Even when the band hit it big, members resisted the trappings of fame and never left Seattle.
Song one, side one of “Ten,” the 1991 album that introduced Pearl Jam to the world, was a frenetic ode to the impermanence of the human condition titled “Once.”
It was a theme at odds with everything the band would become.
Born during the Seattle music scene of the late 1980s and early ’90s in which everyone involved was too easily lumped together as grunge — a label that never really fit Pearl Jam — the band continues to tour, record and function much the same now as it did then.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction
The Seattle band will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on Friday, April 7, and we’ll be in New York covering the event. Follow The Seattle Times’ live coverage starting at 4 p.m. at seattletimes.com/entertainment, where you can also read about Pearl Jam’s first year, take a quiz about the band, and more.
To some who know Pearl Jam the best, that ability to survive in and emerge from a turbulent and precedent-setting scene, and continue to thrive almost three decades later, might be itsgreatest achievement as the band prepares this week to receive one of its greatest honors — induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
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Four of the five original members remain the core of the band — only the drummers have changed, with all five having been invited to the induction ceremony Friday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
It’s a band that fought off the trappings of rock ’n’ roll fame that proved the downfall of many of its contemporaries. Pearl Jam remains culturally relevant while earning an honor that for many arrives as they are lapsing into nostalgia-act territory.
“They had staying power,” said Tim DiJulio, a childhood friend of Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready and himself a longtime Seattle musician. “They did their own thing and stayed true to who they were. And they transcended all that stuff because they were a band like the way The Rolling Stones transcended the English Invasion thing. The best bands stayed and did their thing.”
And if what Pearl Jam did often escaped the too-easy categorization of the Seattle sound, what also strikes some as especially meaningful about the Rock & Roll honor is that the band has always been uniquely Seattle in every other way.
Pearl Jam was formed here, its first show at the old Off Ramp Cafe in 1990 (with four of the original members either born in the Seattle area or spending their formative years here; singer Eddie Vedder, the lone member without significant Seattle ties before joining the band, having grown up in San Diego). The band made it big while living here, and then stayed here.
“They’ve always just kept it Seattle, and for just that alone I think it’s (the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame honor) really cool,” said Duff McKagan, a Seattle native who found fame after moving to Los Angeles and becoming the bass player of Guns N’ Roses two years before that band hit it big. “They are a truly Seattle band that’s never moved to Los Angeles or New York. They have kept it Seattle. I felt the same way about Heart, too, when they went in (in 2013). It’s cool for me to see Seattle people get recognized.”
Even if McKagan understands better than anyone what might be some of Pearl Jam’s ambivalence about the whole thing.
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That’s sort of a guess, as Pearl Jam’s members haven’t revealed many of their own feelings on the induction, having turned down most interview requests in the lead-up to the ceremony.
Some mixed feelings would, though, be in line with the band’s career-long resistance to chasing fame at the sake of art, evidenced by an aversion to publicity and awards that was hinted at again in a statement the band released inviting all of its former drummers to the induction.
“While awards and accolades are understandably subjective and a countless number of our peers have yet to be honored, we do feel fortunate to be recognized and provide the opportunity to reunite with everyone who has been part of the group,” the statement read in part.
“They take all this stuff, whether it’s a Grammy or this — that’s not their thing,” said DiJulio, who since 2003 has played in McCready’s side project, Flight to Mars. “Their thing is being in a band.”
Pearl Jam is hardly alone in that sentiment when it comes to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Even though McKagan is an inductee, he says he still wonders “what’s the criteria for getting in?”
There’s only one — artists are not eligible until 25 years after the release of their first record.
Otherwise, it’s left to the eye of the beholder — or specifically, the “more than 900 historians, members of the music industry and artists” the Hall says vote, as well as fans, who since 2012 have been able to cast a ballot online.
DiJulio thinks “the enormity of it will hit them” once they are introduced by Neil Young, a longtime idol and friend of Pearl Jam.
DiJulio assumes the band will play “Rockin’ in the Free World” with Young as one of the three songs each act typically is allotted. He thinks “Alive,’’ a career-making song from the first album, will be another.
“And then they’ll probably do something obscure from the third record,’’ he said. “That’s kind of them. That’s why I love them.’’
DiJulio, who will attend the ceremony, says the induction has brought back a flood of memories of growing up sharing a love of music with McCready — each graduated from Roosevelt High.
He recalls McCready getting a job at the U District Herfy’s in high school so he could afford a much-desired guitar, and many afternoons spent debating the merits of their favorite bands.
“Instead of collecting baseball cards we used to run around and wait for Tuesdays for all the European and Japanese import music magazines and try to get Randy Rhoads pictures (a famed guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, Rhoads was killed in a plane accident in 1982). Music was kind of our thing.’’
All these years later, it still is.