My homework assignment from my good friends at Deadspin was to write about my interaction with Pearl Jam and in particular Eddie Vedder in honor of their 20th Anniversary. The difficulty in this assignment is writing it without coming off like a name-dropping ass. Well for those of you who don't like me—enjoy, and for those of you who are on the fence, this will surely push you in that same direction.
The truth is that I am not the most qualified person to write this piece. In this case I am just a fan who had a chance meeting with Eddie and tried to make the most of it. It was during the World Series in 2009 at a hotel in Philadelphia when I almost literally ran into Eddie getting off the elevator on my floor. I didn't want to bother him, but he said hello and asked my thoughts about the game that had been played that night (he is a friend of Raul Ibanez from Raul's days in Seattle). We started talking and realized that we are both fathers to two girls and immediately started comparing notes on what that experience is like. It lasted no more than 5 or 10 minutes, but I left blown away by his regular-guy demeanor.
Fast forward to last summer and Pearl Jam's tour stop in my hometown of St. Louis. I asked a promoter how I could buy tickets to the show and found out that I would be on the band's guest list. I took a buddy and his wife to the show and was left stunned when right before "Alive," Eddie gave me a shout out from the stage. I have been very lucky to get to do some cool events and witness some great moments in sports, but there is no thrill like hearing " Joe Buck if you are still in here, this one's for you—Joe Buck" and then right into that famous first lick.
After the show the three of us went to the side of the stage and asked if we could go say hello, mainly so I could thank him for that moment. Security asked, he said yes, and for the next hour and a half we sat in his dressing room talking about music, kids again, and baseball. I was struck by a couple of things. First, he is a legitimate, crazy baseball fan. Most know about Eddie's love of the Cubs, but the history of the game has his attention as well. He told me he is researching Cuban baseball and its impact on the game here in the States. I told him to check out The Pride of Havana written by a friend, Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, which I later gave to him. He had a trunk open in his dressing room that had gloves and balls in it, which he said he uses with band and crew members before shows to get warmed up and ready to perform. But what really got my attention was that Eddie is one of those rare people who tries—and often succeeds—to live in each moment. He didn't seem distracted by anything that night, despite the fact that he was in the middle of a major tour and had just poured his heart out in front of tens of thousands of people. I think that was what put the three of us visitors at ease so quickly. He seemed genuinely interested in not only talking baseball, but also just hanging out with "people" free of any pretense.
Pro surfer Kelly Slater once said of him-–"He's (Eddie) not always available, but when he is, he is totally available. Sometimes you think you'll never hear from him again, but when you do, he really connects and it's something you remember for a long time. He is a good friend to many people." That was exactly my experience that night.
Many remember when they were first introduced to the band. We watched these five angry young guys run and stomp around the stage playing loud and aggressive rock and roll. We followed them through their fights with Ticketmaster and MTV, witnessed their open disdain for award shows and their general refusal to partake in the traditional publicity machine. I was worried that if I ever met these guys that I would be encountered with a "holier than thou" attitude or maybe a sense of boredom with the typical fan they interact with on a nightly basis. In our case that night, those preconceived notions could not have been further from the truth. There was zero wariness or pre-judgement. After all these years, while the passion for music and his many causes remain strong, there is no anger visible. Eddie represents someone truly at ease and comfortable with his place in this world.
The only reason I agreed to do this piece, was to try and let people know that this guy, whom so many idolize, is just a good person. I could give other examples, but it may make readers throw up. So many people in the public eye are master deceivers and act one way only when the cameras are rolling, with Eddie what you see is what you get. It is refreshing. I will never forget the first time I became aware of Pearl Jam. It was a Saturday night in the early 90's and I was tired and flipping channels. I came across SNL and was mesmerized by the music act that night. Pearl Jam played "Alive." I had never seen an act on that show so good. I had never seen a lead singer use his voice like that or give more in a performance. 20 years later I still haven't.
Joe Buck is a sports broadcaster for Fox.