Pearl Jam Reads Reporter Riot Act
by Josh Grossberg
Apr 4, 2003, 11:00 AM PT
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Is Pearl Jam the next Dixie Chicks?
On the defensive for some antiwar remarks at the opening show of their first North American tour in nearly three years, the grunge rockers are rejecting as media hype a report that there was a mass walkout by upset fans after lead singer Eddie Vedder impaled a mask of President Bush on a microphone stand during the encore.
"There were close to 12,000 people at the April 1 Denver show. It's possible two dozen left during the encore, but it was not noticeable amongst the 11,976 who were loudly applauding and enjoying the evening's music," the band said in a statement. "It just made a better headline to report otherwise."
The headline in question stemmed from a story by Scripps Howard News Service reporter Mark Brown, who wrote on Wednesday that dozens of angry fans walked out after Vedder's tirade, complaining that he went too far during his anti-Bush song "Bushleaguer" (the lyrics says the President is "not a leader/he's a Texas leaguer"), which concluded the show.
Brown didn't note that some concertgoers traditionally leave during the encore just to beat the traffic. In its statement, Pearl Jam also points out that Brown never mentioned any incensed fans in his review of the concert for the Rocky Mountain News, entitled "Pearl Jam Show Will Make a Great CD."
The Seattle-based musicians also defends their frontman's right to express himself.
"Dissension is nothing we shy away from--it should just be reported about more accurately," the band says. "Ed's talk from the stage centered on the importance of freedom of speech and the importance of supporting our soldiers as well as an expression of sadness over the public being made to feel as though the two sentiments can't occur simultaneously."
Vedder, who two years ago lobbied for Ralph Nader, first started getting political about midway through the show.
"You got a minute for this?" he asked the audience, before relating a conversation he had with a Vietnam veteran whom Vedder said had strong doubts about the war in Iraq.
After someone in the crowd yelled "Shut up," Vedder tried to be the better man.
"I don't know if you heard about this thing called freedom of speech, man. It's worth thinking about it, because it's going away. In the last year of being able to use it, we're sure as [expletive] going to use it and I'm not going to apologize," Vedder said to mostly cheers, per Brown's account.
Later in the show, Vedder voiced his support of the troops in Iraq.
"To the families [of soldiers] and those people who know those folks and are related to those folks and are married to those folks, we send our support. We're just confused on how wanting to bring them back safely all of a sudden becomes nonsupport. We love them, we support them. They're not the ones who make the foreign policy...let's hope for the best and speak our opinions."
Pearl Jam concluded its 24-song set with a rousing cover of Neil Young's classic, "Rockin' in the Free World," a pointed criticism of the first President Bush's tenure in the White House.
Brown said Vedder's remarks drew some cheers mixed with boos from the audience, but some thought the singer definitely went overboard.
"When he was sharing his political views in a fairly benign manner supporting our troops, opposing policy that's okay," fan Keith Zimmerman, a Denver native, was quoted as saying in the report. But when Vedder impaled the Bush mask, Zimmerman said, "It was like he decapitated someone in a primal ritual and stuck their head on a stick. It kinda blows away the Dixie Chicks."
The gesture also drew the ire of many on Pearl Jam's official Rumor Pit Website.
"If you hate our country so much. Move to Iraq! You live an incredible life...make millions a year...quit your complaining. . .you guys are worse than the sick people defecating and vomiting in our streets!!! A boycott is starting and this, hopefully, will be bigger than the boycott of the Dixie Chicks," writes one poster.
Another, calling himself ProudYank, says, "You want to publicly deface your president? You want to encourage the Iraqi's [sic] to fight harder cause you make them think we are soft? Then go live somewhere else! You celebs think we are interested in what you think? ...We don't want your opinions on world peace, save the whales or whatever else you have the luxury to spend the time and money on cause you don't have day jobs like the rest of us. Enjoy your money, shut up and sing, thats [sic] why you are here. Or leave. And take the Dixie Chicks, Striesand [sic], Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn and all you other wealthy entertainers who think they need to tell us what to think. Your CD's [sic] have just become beer coasters."
Still, the pro-Pearl jam posts have been eclipsing the negative by a roughly 4-to-one margin. "ED's political oppinion [sic] is tottally [sic] right and to all those who hadn't figured it all yet....Pearl Jam and Eddie ALWAYS talked about politics and human rights, and their music is a polittical [sic] statement of justice and freedom, u [sic] can't separate music from your vision of the world," writes one fan. Another puts it more succinctly: "ED ROCKS!!!!"
Although Pearl Jam is not nearly as commercially successful as during the grunge glory days, neither the band nor its label, Sony's Epic Records, wants to deal with the backlash--especially after seeing what's happened to another Sony act, the Dixie Chicks.
After singer Natalie Maines said she was ashamed that President hailed from Texas during a concert in London last month, fans called for a boycott and country radio stations across the nation stopped playing the Texas trio's music and record sales have plummeted. Fans in Louisiana even took to burning their CDs in a public bonfire.
Things have apparently gotten so bad that Chick Martie Maguire said the musicians now fears for their safety.
"We've gotten a lot of hate mail, a lot of threatening mail," Maguire told reporters in Australia. "Emily [Robison] had the front gate of her ranch smashed in. We have to have security when we get back to the States. It puts my well-being in jeopardy."
The Chicks kick off their mostly sold-out U.S. tour May 1 in Greenville, South Carolina, where a protest is already planned.
Still, Maines is sticking by her guns.
"The more flak I get for it, the prouder I am," said Maines.
As for Pearl Jam, the band played Oklahoma City Thursday night and is slated to perform in San Antonio on Saturday.