If it hadn’t been for music, I would have shot myself in front of that classroom.” So said Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder this year upon accepting an MTV Video Award for “Jeremy,” his chilling song about a high schooler’s suicide. If his comments weren’t the usual winner’s gush, they were also no surprise, coming as they did from rock’s newest and most reluctant superstar. Handsome, earnestly disheveled and angst-ridden, Vedder, 27, seemed to despair when Pearl Jam’s 1991 debut album, Ten, sold 5 million copies. So imagine his torment when the band’s second album, Vs., hit No. 1 its first week on the charts last month and generated more sales in one week—950,000 copies—than any album ever. “I can’t seem to [enjoy success],” Vedder said. “I’m just not that happy a person.”
Vedder’s vocalized anguish seems to strike the raw and hurting nerve of a young generation raised on divorce and dysfunction. Born Edward Mueller, Vedder took his mother’s maiden name after she told him, when he was in his teens, that her husband was not his father. His actual father, she said, was a part-time musician whom he’d known only vaguely as a family friend and who had recently died of multiple sclerosis. Those revelations still haunt Vedder, who finds deliverance in rock’s cathartic power, though not in its glitz and groupies (he prefers his nine-year relationship with writer Beth Liebling). As for rock’s idol-making machinery, he has said, “There should be no messiahs in music.” Yet to millions of fans, Vedder is fast becoming just that.