5 Against 1:
Kim Neely vs. PJ
I really wanted to like this book.
I remember Kim Neely from the days she used to hang out on amp-j (believe it or not); I remember when she posted that she was writing a book, and wanted information on the mailing list at the time (the original Garden of Stone). She got slammed by the ampj regulars, but I wrote to her, gave her the info, and wished her luck. Perhaps it was because I had a background in journalism that I had a certain sympathy towards her effort; but I also felt it was stupid to judge her before she even wrote the book. We corresponded a few more times; I remember when a friend posted a trivia quiz to the newsgroup, and she was the only one who got all the answers right!
Last year, she posted in the AOL folder and got slammed. Someone sent me her response, and I wrote to her; again, I thought it foolish to pre-judge her intentions before the thing was even written.
So when I heard the book was finally out, I lost no time ordering it, and started reading it as quickly as possible. What a serious disappointment. For someone who knows her pj, and claims to like the band, this book is a travesty, on a par with the Rolling Stone hatchet job on Eddie last year.
Historically, it's flat and boring. Long-time PJ fans will learn very little that they didn't know already, and new fans would be better served by reading the resources she lists in the introduction (Clark Humphrey's Loser; the Goldmine article in the 5h archive; the Robert Hilburn pieces, many of which are also in our archive), instead of wasting their time and money on this book. She had access to the band and she probably had the material on hand and the opportunity to dig deeper, and she chose to just skim the history of the band. Obviously, when you've got a bone to pick with Pearl Jam personally, why waste your time on solid research and facts?
Her attempt to portray each of the individual band members (as well as manager Kelly Curtis and Eddie's wife, Beth Liebling) in the worst light possible is absolutely reprehensible. So what if Stone is absent-minded and loses stuff?! She mentions Mike's bouts with drinking and his successful rehab attempt simply in passing, preferring to emphasize sensational incidents pre-rehab in a manner better suited to "Hard Copy" or Jerry Springer. However, these are minor footnotes in a story that focuses exclusively on the Evil Ed.
For her to rely on Eddie's stepfather as one of the sole resources of this book seems nothing more than an attempt at character assasination. Jerome Mueller's perspective on his stepson is hardly unbiased, and frankly, it's obvious that the man is mentally unstable. Even Karen Vedder, to her credit, did not cooperate with this book.
The focus on Eddie as the evil mastermind of Pearl Jam was a total shock. I had expected, finally, to get a book that told us something about each of the individual members for a change. However, with Jerome Mueller so obviously wanting retribution against his stepson, why waste time on the stories of Mike, Stone and Jeff? I'm surprised she didn't just write an entire book about Eddie.
All of Neely's sources for this book were individuals who have a grudge against the band: Dave Abbruzzese, his girlfriend (and former nanny for the Curtis family) Sheri Fineman, photographer Chris Cuffaro. She accepted their renditions as gospel, and never attempted to give the band members equal time, through interviews with other friends and associates who might have shown a different perspective than people who have such an obvious axe to grind with the various members of Pearl Jam.
There is much chat about the fact that finally, this book tells us the REAL story. All this book tells us is what Kim Neely decided fit her agenda. It is possible to write a balanced book on a band; I recently finished reading the excellent "The Last Gang In Town," a thorough, solid, no-holds-barred biography of the Clash that seriously debunks the Clash Myth. This book is over 300 pages long and the scholarship is impeccable. It is obvious from the tone of the book that the author is a tremendous Clash fan; however, he did not let that fact get in the way of the truth. Not everything about the band is positive, but everything's not overwhelmingly negative. For someone to finally prove, through painstaking research and documentation, that the Clash's working-class image, so central to the band's identity, was patently false is an enormous undertaking. To do so in a manner that is fair and balanced is even harder, but the author accomplishes this because he left no stone unturned, and obviously approached the project without a personal vendetta in mind.
I am the first one to raise my hand and call bullshit on PJ when I think they deserve it. But to say this book is "great" because it portrays negative elements about PJ and doesn't praise them unstintingly does us as fans as much a disservice as if the book had been overwhelmingly positive. I don't understand why it's news that the members of Pearl Jam aren't saints, that they made many mistakes, that there are things they did that they probably wish they could change or forget. Every sentient being on this planet is like that, except probably for the author of this book, I guess; otherwise, it would hardly be news. Oh, I forgot: a balanced book wouldn't sell as many copies as a scandal sheet.
The only thing I will single out is Neely's portrayal of the Ticketmaster battle; but the only reason it's in there is probably because she personally agreed with what they were trying to do. Again, it's that total absence of journalistic ethics of any kind that totally permeates this book: she agrees personally, so it was in. If she didn't agree, I doubt she would have even bothered.
Our advice: if you're really curious, borrow it or buy it used. If you aren't, but still want to catch up on your Pearl Jam history, try the Five Horizons articles archive instead. Some people have mentioned the photos in this book; many of them, such as the ridiculous quantity of photos of Eddie in his youth (how about seeing Stone or Mike's baby pictures?!), feel like one is intruding into a personal family archive. With her access to Chris Cuffaro (the photographer of the shots of Eddie in the animated gif in our "Band" section), one wonders why she didn't try to get photos of Pearl Jam that we hadn't seen instead.