How Pearl Jam Reckoned With 9/11, Roskilde Tragedy on 'Riot Act'

Pearl Jam took a yearlong break after the Binaural tour, reconvening early in 2002 to record their seventh album, Riot Act. Joining them at Studio X in Seattle were some new faces: producer Adam Kasper, who had worked with Matt Cameron’s bands Soundgarden and Wellwater Conspiracy, and keyboardist Kenneth “Boom” Gaspar, who met Eddie Vedder on a remote Hawaiian island in 2001 and joined despite having never previously heard of the band he was signing on with.

Nearly all of Riot Act’s songs were recorded live, as Vedder hunkered down in a studio alcove and tapped out lyrics on an old-school typewriter while listening to the band playing. “It’s like catching a butterfly,” he said of the new writing process. “Just when you think you’re going to give up, after, like, hours of sitting there, all of a sudden it cracks and stuff comes out.”

The resulting collection of mid-tempo rockers and folky ballads grappled with a pair of still-fresh tragedies: the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001, and the accidental deaths of nine fans during Pearl Jam’s set at the June 2000 Roskilde Festival in Denmark. “The through line is how delicate life is,” Jeff Ament said. “The positive part of [Roskilde] is, it reinforces that philosophy … that you really need to seize the moment and the day and make the most of it.”

Vedder took stock in the waltz-like lead single, “I Am Mine,” which he wrote the night before Pearl Jam’s first post-Roskilde show, “to reassure myself that this is going to be all right.” The frontman also addressed Roskilde in the sentimental “Love Boat Captain,” which he wrote with Gaspar, singing, “Lost nine friends we’ll never know/Two years ago today.” The band’s frustration over 9/11 came through in Stone Gossard’s “Bu$hleaguer.” Live, Vedder caused controversy by performing the song wearing a plastic Bush mask. “It’s not anti-American to be critical of the government,” Vedder said. “We wanted to put some ideas out there that might help create an open and honest debate.” 

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