There’s something I’ve been meaning to mention for a few weeks now, something I feel quite strongly about. Specifically Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam having caused “controversy” after their appearance at the Milton Keynes Bowl in England last month, due to a perceived “anti-Israel diatribe”.
It was a great show, by the way; 3 hours of absolute Pearl Jam, with Footsteps, Go, Given To Fly, Hail Hail, Do The Evolution, Rearviewmirror, Jeremy, Alive, even Crown of Thorns and generally the kind of set-list inclusions that you’d dream of.
It had a couple of off moments performance-wise, but when a band of Pearl Jam’s quality and stature plays for three hours you don’t complain. On top of all that, Eddie came out really early before the first support act and treated us to a solo rendition of Porch too, so the Ved was in generous form. Being the closing show of a major European tour, the mood was loose and relaxed and this perhaps lent itself to Eddie later feeling like he could speak openly on the subject of war.
Nothing shocking about that; anyone who knows and understands Vedder and Pearl Jam knows Eddie the Pacifist and Eddie the Anti-War activist. So how did a simple segway in the middle of Daughter turn into a minor international ‘incident’ that’s ended up costing Pearl Jam a whole bunch of fans and led to numerous truly retarded remarks in comments sections about Vedder being ‘anti-Semitic’ or worse?
I was lucky enough to be at that show, as it happens, and it’s baffled me that something that seemed so innocuous and well-meaning at the time has been blown up into such a controversy. Firstly Eddie didn’t mention Israel by name, rather it was a general statement about war. But even if he was to mention Israel by name, so what? Since when is a conscientious, highly politicised rock musician expected not to speak out against war? I mean if it had been John Lennon singing Give Peace a Chance, would that have been condemned in the Israeli media as “an anti-Israel diatribe”?
According to The Jerusalem Post article which was where the trouble started; “Eddie Vedder unleashed a harsh anti-Israel diatribe on stage during his band’s concert at Milton Keynes Bowl in England”.
Although he never explicitly mentions Israel by name, Eddie does denounce “those who go across borders and take over land that doesn’t belong to them”; so OK, given the timing, that could understandably be construed as a reference to Israel’s ground assaults on the Gaza Strip. The line that probably caused certain people to think Vedder was referring to Israel was “We don’t want to give them our taxes to drop bombs on children” – which implies a reference to the US government’s well known support and funding of Israel and its military.
“They’re looking for a reason to go across borders and take over land that doesn’t belong to them,” Vedder said, during the performance of Daughter. “They should get the f—out and mind their own f—ing business.”
What’s curious to me is how quickly The Jerusalem Post picked up on it and jumped all over it, turning it into such an ‘incident’, when really it was nothing out of the ordinary. It’s almost suspicious how much the journalist in question seemed to want to make something out of it. Paranoia springs to mind. All kinds of public figures have criticised the Israeli military or the situation in Gaza for years, and Vedder didn’t even specifically specify Israel or Gaza in his comments; so why so quick to single him out? Would the same article have been written about, say, Rage Against the Machine or Public Enemy? Or is Vedder singled out as more of a ‘soft’ target?
What’s even more extraordinary is some of the reaction from so-called Pearl Jam “fans”, specifically Israeli fans, some of whom have ‘denounced’ Vedder and Pearl Jam and made comments along the lines ‘not being able’ to listen to Pearl Jam CDs the same way anymore. Lots of Israeli fans of Pearl Jam who’d previously been involved in a social media campaign aimed at bringing the Seattle legends to Israel to perform shows have essentially boycotted the band. I can’t imagine Pearl Jam would want to play in Israel after this anyway; Vedder’s old friend Neil Young has already cancelled his shows that were due to be played in the country last month and has stated he’ll only return to the country when both Israel and Palestine are free.
Most conspicuously Ben Red, a rock DJ for Israel Radio’s music station 88FM ‘denounced’ Vedder on his Facebook page. “Eddie Vedder, your true face is finally being revealed,” the DJ wrote. “You are invited not to come here. I personally do not want to see you and I will erase the Facebook page calling on bringing Pearl Jam to Israel, but not before I expose who you really are.”
Not before I really expose who you are? What the fuck is this, some warped, self-important cross between The X-Files and Scooby Doo? Who the fuck is Ben Red? And what self-respecting ‘rock DJ’ is pro-war anyway? Eddie Vedder isn’t hiding anything that requires being exposed – he pretty much stated everything openly on stage, with a bottle of wine in his hand; that’s what got him into this trouble in the first place.
What a remarkable age we live in when the most genuine, liberal, well-meaning rock star on the planet makes a simple anti-war statement and ends up being boycotted by numerous ‘fans’ for it…!
Again, there’s nothing new in anti-war sentiments from Eddie Vedder – he’s always done that. The implication therefore is that the same ‘fans’ who’re lashing out at him now were perfectly happy to be fans of the anti-war Vedder while he was talking about other wars or about the US War in Iraq (which he did on numerous occasions), for example, but are unwilling to listen or tolerate it when he is perceived to be talking about their army’s actions.
I mean there may have been American PJ fans who turned against the band and Vedder when he made comments about US military activity abroad, but I doubt there were that many – because it’s generally understood in a liberal society that artists and musicians of Eddie Vedder’s kind are going to make political or social comments every now and then and have every business doing so when they feel strongly, whether that means speaking about war, speaking about civil liberties or speaking about Pro Choice, to cite a few examples. And even if there were any American PJ fans who turned against the band or Vedder for any perceived ‘unpatriotic’ views or statements, it was never turned into a big deal like has been the case with this perceived ‘anti-Israel diatribe’.
Reading the comments sections of anything is usually an amusing past-time anyway (it’s the ultimate modern forum for discovering how fucking stupid people are; and how passionately stupid, at that), but perusing some of the comment sections in regard to Vedder’s Milton Keynes statements has been extraordinary, with people calling Vedder an ‘anti-Semite’, a ‘dumb celebrity’, and worse (there was one I read that basically said Vedder “should commit suicide like Cobain”). An ‘anti-Semite’? Eddie Vedder? A ‘dumb celebrity’? Eddie Vedder? Even calling him a ‘celebrity’ is a painful thing to read, let alone a ‘dumb’ one. Seriously, people – calm the fuck down.
The thing is, even as a life-long Pearl Jam fan, I was actually a little put-off by the speech at the time; not because of what he said, but just because it went on for quite a while and I was waiting for the next song. But there’s nothing new about this kind of speech-making where Eddie Vedder is concerned; he’s always been that way, always been passionate and always been one to speak out on social, political and cultural matters.
We live in an age where most of the ‘celebrities’ who do speak out end up sounding stupid; Britney Spears famously caught endorsing George Bush and the invasion of Iraq, for example, or countless so-called celebrities feeling licensed to comment on everything under the sun, including matters they have no real knowledge of, on their Twitter or Facebook accounts. But Eddie Vedder wasn’t posting on Twitter or releasing a news statement or any comparable bullshit; he was on stage in a field surrounded by fans, caught up in the enthusiasm and energy of a 3-hour set, clearly speaking from the heart on something that mattered to him and, most importantly, saying it to an audience of people who he felt connected to and comfortable with; people he trusted would understand the spirit and nature of his statements (and who I’m guessing mostly did).
Vedder is not the one with an agenda; what benefit is it to him or Pearl Jam to have a position on the Israel/Gaza situation or to risk alienating a segment of his fans? None. The agenda is with The Jerusalem Post and with those ‘fans’ or Israeli music journalists who’re so self-conscious about what’s going on in their country that they’ve become primed to attack anyone who even hints at criticism of it. But what’s worse are the people in forums and comments sections who equate any perceived criticism of the Israeli military with anti-Jewishness or anti-Semitism.
Eddie Vedder doesn’t have a racist or manipulative bone in his body; he is the most liberal, well-meaning rock star there is. And we live in an extraordinary age if even implied criticism of a military operation that has killed over 1200 people can cause such offense.
Eddie Vedder, once dubbed along with Kurt Cobain as the “spokesman for a generation” (man, that was a different time), is the John Lennon of our times, someone who is willing to speak out unhesitatingly, but at the same time is an intelligent voice and not just an over-zealous rock star yelling out slogans for cheap cheers. The fact is that I, and probably a lot of the fans in Milton Keynes that day, wasn’t all that keen on the tangent anyway, nor on the homage to Edwin Starr’s ‘War’ which slightly ruined the middle of Daughter; but wouldn’t most of us rather live in a culture where someone like Eddie feels free to speak openly and passionately and without having to be apologize for it?
The fact is that no one – no one – went home from the Milton Keynes Bowl that day having any particularly strong views about Israel; it was only The Jerusalem Post’s blowing-out-of-proportion of the incident that turned into such an issue and drew so much attention to it.
Eddie, meanwhile, spoke about the matter on the Pearl Jam website, and made it clear he was simply talking about war in general in our society and our world, with all the various conflicts and sub-conflicts currently going on. “I don’t know how to process the feeling of guilt and complicity when I hear about the deaths of a civilian family from a US drone strike,” Vedder explained in part of the statement. “When attempting to make a plea for more peace in the world at a rock concert, we are reflecting the feelings of all those we have come in contact with so we may all have a better understanding of each other. That’s not something I’m going to stop any time soon”
“I’d rather be naïve, heartfelt and hopeful,” Vedder said, “than resigned to say nothing for fear of misinterpretation and retribution.”
And the best thing about that is that Eddie didn’t apologize. Good; he shouldn’t fucking have to. And thank the gods for Eddie Vedder and for Pearl Jam.