Eddie Vedder: Looking Back on A Call for Change
Photo by Taylor Hill
With Pearl Jam set to broadcast today’s Jazz Fest performance to soliders in Iraq, we’ve decided to look back to October, 2004 for this interview with Eddie Vedder
There’s no need to get into a long-winded biography about Eddie Vedder. The man has worn his heart on his sleeve since emerging onto the music since in the year of the alternative explosion in 1991. It seems like he’s been railing against something ever since then, whether it be the environment with his work with the Surfrider Foundation, his pro-choice activism with Rock for Choice, or his benefits for cancer research in the name of his departed friend Johnny Ramone. Vedder and his band have always put their time and money where their mouths are.
He’s never been a big fan of the Bush family; actually they make him ill. The mere mention of George Walker Bush gets him in a lather. His support of Ralph Nader in the 2000 election was met with friction even amongst his friends, but that didn’t deter him from the belief that there needs to be a third party in American politics.
Vedder can’t sit idly by. Along with Bruce Springsteen and a coalition of other artists/activists, Pearl Jam barnstormed through the swing states on the wildly successful and possibly influential Vote for Change tour this fall. “It feels better to be out participating rather than watching it on the TV, then talking about it at night in the bar. It felt good to be out there and involved,” he says.
Between feeding his cat and smoking a few butts, Vedder spoke with vigor—and a bit of venom—from his Seattle home about the November 2 election and the war in Iraq.
What if any, were your expectations going into the Vote for Change tour?
EV: I think they were fairly small. People say, “What right do you have to be speaking to people and why should they be listening to you?” If they want to, they can. At one point someone said, “Don’t you think you’re preaching to the choir?” I thought about the responses we were getting, which were like 98% positive. If there was any dissent out there, it wasn’t formidable enough to make any kind of dent. I think there were interesting questions being raised; when I talked to kids out front or when I spoke with young men and women out in the parking lot, it was thoughtful and intelligent. But for the most part, maybe it was preaching to the choir, because there was really positive feedback coming our way.
But I think it was important for the choir to get together. It was good for people to feel solidarity and be in a room and feel the energy and the activism, right there for people to share with each other, as opposed to sitting at home watching polls. I don’t know anybody who has been polled, and I don’t know anybody who knows anybody that’s been polled. Yet they are saying that it is close or Kerry is down, and maybe you start losing hope and distrusting your neighbor.
The tour became a great way to share information with a spoonful of sugar because you are playing the music. But also with the music what I didn’t expect and I you don’t realize it until you are out there is that the songs take on more meaning. It’s like, “I knew what I was thinking when I wrote this,” and now is the time when it really comes true. Whether you are talking about loss of life or the song “Grievance,” “I pledge my grievance to the flag,” raising your voice. Yet it comes even more when you are playing for a purpose, which I feel we always are in a way. But it was laid out on this one, people knew why were there.
At one point I said, “We don’t even care how you vote, it’s just that you vote and participate.” Then I realized that was a lie, and we do care and that’s why we are here. I feel like anybody who has done a half day’s research will realize that there is clear choice here. Just looking into the history of the candidates—when Kerry was risking his life in Vietnam at the same time that Bush was president of his fraternity, barely pulling “C’s.”
What’s important right now is to dispel this myth that somehow Bush, Jr. is a man of the people. I really don’t understand it, because he is fairly inept at communicating, and somehow that brings him down to an average working-class level? I don’t believe that. I think his inability to communicate on the issues has to do with the fact that he doesn’t know much about them. He hasn’t had the same kind of struggles that most people have had. That’s the mystery to me that he is on their side, when it’s damn clear if you follow the money trail that his friends and the people that he loves and the people that love him all have to do with making billions of dollars and his part in facilitating their profits.
You stay informed by reading and watching the news; did you happen to catch the Frontline special “The Choice 2004” on PBS?
EV: It was amazing, and it seemed to be fairly bi-partisan; if Laura Bush was being interviewed for it they are trying to tell the whole story. To me, there is no comparison. Can I refer to that show? What’s incredible is that they [Republicans] start questioning Kerry’s service, and then not only do they question his service in Vietnam, but they question the fact that he was bringing to light the atrocities, and they showed it with unbelievable footage; it’s amazing that all exists, speaking in front of the Senate or Congress with the other soldiers, it was like therapy for them to come clean over the horrible realities that had taken place over there.
Then they cut to 2004 and they say, “How dare he speak out, saying that he’s betrayed the soldiers that were over there, and trying to deny that it wasn’t the perfect war and that everybody behaved completely civilly. War is hell and we have seen in this one too, whether it has to do with the prisons or the civilian causalities, smart bombs that aren’t so smart that are hitting their target s 40% of the time.
What’s astounding in 2004, they are saying how dare he speak out against the Vietnam War. As if the Vietnam War was the correct thing? In the last 20 years we have pretty much come to terms, and even in the last ten with Robert McNamara coming out coming out and saying what a clusterfuck this was. Now are they somehow saying that the Vietnam War was the right thing to do? And how dare Kerry speak out against the atrocities that took place? He was a hero for coming back and saying how awful it was over there and that we had to stop this thing.
While George Bush was in Alabama getting drunk every night…
EV: And bragging about it. Then they question John Kerry’s ability to lead and John Kerry’s ability to be a strong leader in the face of war, a guy that has actually been through it. They don’t really talk about it, but it sounds like he has actually had to kill people in the line of duty. You have to question what kind of empathy does George Bush have in regards to human life? I claim to have more than he does and our band does just from what we went through in Denmark in knowing how much just the loss of one young life affects a whole community. With nine people that were lost in Denmark, I absolutely know.
For me, and for us to see the names of young men and women pop up at the end of the week in who was lost and they are in their early twenties… at some point you can’t live with it anymore. You don’t really feel it here on American soil. We’ve got tax breaks. We are pissed that our gas prices go up twenty or fifty cents, and we don’t really feel that this war is happening. Yet we see these names coming through. I can’t handle it anymore. That’s why you have to speak out. If people say don’t listen to him or they question why we would do it, as a human being it makes me insane. I cannot live with our country over there with a huge loss of life. Not to mention the Iraqi loss of life. Eleven, 12, 000 dead, another 40,000-60,000 maimed or injured. That’s enough to almost fill Giants Stadium. The price is too much.
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