. The guys heard it and were blown away.

The trip to Yosemite National Park made Eddie take a different direction in life. The trip, not only liberated Eddie, but introduced him to the early sounds of Pearl Jam. It wouldn't be long until he would receive messages that Stone and Jeff wanted to fly him up to Seattle for his first audition.

Eddie Vedder's persistency has been his strength and weakness. His persistency worked as a strength for him when he fought Ticketmaster. The feud with Ticketmaster started when Eddie was fed up with the price of Pearl Jam's tickets. "Also, Pearl Jam wanted to donate $20,000 of their profit from three arena concerts as a charitable donation to the Seattle Center Arts and Sciences Academy. The money raised would be used to send two teenagers to the Northwestern school of the Arts" (265-266). Before the tickets went on sale, Ticketmaster demanded that another dollar be added to the price of the tickets. Then Ticketmaster refused to contribute the $20,000 lowering it to $14,000. However, this would only be the beginning.

Although Pearl Jam's first attempt to tour without Ticketmaster failed, they got what they wanted when the price of their tickets were lowered for their fans. However, with tour cancellations and a year's preparation to book tour dates, Pearl Jam reconsidered working with Ticketmaster. Pearl Jam's spokesperson, Kelly Curtis said, "We don't want to make a point on how difficult it is to tour without Ticketmaster, and we made the point...I think you'll find that the band is going to do whatever it takes just to play" (308).

Eddie's stubborn persistency has also been a weakness for him. Even after he reached his fame, he continued to go by his punk ethics. Eddie's morality got him into various quarrels with drummer Dave Abbruzzese which eventually led to the firing of the drummer. The differences between Dave and Eddie was just another extension of the war between DIY and corporate music.

The drummer recalled, "...everybody was totally disconnected...yet at the same time [we're] doing interviews about how great it was being in a band, and the love and respect and brotherhood, all this stuff that I didn't feel was going on at all" (128). Also, when Dave was offered the cover of Drummer Magazine, Eddie quickly opposed it because of his punk ethic. However, Dave went on and did the cover. When the drummer finally got fired by guitarist Stone Gossard, Pearl Jam's spokesperson Sheri Fineman said, "I don't think it was his [Stone's] choice...I think Eddie laid down the ultimatum" (295-296).

There are many qualities that make Eddie 'human.' He is not an ideal 'rock star' because he does not outwardly enjoy the hype. Instead, the more fame Pearl Jam got, the more vocal Eddie became about not wanting to have anything to do with it. He said, "I'd like to keep things really small for a while. I want to play clubs for a long time and I don't want to be opening for a big act" (120). Other times, complete strangers approached him with heartwrenching and personal stories that made him feel guilty he could not spend more time listening to them. "Also, during Pearl Jam's second European tour, a doctor had to be called to examine Eddie, who declared that the singer was physically unable to continue. The singer barely spoke, shambled in a corner and lost in his thoughts" (156-157). The tour was too much for him.

A quality that seems surprising considering the public's preconceived perception of Eddie as the unsympathetic temperamental guy is that in many aspects he is more of a grieving child. In the Grammys, he made a speech that pointed out to the audience his central loss in life. Standing on the podium, he said, "My dad would have liked it. My dad died before I got to know him, and he would have liked it. So that's why I'm here" (378).

The tone of the biography, Five Against One, by Kim Neely was highly descriptive in discussing the life of Eddie Vedder. Throughout the biography, the writer uses factual evidence to substantiate her point. For example, "By late 1977, when Eddie was in tenth grade, Ed Severson's visits had stopped. His health had begun to deteriorate and he was living in a Los Angeles rest home, Long Wood Sanitarium" (219). Conversely, the writer also uses ambiguity and doubtfulness in absence of factual evidence. For example, Neely wrote, "Perhaps Eddie omits the time he spent with Peter from his history...perhaps he tells reporters he was on his own at that point...It is possible that..." (231).

The writer also uses apostrophe to describe Eddie's feelings after the death of Kurt Cobain. She wrote, "Clearly what bothered Eddie the most about his relationship with Cobain was that so much time had been wasted on punk rock vs. rock finger pointing" (279). That is used to depict Eddie's sense of loss and regret that they did not help each other during the hard times. Another tone that the writer uses is sarcasm. For example, when Shannen Doherty was staying at the same hotel with Eddie in San Diego, it was rumored that she was rude to everyone while looking for him. After that, Doherty said, "My crush is now over" and Neely came back with, "Eddie was surely devastated to hear the news" (148). Sarcasm is used there to put the writer in Eddie's shoes. Eddie rejected celebrities and had also given some information to the I Hate Brenda zine.

Imagery is used often to depict Eddie. For example, "Even as a toddler, Eddie drew admirers like flies...with a halo of sun-streaked brown hair, eyelashes long as your arm, and an enthusiastic, loving nature that could melt the iciest of hearts" (210). That angelic imagery is used to contradict the older images of the irritable Eddie. Neely also uses paradox to describe Eddie and Jim Morrison in their similarity that, "They both needed their fame as desperately as they hated it" (180).

Five Against One, by Kim Neely gave us a personal look to Eddie Vedder. It displayed that a person as influential as Eddie could also have his share of problems. This biography displayed an artist that had dilemmas with morality and life. It dealt with a child who did not have a real father. It also dealt with a human rather than a rock star. Most importantly, it was about obstacles that must be faced everyday, even if it means changing your ethics. This biography was a study of a man whose youth would depend on his future and how he'd battle his past through mistakes and anger; through life.

*back to main page*