May 15, 2011
On a crisp November Sunday, Mike McCready strolled into the Northgate Best Buy, just outside of Seattle. McCready entered through the automatic doors and took a look around the big-box store. The lights were bright, customers and sales associates were busily conversing with one another and the line for the Geek Squad was small and manageable. The glow from the plasma TVs that hung on the back wall cast colorful shadows on everyone and everything.
McCready smiled. Despite his mega-rock star status, he knew that no one would hassle him on this routine day. He wouldn’t have any 30-something women running up and asking for an autograph. He wouldn’t need to explain his guitar rigging to a squeeky-voiced teen. He wouldn’t need to bear the bright flashbulbs of reporters or the aggressive camera work of TMZ. He was the guitarist for Pearl Jam. And despite the band’s huge success, almost no one knew his face. McCready said he liked this anonymity.
He had seen the ill-effects of stardom in the 90’s with Eddie Vedder. Eddie’s brooding gestures and rage-filled voice drew more attention than he wanted. The 90’s were the beginning of the true cult of personality. The media became less focused on what the President was doing at the time, and more inclined to spend 30 minutes per broadcast on frivolous celebrity activities. John-Wayne Bobbitt, Tonya Harding and that kid who got whipped with a cane in Singapore all became the centers of their own little universes. The shift seemed to occur when people didn’t feel like digesting the real problems of the day, they’d rather turn on the TV and feel better about themselves by watching a celebrity be miserable.
So Eddie’s problems grew in proportion to the camera’s in his face. For every fan, there was someone on MTV saying, “Eddie Vedder Sucks.” For every groupie, a paparazzo hiding in a tree waiting to take photos of him taking a dump. As Pearl Jam went, so went Eddie. He felt the bumps along the road more than anyone else in the band.
Mike McCready and the rest of his bandmates; Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard and Dave Krusen were all able to reap the financial and personal benefits of being a rock star without all off the extra riff-raff that accompanies it. McCready was a millionaire. He had accomplished almost all of his goals as an artist. He lived in a gigantic house in Montlake. His house was actually much bigger than Eddie’s. Mike McCready was content with his life a small step out of the spot-light.
McCready walked with his hands in his pockets over to the media section. The CD aisle had become noticeably smaller over the last two decades. He remembered Pearl Jam’s business agent saying over a conference call, “We need to go digital! We need to be social! This is the web 2.0! This is the cloud!” They had luckily got on board with the movement, but it didn’t stop him from feeling nostalgic about a time when you could purchase a disc, put it on a stereo system in your basement and have an experience. The media merchants at Best Buy’s corporate office were in a position where they had to take less risk. They didn’t care about supporting new bands or getting in at the ground floor. They only wanted a sure return on investment. They did this by selecting albums that were already proven to be marketable. Pearl Jam’s Ten was one of the chosen few.
Eddie had obviously gained the most notoriety after the release of that album. The band agreed that Ten was where Eddie truly stood out in a crowd. After “Alive,” “Evenflow,” and especially “Jeremy,” the band was thrust sharply into the national spotlight. Interviews would follow. Kurt Loader would ask the band a question and no matter how poetic, succinct or beautiful the answer would be, it would always devolve into: “What’s it like working with Eddie Vedder?”
But still, McCready swore that he never wanted Eddie’s life. The white-hot spotlight always causes discomfort. It’s the curse of the frontman. They are always at the forefront. They are always the one that feel the intense pressure of stardom. They are always the ones who collapse in on themselves.
McCready whistled his way over to the Rock category of the CD fixture and slowly scanned for the “P” section. Pantera. Papa Roach. Ah, there we are. Pearl Jam. He leafed through the CDs. There were 6 copies of Ten and only one of their new album Backspacer. They were his life’s work and he was proud of them.
“Can I help you sir?” a blue-shirted employee asked as he sidled next to the famous guitarist.
“No. I’m fine,” McCready smiled. “Just looking through my cds.”
“Oh,” replied the young associate. “Do you like Pearl Jam?”
“Well,” McCready said with the smile growing coy upon his face. “I should hope so.” There was a brief pause and the young man looked confused, as if he were waiting for McCready to elaborate further. Sensing this, McCready finished the thought. “I’m in the band,” he said softly with a slight shrug of the shoulders. It was as if he didn’t want anyone else to hear the answer lest a riot breakout because of his mere presence.
“You are not,” the associate laughed after processing the information.
“Sure I am,” said McCready, still trying to be amiable. “I’m Mike McCready, lead guitarist for Pearl Jam.”
“Yeah right,” said the young man again as he adjusted his headset.
“I am! I played in Pearl Jam and a little band called Temple of the Dog. Ever heard of them?”
“You’ve never heard of ‘Hunger Strike’?” McCready asked with disdain. He remembered the days when a record shop employee would laugh someone out of the store if they weren’t a knowledgeable music fan.
“How does it go?” the associate asked.
McCready hummed a few bars of the song, “I’m goin’ hungry!”
“Oh yeah! I’ve heard that song, but Stone Temple Pilots sings that.”
“No. It’s Temple of the Dog. We created that song and ‘Say Hello to Heaven.’”
“Never heard of it.”
“Fine. But I am in Pearl Jam,” he picked up a copy of Ten and began to unwrap the packaging. “I’m in the liner notes here.”
“Sir!” the associate cried. “You can’t do that!” He wrestled the disc out of his grasp.
“But that’s my CD! I played guitar on that. I’m Mike McCready!”
“No you didn’t! No one has ever heard of you!”
McCready became infuriated. “You know who Eddie Vedder is then, you little idiot?” he said as he rummaged through his pockets.
“Yeah, of course.”
“Yeah, of course you have. Everyone has, haven’t they?” He pulled out a BlackBerry and scrolled through the names. Vandelay, Arthur; Varlis, Allison; Vedder, Eddie.
“You see that? That’s Eddie Vedder’s cell phone number,” he grabbed the back of the associate’s head and shoved the BlackBerry into his face. “You want me to call him right now and verify that I’m the lead guitar player for Pearl Jam?”
“Dude, you’re not in Pearl Jam!” the young man squirmed away and ran towards the manager’s office.
“Yes I am!” McCready screamed at the retreating associate. He quickly turned around and walked out of the Best Buy with a much quicker pace than he entered. The day hadn’t gone exactly as planned, there had obviously been some hassle, but McCready knew that there would be at least one more hit on his wikipedia page that night.