Nobody Knows The Troubles They've Seen

When Pearl Jam played San Francisco's Golden Gate Park on June 24, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, except for the little black one above Eddie Vedder's head. Looking gaunt in a baggy gray T shirt, seemingly weighed down by his electric guitar, Vedder led the band through seven songs from their third album, "Vitalogy," before announcing that he had a stomach flu and was leaving the stage. "This has been the worst 24 hours of my life," he said. "I went to the rest room this morning, puking and sh---ing. That's it for me. Lucky for you Neil Young's here." And with that he left. People simply blinked at each other. For 20 minutes, nothing happened.

Then Neil Young showed up. His new album, "Mirror Ball," recorded with Pearl Jam, was about to be released, and for the next two hours he played mostly material the audience had never heard. Then Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament announced that Vedder would not return, and the crowd, polite until then, booed. Young leapt to Vedder's defense. "The last time I saw Eddie he was laying on his face." "He should stay laying on his face," growled one fan.

In the past couple of years, Pearl Jam has done battle with a lot of things: Ticketmaster, the record industry, MTV, the press. But the problem-plagued tour has been the first clear indication that Pearl Jam is really at war with itself. With combined U.S, record sales of more than 16 million, Pearl Jam is the definition of '90s establishment rock. Yet Vedder craves the integrity that comes from being at the fringe. Throughout the "alternative venue" tour, the band and its management had repeatedly, convincingly, found outside forces on which to blame their difficulties: Ticketmaster charges outrageous service fees; pearl Jam was forced to try a new computerized agency, ETM, in order to keep prices low. Ticketmaster has exclusive contracts with most of the major venues on the big-time rock touring circuit; Pearl Jam was being forced to play outlets oft the beaten path. A show in Salt Lake City was canceled because of rain; that time, it was the weather's fault. Two shows in San Diego were canceled (then rescheduled, then recanceled) because of security concerns; that time, it was the sheriff department's fault. Through it all, Pearl Jam held strongly to its folk-hero image. A little too strongly at times. "This band has spent the last year and a half trying to do right by you!" yelled Jerry Pompili, the emcee in San Francisco, when Ament got booed. "You owe them a thank you, and I want to hear it right now!"

He heard nothing of the sort. After the concert, the band's image crumbled further. Last week the band abruptly announced it was canceling the remaining dates on the tour. The reason? According to a release, "business problems and controversies surrounding the band's attempt to schedule an alternative tour." Two days later, word leaked out that at least three shows would actually go on as planned; tickets in Milwaukee had actually been sold through Ticketmaster all along. (The dates were a holdover from Pearl Jam's 1994 canceled tour.) "The whole thing is full of holes," gloats Alan Citron, a Ticketmaster executive. "They've waged a PR campaign for a year and it didn't fit their strategy to mention that they were already working with us."

Meanwhile, back in the cities that hadn't been re-rescheduled, anti-Pearl Jam fever was spreading. In Austin, Texas, Abel Theriot, the owner of South Park Meadows, was "sick about it. This was our first show of the season, and it was a biggie. People done had their big vacation-weekend planned." Russell Doussan, manager of the Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans, says he stands to lose "in excess of six figures" without Pearl Jam. "You sit on the edge of your seat," he says. "You've planned and planned and planned, and for it to disappear from under your feet eight days away is a blow."

For the most part, Pearl Jam's response has been silence. None of the band members (Vedder, bassist Ament, guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, drummer Jack Irons) was available for comment, nor was manager Kelly Curtis. "They're re, grouping," said a spokesperson, Nicole Vandenberg. Still, the band has its loyalists. "Whenever you try and break new ground, there's a lot of pressure," says promoter Greg Perloff of Bill Graham Presents, who worked with Pearl Jam on several dates, both canceled and uncanceled. "This hand cares about their fans. I think they just needed a little time, and they'll start touting again and everything will be perfect."

But it seems hard to believe that Pearl Jam's popularity will be unaffected by its latest moves. In recent years, the hand has successfully managed to exclude MTV, the press and most of the music industry from its inner circle. Pearl Jam hasn't made a video or given an interview to MTV since 1992. Vedder's passive aggressiveness with the reek press is becoming the stuff of legend. In Denver, two newspaper journalists were promised interviews and waited for hours in vain. Vedder never showed, but he sent handwritten apologies. Of course, all this is business, and a band as powerful (and bankable) as Pearl Jam earns the right to do whatever it damn well pleases. The tour cancellations are another matter. This is the first time Pearl Jam has specifically managed to exclude its most devoted fans.

The last song Vedder sang before exiting the stage in San Francisco was a bitter anthem from "Vitalogy" called "Not For You." It's his answer to everyone who wants a piece of him, everyone who thinks they own him. Over and over again he repeated the line, "This is not for you!" But the question remains: who is Pearl Jam's music for.? Vedder may think he can control every concert-goer, record buyer, MTV viewer and magazine reader who has access to his music, but if so he has a gross misunderstanding of the relationship between his audience and his music. Once his songs have gone out into the world, the only person they're not for anymore is him.