Tag Archives: Pearl Jam

Eddie Vedder Found: Taormina, Sicily

My history with Eddie Vedder’s music goes way back. The night before I had my accident in 1996 I listened to Off He Goes, sobbing for a life I was leaving behind in a small town in South Africa. In that moment, I had no idea of how my life would really change the following morning, in the few seconds, filled with crashing glass and crunching metal and breaking thorn trees followed by the hot still silence of a clear Karoo day, it took to put me in a wheelchair.

That was not the only moment in my life that had a PJ track attached to it – there were many moments, from gentle, quiet ones to gleeful ones to heartbroken, sad ones, that had a range of their tracks attached, and still do.  And there’ll be more to come.

And that’s the back story as to why this trip to Sicily from Cape Town is a dream. I’ve been wanting to see Eddie Vedder for years. Many, many years. When I saw the Florence festival announced, I hesitated for a split second, and booked, living by the cliched (but true) ‘Life is short’. Then Sicily was announced and the plan changed. Sicily! In an Ancient Greek ruin? No brainer.

And so it came to be that last night, in an amphitheatre dating back to the early Seventh Century BC (BC!), I saw Eddie Vedder, live. It may well have been the best night of my life.

One advantage of being in a wheelchair is that the ancient Greeks didn’t really build amphitheatres for us, so the only place I can go (after negotiating some pretty fabulously steep ramps, with the help of some pretty fabulously handsome medics and firemen), is right in front! The lovely Federica, from Rome, sat next us, having broken her knee saving a guy from falling during a stage dive in a mosh pit three days ago. She shared her water with us

As the sky deepened to cerulean blue, the new moon flirted with the Evening Star above Mount Etna and the Mediterranean turned dark. The ancient walls of the amphitheatre that have seen so much in their time twitched in anticipation. The hot evening air, filled with the whispers and stories of thousands of years, was electric. A couple got engaged in the front seats as the crowd exuded love. And then the electricity multiplied …

(Thanks to Martin Grundberg for this gorgeous pic from up at the back.)

The crowd roared – echoes of gladiator fights of years ago – as Eddie Vedder walked on stage, 25 m from me. As he picked up his guitar and sang those first few words, I dissolved, grinning like a loon, my lips quivered and tears overflowed. That voice. The one I’ve listened to a thousand times, on tapes, on CDs, on YouTube videos … live.

For two-and-a-half hours he sang, no break. Just Breathe, Society, Without You, the best rendition of Jeremy, with the string quartet, the list went on and the crowd went wild and my lungs scrunched up and my heart expanded and I was enthralled. And an R.E.M. track, with a Michael Stipe in Berlin story attached – my second favourite band – swoon!

During Jeremy he came into the crowd, shaking hands, hugging people, coming closer to us, until he was right there, so close I could’ve touched him, but I was totally frozen in awe. Leigh put out her hand, he shook it. And then he hugged Federica, before going back to the stage. We all cried, like teen fans, but much more sophisticated (of course).

Pigeons flapped from rampart to rampart, momentarily lit by the stage lights, and bats flitted across the sky. A heavily pregnant woman in a white dress walked up and down in one of the top tiers, beautifully lit and looking like a Greek goddess. The whole thing was surreal.

And Eddie Vedder sang and chatted and shared his wine and congratulated the newly engaged couple and brought his daughters and wife on stage and it just all felt so incredibly lovely. And, dare I say it again? That voice.

Fascinating fact of the day: Eddie Vedder with a ukulele and Glen Hansard can sing, without microphones, in that ancient amphitheatre, and the sound is perfect and the audience will be hushed in wonder and it will be magical.

Second fascinating fact of the day: Five thousand people singing Hard Sun on a hot night in an amphitheatre overlooking Mount Etna and The Med can change the cells in your body, rearranging them into something that just feels better, man. (See what I did?)

Tonight, I’m lucky enough to go again. Hold thumbs for Off He Goes, please.

Off He Goes

Many, many, years ago, I lay on the floor of my bedroom in the digs I had shared for my final year in a beautiful, double-storeyed house on a tree-lined street in idyllic Small University Town, and contemplated the whirlwind four years I had spent there. I was surrounded by my earthly possessions in a state of almost-packed. I was leaving the next day, leaving behind my student life.

Eddie Vedder crooned to me from my tape recorder (yes, that long ago) as I lay there, contemplating my life. I can see it, feel it, hear it, like it was yesterday. Off He Goes.

I remember the smell of the awful brown carpet that lay on the floor of that room that, if it could speak, could tell so many stories of learning and loving and growing up. We felt so adult, we were so little. The feeling on my cheek was rough as I cried (and cried) for leaving that place that I loved, leaving my friends that I loved more, leaving that life. I was standing on the edge of something new, something different, something unknown. Things were about to change.

I had no idea at that moment how drastically they would change. Within twelve hours my world would crumple in on itself under a blazingly hot summer Karoo sky and I’d be thrown into an unknown world from which I’d need to use every ounce of my strength to claw myself out. And the strength of my family, and my friends and a whole bunch of people that would become friends. And we did, we clawed our way out. We’re, possibly, even better people for it.

Fast-forward many, many, years, to a house in the mountains, a place with no cell phone reception and air so clear it made my lungs sing and my heart swell with joy. A dark late night arrival into this magic place, red wine, my two favourite allies (apologies Red Hot Chili Peppers) and one of those nights where time melts, red wine flows and conversations dance. And as we solved the problems of the world, Eddie Vedder joined us – Off He Goes – this time from the iPod (how we’ve advanced!), and I was flung back at warp-speed, and left breathless.

It happens every time I hear that song.

I think I should write a letter to Eddie Vedder. He’s written one of the main songs on the soundtrack to my life and I think I should say thank you. I wonder if he’d reply?