One day the world will wake up to the news that Eddie Vedder has died.
Sorry about that, but it’s the truth. For most of us, this day will not be a good one. His death will be reported like most celebrity deaths. Depending on how he goes out, they’ll be a swath of reporters in the studio and out on the scene giving us minute by minute details into his demise. They’ll tell us that he’d been unwell for a few years; the odd health complication, the fall down some stairs; the issues with his hearing after years of standing on top of loud amplifiers. They’ll say that he hadn’t picked up a guitar (or ukulele) in years. The arthritis in his hands made it impossible for him to play anymore. They’ll play us snippets from his musical career. Firstly, his duet with Chris Cornell of Soundgarden on ‘Hunger Strike’ by Temple of the Dog, the first time the world really got to hear that lovely voice. This will be followed by the youthful heyday of his years spent in Pearl Jam, with his long flowing and luxurious hair flopping and waving around as he plummets into a waiting audience. Next, they’ll show clips from the ‘Jeremy’ music video, really the only Pearl Jam video worth showing. This will be followed by his angst-ridden live appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1994. A performance in which many were convinced he told a cameraman to “fuck off” during the taping of the song ‘Rearviewmirror’.
Surviving members of Pearl Jam (by this point Mike McCready and Matt Cameron will have already passed) will mourn their lost brother. Guitarist, Stone Gossard, will say there was a period where they hadn’t really spoken in years, but because they both saw their lives rattling towards an ending, they had reconnected and became great friends once again. Jeff Ament will confirm that indeed Vedder did tell a cameraman to “fuck off” on Saturday Night Live and that it was the most punk rock thing he had ever witnessed. They’ll be moments from his solo career; the soundtrack to Sean Penn’s Into the Wild (2007) and his debut solo record, Ukulele Songs (2011), right up to his last record, Voices and Voices (presumed release date 2036), in which, because of his arthritis and his inability to play an instrument will be just a collection of a capella songs, native chants and whistling. Music magazines like Rolling Stone (if not defunct) and websites like the NME (I say like NME, as the actual NME will definitely not exist) will give the record four stars out of five and praise the record for its bravery, the sombre undertones of Vedder’s mortality that seem to creep in on songs like ‘I’m Dying Here’ and ‘The Last Wave (That I Will Ride)’, but you and I, and the record-buying public at large will know that it was an underwhelming final record; an unremarkable swan song.
In the last moments of his existence, knowing that death is upon him, Eddie Vedder will grab his old surfboard that has hung on the wall for a decade or so and against the advice of his wife, his grown-up children, and his doctor, he’ll stroll to the crest of the ocean shore and see in the distance the makings of a perfect tube. He’ll paddle out on top of the board, the warm salty water easing his stiff and swollen joints. He’ll feel like a young man again. His old body becomes a union with his withered mind and years of memories and dreams melting away and creating, for a few moments at least, a younger, almost new-born spirit, rattling to oblivion and free from the pain of living. And I’ll cry as you will. As I watch on as the news as reporters run across the beach with their cameramen tripping and stumbling in the sand behind them, and trying for a steady shot of the tumbling waves. The dog walkers, beach bums, and surfer dudes will pull out their phones (or maybe they’ll just hit record on whatever cybernetic ocular implant they have… this is the future after all) and hold them in the air recording for prosperity the death of Eddie Vedder, who’ll be but a speck of dust in the hurricane of waves and surf.
For a few moments the ocean will rejoice as the son it delivered to earth is returned home. The waves will fold back in on themselves, embracing the mortal bag of bones and muscle. Onlookers on the beach will gasp at this apparent schism of nature and an incomprehensible sight to behold. Eventually, the surfboard will be returned to the shore. The body will never be found. It will be dragged to the bottom of the ocean and there it will stay, forever, untouched by the sea creatures who would normally feast on the carcass of a dead human, but will stay away out of respect for all the work he did to preserve the oceans. Those on the beach will break the surfboard apart and hand them out as little mementos of the occasion.
Those that have watched this event will feel hollow inside. They’ll recall the posters of five hairy young men that were plastered on their bedroom walls. One of those men, in particular, looking earnest and intensely at the camera (at you) as if challenging you to get out of bed and do something constructive with your life: Write a song, make a film, travel the world, fall in love, become a politician, save lives, build a house, learn to master an instrument, break down a preconceived social barrier, drink a beer, smoke a joint. You’ll do all these things, maybe brilliantly, or maybe half-assed. But because he urged you to, you’ll at least try your hardest. One thing you will do well is mourn his passing. You’ll weep and sob so hard for a man you watched die as it was broadcast live. You will at least do that well.
My name is Stephen Lee Naish. I’m a writer, author, artist, and library worker originally from the UK, but now living in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. My work has been published in The Quietus, 3AM, Empty Mirror, Red Fez, Dirty Movies, and Albumism. I wrote a book on Dennis Hopper.