Eddie Vedder: Ukulele Songs and Dead Man Walking

It's 1996.  I walk into Bebop Records in Jackson, Misssissippi looking for an Eddie Vedder album.  An early 20's female employee with a severe haircut and some piercings asks if she can help. I tell her that I've been listening to a couple of Eddie Vedder songs on the Dead Man Walking soundtrack and would like to get one of his albums.  She looks at me like I'm an alien and says that Eddie Vedder doesn't have any albums.  I say, really? I would have thought he did since he's on this soundtrack.  She says, no, Eddie Vedder doesn't have any albums.  Then, refusing to make any further eye contact with me, she gestures and says, "Pearl Jam is right over there." 


A couple of girls about her age are standing within earshot, and while they don't laugh out loud, they seem pretty tickled that this old guy in a coat and tie (I would have been 34 at that point) didn't know Eddie Vedder was the lead singer of Pearl Jam.  With a wife, 3 kids under 7 and a job, I thought I was doing pretty well to know Pearl Jam existed.  Even though I mainly listened to older rock and country, I actually knew a few of their songs, including Daughter.  I wanted to tell the clerk and her friends all that, but I didn't.  Like one of Jack Black's customers in High Fidelity, I didn't stand a chance.  So I bought a Pearl Jam CD and left. 


Anyway, while we're on the subject, here's a pretty good video from a 1994 SNL rehearsal of Pearl Jam playing Daughter (I suppose that's Vedder with his hands in his pockets? Not sure, old guys don't see all that well.):



The last couple of days I've been listening to Eddie Vedder's  new CD, Ukulele Songs (it's streamable at NPR.org), which made me think about the Bebop incident.  Coincidentally, I just learned that Bebop is a Dead Man Walking.  Today is its last day, after 37 years.  Another independent bites the dust.  An advance R.I.P. to you, Bebop.  We will miss you.   


Even though it led me to my record store humiliation, I should point out that Dead Man Walking is one of the better "soundtracks" ever.  There's a lot of talent involved - you can see the list of artists who contributed songs on the cover.  The record is not really a soundtrack.  As it says, the music is "from and inspired by" the movie, and it includes music written by the artists after they had seen a cut of the film supplied by Tim Robbins. In addition to turning me on to Mr. Vedder as a solo artist, I give this record credit for getting me back on a Steve Earle kick (Ellis Unit One is a great story song, by the way) and starting me on Michelle Shocked. 


 Which brings me back to Mr. Vedder, who combined with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for two songs on Dead Man Walking.  Here's a video of them performing The Long Road:


As you can see, we have an awesome collaboration here.  When I first heard the song, I was a bit put off with Mr. Ali Kahn's sound, but the more I listened and opened up to it, I found myself drawn in (unfortunately, he died the year after the soundtrack was released).  And I really liked Eddie Vedder's voice outside the context of Pearl Jam.  As the record girl said, there weren't any Eddie Vedder records back then, but there are now.  We have his music from the Into The Wild project, and we will soon have Ukulele Songs, his new solo CD. 


Ukulele Songs is a very good CD.  It's a true solo record, mainly his voice and, of course, the ukulele that he picked up on a trip to Hawaii years ago and that he sometimes pulls out on stage with Pearl Jam.  He does, however, have a couple of duets (one with Glen Hansard and the other with Chan Marshall) on the record.  Americana fans that aren't crazy about Pearl Jam (like me) may still find themselves liking Ukulele Song as they hear Mr. Vedder's voice undburdened by the heavier sound of his band.    The ukulele is both vehicle and symbol of Mr. Vedder's attempt to simplify the offering, which he accomplishes.


I was taken by the quality songwriting on Ukulele Songs.  Mr. Vedder collected these songs over a long period of time, and they are very good.  I also was a bit surprised with the variety of sounds that can be produced with such a simple instrument.  Here's a video someone put together of Longing To Belong, one of the songs on Ukulele Songs.  Not my favorite song on the new CD, but it's good, and it gives you some idea of what the CD sounds like.


Here's a link to an interview/review piece by Ann Powers on the album, also from NPR.  I really can't add much to what she has to say about the record.  Certainly worth checking out. 


You can follow Mando Lines on Twitter @mando_lines.      


Views: 1130

Tags: dead man walking, eddie vedder, ukulele songs

Comment by Adam Sheets on May 28, 2011 at 7:23am
Great article! I really loved his soundtrack for "Into the Wild" better than any Pearl Jam album since "Ten," so I definitely plan to check this one out.
Comment by Gar on May 28, 2011 at 6:32pm

Not sure if you know but you can stream the whole record over at NPR for the next couple of days until it is released.


Comment by chris sweeney on May 28, 2011 at 8:59pm

Mando Lines, you nailed it. The Dead Man Walking CD is one of the very few "soundtracks" I have purchased and I have enjoyed it all these years. The songs on the CD are perfect companion pieces to the movie.

"The Long Road" is one of those songs that sticks with you.

Great article. 

Comment by L A Johnson on May 28, 2011 at 11:55pm
On DMW the much ignored Mary Chapin Carpenter contributes a fabulous song 'DMW' - the film was a little schmaltzyishy at the ned
Comment by Mando Lines on May 29, 2011 at 5:32am

Thanks for the comments.  Streaming link is in the article, by the way.  Had a comment from a Twitter follower that I should have mentioned Vedder's cover of You've Got To Hide Your Love Away on the I Am Sam soundtrack. And now I have. 

Comment by L A Johnson on May 29, 2011 at 10:21am
Also Little Miss Sunshine v good soundtrack
Comment by Corinne on May 29, 2011 at 9:21pm

Hey, thanks for the heads up. 

I think I bought the DMW soundtrack before I had even seen the movie.  Saw all those great names on the cover and had to have it.  Eddie Vedder and his mate were probably the only names I didn't recognise at the time.  He has one of those voices that a bit weird sounding and that is what makes them totally enthralling and a joy to listen too.

Into The Wild struck a real emotional chord with me and I just can imagine any music more perfect that that which Eddie provided.  So the more work he does away from Pearl Jam the bigger fan I become.

I am so excited that he has done a collection of songs with a ukulele as I am currently learning to play the one and his will be a fantastic name to drop when people tell me how uncool it is.

I love my uke!

Comment by Corinne on May 29, 2011 at 9:23pm
I meant I can't imagine any music more perfect.....
Comment by wanda smith on May 31, 2011 at 7:14am
I first fell for Eddie Vedder's voice listening to him sing Bob Dylan's song Masters of War. He sang solo and I was so blown away by the quality, passion and strenghth that I became a huge Pearl Jam fan (which I still am). I really like anything he does, and I just listened to the complete Ukulele Songs via NPR and again I was and never have been disappointed with this man's enormous range and talent. I love the RAW passion of Pearl Jam but love the scaled down soft sound of Ukulele Songs.
Comment by Melinda on June 1, 2011 at 1:09pm
Eddie Vedder's voice on the Bob Dylan 30th anniversary cd/dvd was great.


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.