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Monday, December 4, 2023

How R.E.M. changed Eddie Vedder’s perspective on music

Every artist can thank a series of influences for putting them on their chosen path. Nobody wakes up with a burning passion for making music without loving the art form first, a series of early heroes encouraging them to pick up the instrument. However, the learning never stops, as Eddie Vedder discovered through studying R.E.M.’s work.

When R.E.M. firmly established themselves in the mid-1980s, Vedder had recently moved to San Diego and begun to focus on making music. Before that stage, he was a resident of Chicago, where he watched R.E.M. perform live for the first time, which proved to be an affirming moment that changed his career path.

While The Who were Vedder’s primary influence as a teenager, upon finding R.E.M., his perspective rapidly altered. From that moment, he understood how songs were crafted in a new, colourful way, which helped him immensely when he formed Pearl Jam.

Over 30 years after the momentous concert he witnessed in Chicago at the Aragon Ballroom, Vedder was privileged to induct R.E.M. into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. The Pearl Jam frontman opened his speech by joking that he focused on music rather than academia to prevent himself from having to deliver another presentation. However, the singer said he was “hugely honoured” to make an exception for R.E.M.

Speaking about his love for the band, Vedder said: “R.E.M.’s music is truly all-encompassing. They’ve used every colour on the pallet, they’ve invented colours on their own, they’ve painted this huge mural of music and sound and emotion as big as buildings… and they’re still adding to this day. And the story of how they got together could not be written, especially considering this evening, could not be written any more… romantic.”

Reflecting on seeing the group for the first time, Vedder said: “I was so lucky enough in the summer of 1984 to see R.E.M. play live at a small place in Chicago, and I could go on an on because I remember absolutely everything about it, but what I’ll say is that it changed how I listen to music and what I listened to because after that I started to just listen to them exclusively.”

Furthermore, Vedder also claimed he’d listened to their debut record Murmur “1260 times” following the concert, illustrating his obsession with the group and their seismic impact on his life during that formative period.

Heartbreakingly, Vedder gave an honourable mention in his speech to the late Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain, who picked Michael Stipe as his daughter’s godfather. “I wish it was Kurt Cobain who was giving this speech tonight. I would be so happy to have been the second choice after him,” the singer stated.

Both Cobain and Vedder wouldn’t have been the same people if it weren’t for their love of R.E.M. They were a band that took pride in being unconventional, inadvertently leading to the duo kickstarting the grunge movement.

Watch Vedder’s speech below.

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