Originally planned for this March but postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first appearance of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder on SiriusXM’s “The Howard Stern Show” Monday touched on everything from the death of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell to the origin story of classic Pearl Jam songs to advising Bradley Cooper about “A Star Is Born” in the three-hour-plus interview.
After 90 minutes of good-natured and light-hearted conversation, the interview turned somber when Stern asked Vedder about the May 2017 death by suicide of Cornell, one of Vedder’s closest musician friends. In his first in-depth comments on the subject, Vedder revealed that he was still grieving the 2016 death of his own brother Chris in an accident when he got the news of Cornell’s passing.
“I’ve had to be somewhat in denial. I still haven’t quite dealt with it,” he said, adding that he had only seen Cornell “four or five times” in the decade prior to his death, usually at concerts. Vedder admitted feeling “angry” that Cornell took his own life. “I loved the guy. I would allow him to make those choices, you know? But I think suicide is a violent act that hurts so many people,” he said. “That feels unfair. And when you have kids, I think you kind of don’t have that option anymore.”
Vedder fondly remembered his early days in Seattle when he and Cornell would “go on crazy hiking adventures, or we’d go mountain biking, or we’d chase the dog in the rain drinking s—ty beer.” Many years later, Vedder helped teach Cornell’s eldest daughter Lily how to surf. “She’s a bad-ass,” he said. “She has been kind of like a big sister to my kids.”
Other highlights of the interview included:
– Vedder recalled writing the song “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” while sleeping between two Shure Vocal Master speaker cabinets in a wood sauna on the grounds of the Bay Area studio The Site, where Pearl Jam recorded its 1993 sophomore album, “Vs.” When he got up in the morning and was having coffee on the porch, guitarist Stone Gossard overheard Vedder strumming the riffs and convinced him to finish the track. Vedder added that he wrote the lyrics to “Nothingman” from 1994’s “Vitalogy” on a yellow legal pad within 30 minutes of visiting bassist Jeff Ament in the studio and hearing his instrumental demo.
– Before Bradley Cooper took over the role of Jackson Maine in the 2018 remake of “A Star Is Born,” Sean Penn was attached to star, with Clint Eastwood set to direct. Vedder even had a phone call with Eastwood and sent him some music for potential use in the film. Asked by Stern if Penn could sing, Vedder laughed and said, “I think depending on the tone of the voice, we might have been able to buy it.”
Once Cooper was aboard, he asked Vedder for advice on how to make the on-stage elements of the movie as realistic as possible. “Make sure your guitar covers your balls at all times,” Vedder told him. “I think sometimes when the guitar gets a bit high it looks like a bib. And then punk-rock is, like, super-low, but that wouldn’t be his character. That way, if the crowd throws anything, let’s say an orange or a tennis ball, you’ll be covered.” When it came time to see a screening of the finished product, Vedder said he spent the drive to the theater “thinking of all the ways I can let [Cooper] down nicely. … I tell you, when I saw it, I was just f—ing blown away. It just took me there. I’m getting chills right now.”
– Bruce Springsteen wasn’t shy about correcting Vedder’s vocal phrasing when the pair first performed “Darkness on the Edge of Town” live together more than a decade ago. And in February 2014, the Boss surprised Vedder backstage moments before the start of a concert in Brisbane, Australia, by inviting him to join the E Street Band on stage. Vedder adopted a perfect Springsteen impression as he recalled him saying, “Hey, Ed! I’ve got an idea! Here’s the deal. All right. First song: AC/DC, ‘Highway to Hell.’ You take a verse, I take a verse, and then you’re done. You can drink beer, you can do whatever you want. None of this encore s—. You don’t have to wait around. First song, hit it with me, and you’re good to go!” He added, “The best part of when you get to do that isn’t actually playing it in front of people. The best part is when you’re sitting in the back, either with Pete Townshend, or Bruce, or Neil [Young], right across the small table or sitting on the same couch, playing the song and hearing them sing.”
– Vedder said he will debut “one or two new songs” during a Nov. 18 Amazon-hosted livestream event dubbed Venture Into Cures, all proceeds from which will go towards research to treat and cure the potentially lethal skin disorder Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB). Vedder and his wife Jill are longtime supporters of the initiative. Other celebrities set to participate include David Letterman, Adam Sandler, Jimmy Kimmel, Willie Nelson, Judd Apatow and Laura Dern.
– With just hours to go before the U.S. presidential election, Vedder said that “one positive byproduct” of Donald Trump’s divisive term in office is “that people aren’t able to sit this one out. And people are getting engaged. And hopefully after the election they will continue to be, because there’s just so much work to do and so much to be repaired.”