SEATTLE — With just a few hours left before I had to catch a plane out of town, there was one more stop I had to make on my whirlwind Seattle music history tour.
Driving to a nondescript industrial zone amid anonymous warehouses, I set out to explore the Pearl Jam headquarters.
Not many bands have the kind of well-oiled machine that PJ has built over the past two decades, but their digs should be an inspiration to any kid in his basement hoping to one day rock the masses. This is what hard work, great tunes and a rabid fanbase can get you, a playground all your own where you can offer your diehards an unending supply of high-end swag, including, at the moment, lush collector’s box sets of your albums, plenty of which were in evidence on pallets scattered throughout the building.
One of the conference rooms in the smartly appointed offices featured images of the band with various dignitaries, from President Obama to Bruce Springsteen. The most intriguing was a shot of Beyonce and Jay-Z walking through the bowels of Madison Square Garden and gawking at a photo of PJ singer Eddie Vedder. Right next to that was a set-up sequel of Vedder looking equally astonished at a photo of the hip-hop supercouple.
A downstairs warehouse area the size of a basketball court was packed with road cases fresh from Vedder’s recent tour of Australia and shelves of hardware that looked like a small music store. There were dozens of guitar straps, every shape and thickness of guitar strings and boxes upon boxes of harmonicas and picks labeled with the names of the band members, various masks they wear on stage and rack-upon-rack of sound gear.
The next room was a PJ fan’s, well, nirvana, jammed with giant stage props from various tours, a set of surfboards with airbrushed images of the band that was a gift from their Australian label and giant metal racks lined with guitar cases, snare drums and mic stands. At the back of the room was a large carpeted rehearsal space tricked out with a vintage Elton John Captain Fantastic pinball machine, the entertainment system the group takes on the road, a massive Ramones stage-curtain backdrop and a haunting painting of the band’s longtime producer and friend, Brendan O’Brien, nailed to a cross.
We walked through to the sports lounge, with its skating half-pipe and the honorary Johnny Ramone baseball lending library, with the many volumes of baseball biographies collected by Vedder’s old pal and punk icon, as well as some of Johnny’s baseball autograph books, trading cards and a baseball glove-shaped easy chair.
The tour ended in the office of Tim Bierman, who manages the band’s Ten Club fan service, where we gawked at the limited-edition Pearl Jam skateboard decks (one of two), snowboards (one of six) and a specially commissioned version of the multi-panel cartoon imagery from Tom Tomorrow’s artwork for Backspacer with Bierman’s face in the middle suspended in a glass jar.
There, Bierman gave us a preview of Vedder’s upcoming solo album, Ukulele Songs, including the swaying, Hawaiian reverie “Satellite” (sample lyric, “Don’t think I’m out playin’/ Because I’m inside waiting for you”) and the spare, throwback Everly Brothers cover “Sleepless Nights,” featuring the perfectly meshed voices of Vedder and the Frames’ Glen Hansard.
And so, improbably, I’d done it. I’d managed to get a whirlwind tour of modern Seattle music history in under four hours. From the EMP to the recesses of the PJ warehouse, amid all the historic and personal touchstone things I’d seen, one image stuck with me the most: the joy on the faces of my willing tour guides.
This is a town where the players aren’t just aware of their musical heritage, they are intensely proud of it and feel lucky to play even just a small part in keeping that spirit alive.