You haven't really tasted death until you've been inches away from an ax swung by Eddie Vedder.
Not that Vedder is careless. He's just...focused. He gets this look: You know the one, from the "Jeremy" video, vaguely lupine -- lips curled, fangs bared, eyes crazy. He grips the haft with both hands, draws the blade back over his head, and lets it fly, watching it tumble end over end in an elegant arc, sinking into its target -- a three-footwide cedar stump -- with a deep, satisfying thunk.
"Bull's-eye. Mark it," Vedder says, pumping his fist. "Hey, you need another beer?"
At this point I've been in Vedder's company for about eight hours. We've surfed, we've swum, we've sailed. We've drunk and drunk some more. I've met his wife; I've high-fived his kids. I'm almost starting to feel like part of the family.
Remember: This is an intensely private man who swats away adulation with bland pronouncements like "I don't want the personality to become bigger than the music." (Such principled evasiveness, of course, only makes the adulation run deeper.) As the lead singer of Pearl Jam, he found superstardom in the early '90s, then spent the next decade and a half dismantling it, a guerrilla campaign of career suicide that's become rock legend: The band boycotted Ticketmaster, making touring next to impossible. They refused to shoot videos, a gesture this magazine once called so "profoundly anticommercial...that it remains virtually peerless."
Yet, here we are, in 2009, and Pearl Jam have a new album coming out, along with something an observer who didn't know better might even call a marketing strategy. They're on TV commercials, in Rock Band, on Cold Case. They're selling songs to video games and ringtones to Verizon. They're coming soon to a Target near you.
And this afternoon, at one of his West Seattle homes, Eddie Vedder and I are drinking beer and throwing axes. Which can only mean one of two things: Either this is about to be the scene of the first-ever music-journalist ambush/murder. Or Pearl Jam have finally decided to lighten up.
"Stand clear!" he yells, setting down his beer.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. Thunk.
Read the entire Pearl Jam cover story in the October issue of SPIN, on newsstands Sept. 22!
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