Eddie Vedder pauses when asked if "Immortality," a song on the new Pearl Jam album about depression, was inspired by the suicide last April of Kurt Cobain.
Mr. Vedder is the rock artist most closely compared to Cobain. Both have been hailed as key figures in a new generation of songwriters who reflect the alienation and anger among many young people today.
"Immortality," featured on the new "Vitalogy" album (the CD and cassette will be in stores Tuesday), includes lines that certainly sound as if they were inspired by Cobain's death. There is even a reference to a cigar box on the floor, such as the one found next to Cobain's body in Seattle.
"No," Mr. Vedder finally says. "Immortality," he explains, was a look at his own delicate state of mind and was written in the days before Cobain's death. The cigar box is simply where Mr. Vedder often keeps his tapes.
To get away from his own rock-world pressures, Mr. Vedder has largely stayed out of the spotlight for nearly seven months, during which he married his longtime girlfriend, writer Beth Liebling.
Mr. Vedder recently spoke from his home in Seattle about his new songs and the continuing pressures.
Q: How were you feeling in the months before and after Kurt's death . . . when you were complaining about the pressures? It's hard for a lot of people to understand what is so difficult about being famous.
A: I understand that. It is a tremendous privilege to be able to play music for a bunch of people. It's a great feeling, very humbling. But as far as putting up with the rest . . . the media and the way they exploit and scoop out your chest without leaving anything behind. . . . Have we not witnessed that in the O.J. Simpson [case]?
I was in Greece with Beth when that happened and I felt like renting billboards all over the United States saying, "Have you people lost your . . .mind?" Everybody was kind of fascinated seeing people run down the street with their signs, but I was sick. I don't want any part of the whole celebrity trip.
Q: But you also complain about the business side of rock. What's so hard about dealing with that?
A: Someone wrote a letter [in a magazine] the other day about "Eddie (It's So Hard to Be a Rock Star) Vedder." Well, I just want to clarify. It's not hard to be a rock star. If you want to go around . . . cleaning a bunch of teen-agers of all their dough because they like your band and [overcharging them] for T-shirts and concert tickets, that's easy. That's playing the game.
What's hard is . . . to try to treat people fairly and with respect. If someone bumps into me on the street, it could be worth something to them. Someone might want to buy their story. Or if they bump into me hard enough, they can claim I hit them and they can sue me. You just feel that after awhile you become a commodity rather than a person. It interferes with your life and the music.
Q: "Not for You" seems a pivotal song on the album. What about the line "all that's sacred comes from youth"?
A: I believe that is true, that there is something sacred about youth, and the song is about how youth is being sold and exploited. I think I felt like I had become part of that, too. Maybe that's why sometimes I have a hard time with the TV end of music and much of the media and the magazines.
When I pick up a magazine, I just count how many pages of ads before the first article starts. You go one, two . . . up to 15 to 20 or more. And then in the back you have phone-sex ads. So I've pretty much had it. I don't want to be the traveling medicine show where we go out and do the song and dance and someone else drops the back of the wagon and starts selling [stuff]. I don't want to use our music to sell anything -- or anyone else use it.
Q: In some of your songs, like "Immortality," you seem to be speaking directly to the listener, where in others you seem to be taking the role of a character. Do you feel more comfortable in either style?
A: There are times, like "Better Man," where you are creating a fictional character. . . . That's really fulfilling because you feel like you are writing a story. Then, there are other songs, like "Not for You," where there's no doubt about where it's coming from. It's straight from inside you, and that is fulfilling too, because it is therapeutic.
Q: When people hear some of these songs, they probably think you sit in a dark room all day. Aren't there good days?
A: Sure, I have good days. I had a good time last night. The Frogs [an alternative rock band] were here and we were up till 5 in the morning. Everyone had wigs and masks on and all switching instruments. I also feel good about the way our music is going.
Q: So there are good times?
A: Sure, and I've heard Chris and Dave [Novoselic and Grohl of Nirvana] . . . I've heard them tell a number of people about all the happy times he had.
A: Right. I'm sure that there were moments when he was happy, that everything wasn't depressing in his life. . . . But it just seems like the negative somehow sticks with us, where the good seems to just kind of bounce off. You feel it for a second and then it's gone.