News Article

Pearl's Jam

The grunge rockers go platinum in record time. What a bummer.

Sullen sells: That's what the blistering pace set by Pearl Jam's second album, Vs., means to the music industry. But for Seattle's reluctant rock gods, being the hottest band in the country has apparently become a pain in the butt.

"My ass is sore," lead singer Eddie Vedder informed the capacity crowd attending an unannounced show at Seattle's Off Ramp, four days before the Oct. 19 release of Vs. — the fastest-selling album of 1993. "I just wiped it with Time magazine."

For most bands, making the cover of the prestigious national newsmagazine (Oct. 25 issue) might be cause for celebration. (And we're not just saying that because Time is our sister publication.) But with the glare of superstardom focused directly on him, Vedder, 28, performed without a spotlight, staying in the back of the small stage. He seemed "morose and bitter," according to concertgoers at the Off Ramp-fueling rumors that Pearl Jam's record-breaking success has made the moody musician extremely unhappy.

The band's recent behavior, in fact, suggests an uneasy perch atop the charts:

— At a Nov. 5 show in Indio, Calif., according to a backstage observer, Vedder continued his habit of carrying a bottle of wine both on — and off — stage. "He seemed out of it," says the source, who added that the performance was outstanding. After unruly fans began tossing shoes at the band, she says, Vedder "called us all f---ing c---s."
— Although the band's sweep of the MTV Music Video Awards on Sept. 2 no doubt whetted appetites for Vs., Pearl Jam has broken with tradition by not producing a video for the new album-forcing MTV to edit footage of its awards- show appearance into a makeshift clip.
— For a hush-hush concert held Oct. 27 at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, Calif., Pearl Jam denied Epic executives tickets, opting to reserve all seats for fans. Observers at the MTV Awards noted that Vedder appeared disgruntled after having to schmooze with Sony execs.

Yet the band's erratic behavior hasn't slowed Vs. one bit. According to SoundScan data, sales topped 1.3 million in its first 13 days. The album's first-week total of 950,378 copies broke the record set by Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion II in September 1991 (770,000 copies) and outperformed all other entries in Billboard's top 10 combined. The one-week total alone made Vs. the 38th best-seller of 1993.

In other words, the group's marketing plan — which is to have no marketing plan — is paying off. "Pearl Jam is a fan's band," says SoundScan CEO Mike Shalett. "The things they've done go back to [punk impresario] Malcolm McLaren saying, 'I want no publicity. We don't want to run ads and do singles.' If you publicize that anti-stand, it fits well into the 'fan's band' mentality."

Seattle insiders trace Jam's reticence to their punk roots and to the flak they took from other local bands after the success of their first major-label album. "People kept pegging Pearl Jam as this really commercial, corporate- puppet band," says Sub Pop cofounder Bruce Pavitt. "This is a reaction to that: They're saying, 'F--- you.'" But in the megabucks universe to which Pearl Jam has ascended, their no-frills attitude will be hard to maintain. The "fan's band" is already fighting to protect its franchise: Their official licensee, Nice Man Merchandising, recently won a court order allowing federal officers to seize bootleg Pearl Jam memorabilia sold at concerts on the current tour. (According to their manager, Kelly Curtis, "Ninety-nine percent of the bootleggers are not fans.") Says Nice Man's Larry Johnson, "When I told the band about the injunction, they said, 'Do whatever you have to do.' They weren't enthusiastic." Of course not. They're Pearl Jam.

(Additional reporting by Tim Appelo, Gina Arnold, David Bock, Jamie Reno, B.J. Sigesmund)

Originally posted Nov 19, 1993 Published in issue #197 Nov 19, 1993 Order article reprints
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