To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Seattle rockers Pearl Jam, Academy Award-winning filmmaker and music journalist Cameron Crowe has created a portrait of the seminal band that not only showcases his love for them, but also why so many fans from all over the world have found meaning in their music. Along with new interviews conducted with the band members, nearly 3,000 hours of footage was combed through for Pearl Jam Twenty and compiled to illustrate the freedom that allowed Pearl Jam a way to make music without compromising themselves or their fans. Anyone who has ever been to one of the band’s concerts knows just how electric and exciting their live show is, and now movie-goers can see the journey that got them to where they are today.
While at the Toronto Film Festival, Pearl Jam did a press conference with director Cameron Crowe, where they talked about the challenge of tackling 20 years of history and paring it down to two hours, that the Holy Grail of footage was a private moment shared between Eddie Vedder and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain that no one was even sure there was a record of, how surviving the last 10 years took a lot of effort and communication, that they are grateful for and appreciative of their fans, and how they hope that 10 years from now, they’ll be doing the same thing, only better. Pearl Jam Twenty will be in select cities on September 20th, and then premiere on PBS on October 21st, before coming out on DVD on October 25th. Hit the jump for the transcript and audio.
If you’d like to listen to the press conference, click here for the audio. Otherwise the transcript is below.
CAMERON CROWE: I was really inspired by No Direction Home, the [Martin] Scorsese documentary on Bob Dylan. That’s a huge subject that spans a long time, and I just loved the way Scorsese – as a fan, as a musicologist and as a director – chose the chunk that he chose, examined the roots and showed how the music was born. I felt so satisfied and inspired that I wanted to listen to more Bob Dylan. It felt like a Bob Dylan experience. That was my guiding light, in making this movie. If we could make a movie that lets you feel the way a Pearl Jam concert or record lets you feel, then we’re in good shape.
How do you feel about the fact that Pearl Jam has a different concert set list every night, but this film has one group of songs that are telling this story?
MIKE McCREADY: I feel like the songs were diverse enough to show what our set list is like every night. First of all, it sounded great. That’s what you want out of a concert, anyways. I felt like I’d just been through a concert a little bit, without sweating. Emotionally, I feel like it’s a ride that’s fantastic.
Since Pearl Jam is a band that has always basically let the music do the talking, and the movie makes it clear that that is for protective reasons, among other things. Stone and Jeff, since you were there at the beginning, what did it take to get you to open up to Cameron Crowe to do a movie?
STONE GOSSARD: I just think that Cameron’s interest in doing it was the biggest inspiration. I don’t think we would have taken this thing on, had all the pieces not fit together. It was about Cameron just being open to the task of looking through all this footage and seeing if there’s a story to be told, or what the right story to be told was, or how it could make a great movie and represent the feeling that he has for the band. Once we knew he was involved, then we just trusted that it was going to be okay. Without Kelly [Curtis] and Cameron having a vision for it, we probably wouldn’t have made it for another 20 years. It would have been awhile, probably.
JEFF AMENT: We don’t get to hang out with Cameron that often, so it was an excuse to hang out with Cameron a little bit. He’s one of the great people to be in the corner of the room with and talk music, movies and art with. That was an added bonus to this whole process.
When Cameron showed up on the Seattle scene in the mid-‘80s, you guys let him in right away?
CROWE: I met Stone and Jeff first. I was researching the idea of doing a movie based in Seattle, about people, some of whom were musicians. I met Stone and Jeff, and loved so much that they were guys that had jobs and also played in bands. It wasn’t like the L.A. experience where guys are like, “Yeah, I live with my girlfriend. She pays for everything. I play at night and sleep all day.” These guys were like, “We pull espresso, we do this, we do that, and then we earn the experience to pay for our love, which is playing music, buying instruments and doing it.” So, I met them and thought they were a great example of people who love music and chose to make music their purpose in life, really responsibly and passionately. Loving their music came from knowing and loving them as guys, first.
With so much footage, were there things that you saw in the movie, that you had forgotten about?
AMENT: Backstage at The Cult show, for sure. It’s one of the shots that opens the film. The first time I saw that, I was like, “Where did that come from?” Obviously, Josh was shooting that footage, but I didn’t remember it. You have a memory of something in your head that’s probably drifted away from what really happened, as time goes on and you tell the stories. And then, all of a sudden, you get pulled back to really what it was like and it’s pretty shocking. I actually wore hats like that.
MATT CAMERON: I wore pajama pants for one show, and I never wear pajama pants. That was a surprise. I only wear shorts.
In combing through all this footage, were there finds that were particularly great, or anything that was the Holy Grail?
CROWE: The Holy Grail really was the piece of footage of Kurt Cobain and Eddie, slow dancing at the [MTV] VMAs. That had been talked about. Some people didn’t quite remember it even happening. Other people swore there was somebody there with a camera. So, with the help of the people that had the footage and that really wanted to help us get everything, we did find that footage and it’s so powerful. It’s just such a human moment, and it is what happens outside the glare of the spotlight. They were really in a blender of media explosiveness, at that time, and here was this moment below the stage, while Eric Clapton was playing “Tears in Heaven,” where Kurt and Eddie got to be alone and express themselves as people. The fact that it was on film is amazing, and it’s so poignant. We also had a million concerts that had been filmed, and the guys hadn’t put a lot of it out. We’d been working on the movie for so long and then, at a certain point, we called and said, “Gee, we’d like to do some interviews, and do them in your house, so that they’re personal and they feel like a conversation.” So, we started doing those interviews. The guys really opened the door for us to look in all the nooks and crannies and see whatever we could find. That’s why we’re lucky enough to have so many different things from so many areas of their lives.
Eddie, what do you remember of that Kurt Cobain moment?
VEDDER: Not that I remembered it, but you see Kurt look over and [gesture to be quiet]. It wasn’t saying, “Don’t tell anybody,” or “Keep a lid on this little private moment.” It actually was because, on the stage above us, Eric Clapton was playing “Tears in Heaven,” which is a pretty quiet song, and we were jumping up and down and clapping. The first time I saw that footage, it was incredibly emotional, I think just ‘cause he smiled. You think, “If he just could have pulled through.” That’s the thing about today. Maybe it’s good that this movie happened now. We’ve been in a grateful mode and an appreciation mode of each other for quite some time. The last few years has been a real graceful period for us. But, it really is a galvanizing moment to look at each other. It doesn’t happen that often. You look at the crowd reaction, or the family that is the people that come to see the shows, and it’s really just music. It’s just guitars and drums and bass. To have it turn into this other thing that’s a monument, in a way – I don’t mean to self-grandize – but it’s really something to see and witness and, in this case, be reminded of it, having it right there in front of it, so that we can appreciate it even more and know that we have a really strong base to go for the next 20 [years].
But, wasn’t your goal always to get beyond it just being music and push it somewhere else?
VEDDER: That’s like catching a butterfly. You can’t grab it too hard. It’s really a delicate thing. These are five men, who used to be teenagers or in their 20’s. If you’ve ever tried to order a pizza with five people, it’s difficult. So, to have gone to this other level of being able to create records, and songs that are different than the last songs that you’ve written, and put on shows and have each one be different, is very fortunate. One thing we’re very fortunate with is that, without having known each other and just having come together in this quick moment, to have all these people there and in long relationships, it’s a very lucky thing. Then you get to higher planes of communication. Every time you accomplish another thing, there’s another plane and you’re elevated again. It keeps going up. It doesn’t stay this way, or go down. It just keeps going up. That’s the long relationship thing.
McCREADY: With a lot of careful effort and talking to each other, and hopefully having as clear lines of communication and open lines of communication between each other as possible. That’s still an effort, but we take the time to want to find solutions for the stuff that goes on in our bands, if there are issues and problems, and things. I know we love each other, and I know I love playing music with these guys. There’s love and there’s understanding and there’s commitment, in all of those things, that have helped us. And, there’s been a lot of luck too, probably, and some timing.
Cameron, where does this fit into your career?
CROWE: I’ve always just wanted to be lucky enough to tell a good story, and I always felt the story of Pearl Jam is a great story. It’s beyond just a rock story. In fact, it takes the usual rock story and turns it on its head. The usual rock story is incredible promise, brilliance maybe, and then tragedy cuts it short, and aren’t we sad that we’ve lost this wonderful opportunity. Pearl Jam is exactly the opposite. It’s a tragedy that was surmounted, and these guys found joy through survival and from studying what had happened before in rock, with some of their heroes. In some ways, it was a hard story to tell because it’s a happy ending, and it’s not even an ending. But, what it is, is unique. All these guys, I think you can tell, approached their interviews open-heartedly. They wanted to just put everything out on the table. Even Jeff said, early on, “I hope there’s a little bit of group therapy that happens here, so I can learn a little bit about my band.” Every one of these guys just poured his heart out. All of us wanted to tell the story of how the music came to mean so much, today and tomorrow. I’m just lucky enough that I had the opportunity to help tell the story.
AMENT: Listening to what Mike said earlier, about how we’ve been able to get through things by talking, I realized that really that first five or six years, there wasn’t a lot of talking. A lot of times, we would just put our heads down and get to the next place, and look at one another. We were just holding on. I don’t remember a whole lot of conversations about what we were going through, at the time, ‘cause we didn’t know what we were going through. That’s the beauty of watching this movie and trying to make sense, a little bit, of that first five to 10 years. But, I haven’t seen all the interview stuff. That was the thing that I got excited about, when Cameron said, “I want to interview you guys.” I was just curious, good and bad, to hear Stone say, “I didn’t want to be in a band anymore.” That’s all good because, when that was all going down, we were talking to one another. We’d take a bike ride every day, after Andy [Wood] died, and we’d hang out for two or three hours, but we wouldn’t really talk about anything. I would prod and say, “I heard you’re playing some music,” and he’d be like, “Yep.” So, it’s been great to see a little bit of just how we feel about one another. I think we occasionally tell each other, but we’re guys.
CROWE: They had to pry this movie out of my hands. This could have easily been Pearl Jam 22 or 23. I thought, “Damn, I had a great opportunity to ask Eddie a question, and I blew it.”
So, ask him now.
CROWE: Okay. When you’re on the plane, coming up from San Diego to Seattle, for the first time, what were you thinking? Were you thinking that it could go either way, or did you know in your heart that it was going to work?
VEDDER: I was thinking, “Oh, my god, I’m on a plane! I offered to drive. Who are these guys that can afford a plane ticket?” That’s what I was thinking. And then, I probably thought, “Don’t fuck this up!” I took a razor blade, back when you could bring razor blades on planes, ‘cause I would do collages and I did some crazy collage. I was just excited to play music. I’d been in a few different groups with some people. The nature of being in bands, you try to write stuff, or you play some covers, and you try to figure it out stylistically, but it never felt like anything real. It never felt like anything that wasn’t highly derivative of something else. When I heard the music that I got through (drummer) Jack Irons, which was the instrumental demo stuff that Matt Cameron had played on, I just heard something that I had never heard before. To be able to be part of that, and really not knowing what would happen, I thought that I would have a week in Seattle. It was like an art project, just like the razor blade collages.
At this point in your career, how do you see things 10 years from now? What do you think you’ll be doing?
VEDDER: I think the same thing, just better. I think we’ll just keep getting better, and maybe just try to push the boundaries, musically. I don’t see stopping. I don’t think any of us see stopping. I think everyone is doing things outside of the group too, which I think is really healthy. So, by the time we get back, we’re excited to be back. Some groups will have a record, and then they’ll tour for two and a half years, and then they’ll need to take two years off ‘cause they don’t want to see each other, or they’re just so wrecked and exhausted. Whatever way we’re doing it, it’s still reaching out in the dark, but it seems to be working. It’s not like you have a formula, but you’ve got something that you know. We just want to stay healthy. We have families. We want to be dependable, to not only each other, but the audience.
AMENT: Yeah. Being in the middle of this a few months ago, we only had a little bit of time off. We had a few weeks, and we carved out half that time to go into the studio and record some new songs. We were reminded of the job at hand and where we were headed. The funnest thing, at this point, is to get in a room with these guys and make music. It’s just the greatest. I’m so curious about what everybody’s going to come in with and where it’s going to go.
Cameron, did you ever have any Almost Famous moments, where being a fan of the band got in the way of making a dramatic movie?
CROWE: That’s a good question. What I wanted to do is use the fact that I did know them, and had known them for awhile, to do interviews that felt like actual conversations, as opposed to interviews. So, I think knowing them and having lived in the community with them, for long periods of time, I was able to hold a mirror up and show them how they looked to me, as somebody that had been able to watch them over a period of time. I appreciate them trusting me enough to go through all the footage and hold this mirror up. It’s different, in this case, because I wanted to get across the feeling of what it would be like to be inside the band, as opposed to outside the band, looking in. So, I think it was a plus.
Cameron, did using the band in Singles, and the incident that happened at the promotional party change the relationship between you and the band?
CROWE: Mercifully, no. I was always so embarrassed about the Singles party, I have to say. The fact that I had to ask, and really beg and say, “Please come and play this show because they won’t put out my movie unless you play this show.” I went to Lollapalooza, and the guys had already heard that I was going to come beg them.
VEDDER: He didn’t know how embarrassing it was going to get.
CROWE: In a world where I feel I can talk with these guys about anything, we never brought up that thing, for 20 years, to each other. So, when we interviewed the guys, I brought it up with cameras. There’s a moment where Eddie looks at me like, “Oh, great, now we talk about the Singles party, with a camera here.” It was cathartic for me, I have to say, to get through it.
GOSSARD: I think we owe you an apology. The fact that this was your moment, lesser people would have just said, “You guys are assholes! This is my chance. Can you lay off the tequila for another hour, before you go out there? Just say a couple of nice things and play a show, god dammit!”
CROWE: I love that we’re now actually really talking about it. The original idea was an acoustic set. They were like, “Oh, we’re going to play an acoustic set. It’s going to be kind of like Unplugged.” And, I remember that Stone came up to me, at a certain point. He had already seen the avalanche that was starting to happen, and he was like, “I think we’re going to do a punk rock set.” And then, it went from there. But, I’ve got to say that nobody died.
VEDDER: It goes great in the movie.
CROWE: It works in the movie. Twenty years later, it all worked out, but at the time, it was a quandary. I didn’t want to be one of the guys, after the band had started to explode, coming to ask for something. But, I love the way that Stone talks about it in the movie, where he says, “This hideous event actually was the birth of no.” So, we gave it a context.
VEDDER: You’ve gotta understand, it was different then. I don’t know how people do it, these days. I don’t know how the young people, or the people who have all that media attention deal with it. The media is way more intense, and there is all that social bullshit. I don’t even know how they deal with it. Paparazzi, and that kind of thing, is something that I can’t even fucking imagine, for a second. What we had, at the time, was too much for me, as a human. Even as a writer, to not be able to walk into a situation and observe because you were being observed [was very difficult]. Twenty years later, I’m not still moaning about it. It’s just that you asked. We just had to figure out ways. If you’re on the music channel and you’re in people’s living rooms, and all that, many times a day, then we had to take responsibility for that. It was more just manicuring it, at a level that you could deal with. It’s all pretty positive. But then, there are photos of that car crash [against my front wall] with the woman inside the car, bloody. It was an incredibly serious deal. That was the day of the Grammy Awards. That’s where my life was, at that time. I was thinking, “Okay, what the fuck is going on here, and how are we going to survive this? Where is it going to go next?” Now, I’m really proud that we all have lives that we can live and be who we want to be, as parents and as community members. It’s all at a very maintainable level. We’re very grateful to the people that have listened to us, over the years. They seem to have a certain respect for that, and allow us that as well. It’s a relationship. We couldn’t do it without them and without their understanding, and we’re very appreciative.
PEARL JAM TWENTY will open for one day in select cities on September 20th, then premiere on PBS on October 21st, before coming out on DVD on October 25th.