Eddie Vedder's favorite records
updated over 8 years ago
"I know I was born, and I know I'll die / the in-between is mine," Eddie Vedder sings on Riot Act, Pearl Jam's recently released seventh album. From his earliest days, Vedder's in-between has been filled with music, from the dynamic voice of the young Michael Jackson to the world-weary growl of the eternally old Tom Waits. Somehow, Vedder's lifelong passion for music has landed him in the position he's in today: sitting on the terrace of a New York City hotel's penthouse suite on a windy fall day, chain-smoking and sketching the arc of his life through the records that have moved him the most.
Holding his head in his hands, he looks skeptically at a list he's spent a week preparing, filling the pages of a black composition book. "I have some hesitation about this, because it might demystify everything," he says. "Our influences are who we are. It's rare that anything is an absolutely pure vision; even Daniel Johnston sounds like the Beatles. And that's the problem with the bands I'm always asked about, the ones derivative of the early Seattle sound. They don't dilute their influences enough."
Vedder doesn't sound bitter, but it's clear from his list that he's got a soft spot for artists who carve out their own niche with little regard for trends or fashion, from nerd-core pioneer David Byrne to indie experimentalist Jim O'Rourke. Perseverance is a theme that pops up repeatedly on Riot. "Love Boat Captain" is by turns elegiac and propulsive as it mourns the people trampled to death during a Pearl Jam set at a Danish rock festival in 2000 ("nine friends we'll never know"). The song concludes with Vedder telling himself that all we need is love, a classic rock sentiment that universalizes the tragedy. Like the musicians he reveres, Vedder is willing to take on tough issues. He saves his scorn for those who don't try at all, particularly our commander in chief: "Born on third, thinks he's got a triple," he snarls on "Bushleaguer."
To understand Vedder is to understand his favorite music. Taking pains to point out that his bandmates' lists would need to be factored in for any true summation of Pearl Jam, he turns back to his own. "If you were somehow able to melt all these records together," he says, "it would be exactly our music.