Every member of Pearl Jam has a story. A moment. A day when rock possibility flew open like a barn door in a hurricane.
Each one heard it, or saw it, and decided to walk through. To what, well, they weren’t quite sure.
On Friday, it was the stage of Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., where the five active members of the band — Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, Matt Cameron and Ed Vedder — plus original drummer Dave Krusen were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
They got there through their own hard work and talent, the sweat and stress of their crew and management, and the support of their loved ones and fans.
But each man was sure to give thanks to the bands that echo in their sound and their hearts. The bands they listened to and emulated, the musicians who sent them pawing through the record bins and magazine racks.
Before they were anything, the members of Pearl Jam were unapologetic fanboys — and still are.
“They are going to be on the stage,” Easy Street Records owner Matt Vaughan said a few days before the induction. “But they could have just as well been in the audience.”
In the audience the other night was director Cameron Crowe, who discovered Ament, Gossard and Vedder while filming his 1992 ode to Seattle, “Singles.” He knows better than most what it took for them to ascend the stairs of the Barclays Center stage.
Crowe traces the roots of Pearl Jam’s success to the days when Ament and Gossard — “huge music fans and friends” — were working together in a Seattle coffeehouse.
“You can easily draw a line from those days to the stage of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” Crowe said. “Their passion for the music they loved drew them to Mike McCready and Eddie Vedder, two more world-class fans of the music.”
Indeed, in his acceptance speech, Vedder alluded to the night when he attended a Joe Strummer show in San Diego and the power went out. Strummer told the 50 who remained that the show would go on. Vedder jumped in to help Strummer’s drummer, Jack Irons, set up a generator and light candles.
Not long after, Irons would recommend Vedder to Gossard and Ament, who were looking for a singer for their new band.
“And it is all because of that fanboy nerd-off,”Vaughan said with a laugh. “All because of Joe Strummer.”
In his speech, Vedder tenderly thanked his wife, Jill, and daughters, Olivia and Harper — but they had company.
“These three girls … I just love them more than anything,” Vedder said of his family. “And that says a lot because I really love The Who and the Ramones and The Band and Fugazi and Iggy Pop and Sleater-Kinney and Guided by Voices.”
Ament, too, thanked his family for their love, but then called out his Uncle Pat for introducing him to the music of The Kinks.
“It’s an honor and mind-boggling to be part of a club that includes so many of our heroes,” Ament said, naming Neil Young, The Clash, Led Zeppelin, the Stooges and Cheap Trick.
“But the fact is that we were affected — and infected — by bands that aren’t here (in the Rock Hall),” Ament continued. “So many important bands that made us want to pick up our guitars and write songs. Roxy Music, The Jam, Devo, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Jane’s Addiction.”
Gossard agreed. While the core of his speech “was to honor those who worked so hard for this band, to help it function and grow and flourish” (he cited 59 names), he told me later that one of the best parts of being a Rock Hall member is that he can vote to induct his idols.
“Iron Maiden, AC/DC,” Gossard said. “They’ll be up next. We need to right that wrong. I’m a voter now, and I’m voting for them.”
That said, he doesn’t think Pearl Jam should have gotten into the Rock Hall in its first year of eligibility, which was 25 years after the release of its first album, “Ten.”
“I’d like to make more records,” Gossard told me. “Symbolically, this feels like more of an ending than a beginning. You want to stay sharp. You don’t want to get any awards midseason. You want to make more records.”
Matt Cameron thanked his brother and sister for taking him to his first concert: David Bowie’s “Station to Station” tour in 1977, when the Thin White Duke walked out to the rhythm-soaked title track. (It all makes sense now, doesn’t it?)
The day after the induction, Cameron — who also plays drums for the rock powerhouse Soundgarden — was still wrapping his head around it.
“The fact that Bill Bruford (the drummer for Yes, inducted the same night) was under the same roof was pretty exciting for me,” he told me. “I just thought, ‘I was playing the Ditto Tavern in 1986. And the next thing, I’m at the Rock Hall of Fame?’
“It kinda flew by. But it was crazy hard work.”
McCready received a long ovation not only for his virtuosic lead guitar, but because fans know him as one of them.
Like his idol and friend Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, McCready showers the crowd with guitar picks like he’s feeding ducks. He points to people. He lets them touch his guitar. He’s a showman who seems to channel music more than play it.
That’s because he remembers sitting on the side of the stage at a Stevie Ray Vaughan concert at The Gorge and yearning to be as good. He searched for magazine articles on the late heavy-metal guitarist Randy Rhoads, who played with Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot.
Said Matt Vaughan: “To this day, Mike will go to the Ozzy section of the store and throw him on the turntable and get into the listening booth.”
The day after the induction, McCready’s father, Roy, recalled taking his son to see the Scorpions, Iron Maiden and Girlschool at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. At one point, he looked around. The kid was gone.
“Turns out he was hiding under their (The Scorpions’) car, wanting to get an autograph,” Roy McCready said. “And he did!”
He knew then there was no keeping his son from a life in music.
“When you find out your child has a passion, you better get out of the way,” Roy McCready said. “Light the fuse and watch that thing take off.”
It’s a good story that makes clear why the members of Pearl Jam sign autographs and donate everything from signed guitars to posters to concert tickets.
They know the impact of such acts on fans because they still are fans.
Vaughan remembered being with Vedder when he received a Tom Petty record in the mail. It came with a three-page note from Petty — another one of Vedder’s idols who is now a friend.
“He asked me to pinch him,” Vaughan said.
Crowe believes that that love of music — and their personal experiences as music fans — helped Pearl Jam stay together.
“That bond allowed them to always put music above the crippling elements of ego and self-infatuation,” he said. “Whenever the band got in trouble, it was their own appreciation of the fans that saved them.”
It was keeping the candles lit when the power went out, and making sure the show went on.
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