The Man Who

Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis is the guy behind the guys

Paul McGuinness has never thought of himself as a teacher of life lessons, so it comes as a bit of a surprise for him to hear it relayed that Kelly Curtis considers him an adviser--hell, a mentor. It comes as even more of a shock to discover that Curtis recalls exactly what it was McGuinness said to him all those years and all those albums ago, when the two men stood together at a party at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City.

"There are probably five people in the world who know what you're going through right now, and I'm one of them," the longtime manager of U2 said to the young manager of Pearl Jam, no doubt over the clanking of cocktail glasses and the chattering of rock stars and their hangers-on. "You're doing fine." One can see McGuinness putting his hand on Curtis' shoulder, offering a pat of brotherly reassurance.

It's little wonder Curtis recalls those few words, spoken a long time ago, with such clarity and fondness. Back then, he was regarded by some in the music business as little more than friend and fan doing the bidding of musicians whose rapidly burgeoning success would swallow him whole and spit out the carcass. Even now, Curtis recalls those days as "a whirlwind, a blur...overwhelming." Other managers were sniffing around Pearl Jam, shaking their asses in hopes of luring the band away from the rookie; they had no idea that even back then he'd been with some of its members through life and death, quite literally.

Can you imagine what a pain it must be to manage Eddie Vedder? Kelly Curtis insists it really ain’t that bad a job.
Can you imagine what a pain it must be to manage Eddie Vedder? Kelly Curtis insists it really ain’t that bad a job.

But McGuinness--who met Curtis at a Pearl Jam concert in Chicago in April 1992, during the band's final moments of obscurity--had no such intentions. He too managed but a single band; he too was there from the very beginning, before fame had a few million faces. McGuinness has been the business face of U2 almost since the band's inception in the summer of 1978, and in the past decade, he has watched Curtis, whose previous musical experience consisted of helping run Heart's fan club, go from crawling to stumbling to sprinting. He offered his support and even a bit of counsel; as such, he has become one of Curtis' most trusted friends in a business where trust is rarely an option.

"We've been friends for a long time, and I always thought Kelly was doing a pretty good job all on his own," McGuinness says. "I must say I never thought of it as an educational process. I was interested in what he had to say. I just responded to him naturally, because he understood that you have to trust the client. You have to have a great client, which he does, and you have to trust them. So many managers are inclined to control and dominate the client, and he was the other kind. I liked that. I got as much from him as he got from me."

But where McGuinness stays very much out of sight--it's to be expected when your band's frontman is Bono, who carries with him his own spotlight--Curtis is often the voice of Pearl Jam in interviews. Eddie Vedder does the singing, but it's Curtis who does the talking. Little wonder, then, that he refers to the band as we and us; little wonder he asks, in mock horror, "Are you saying I'm the sixth member of Pearl Jam?" Yes, actually. The Billy Preston of Pearl Jam.

At this moment, Vedder's in New Zealand, performing with Crowded House's Neil Finn. Guitarist Mike McCready's scoring writer-director Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky, with Crowe's wife--and Heart singer-guitarist--Nancy Wilson. Guitarist Stone Gossard has just completed a solo album. Bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron likewise are working on various non-Pearl Jam projects. In fact, after the band concluded its world tour last November in Seattle, its members went their separate ways for the foreseeable future. Vedder departed by telling Curtis, "See ya next year," meaning the band likely won't even be in the same room till sometime in 2002.

Which leaves Curtis as the band's frontman, sort of. Since the band parted ways, it has released 71 live double albums and one triple CD, the so-called bootleg series recorded in 2000 during the band's Europe and North American concerts. And on May 1, Epic Records will release to retail outlets a DVD titled Touring Band 2001, which features three hours of live footage taken from last year's tour, plus 50 minutes' worth of bonus material, including never-before-seen videos and outtakes from the recording sessions for the band's last studio album, Binaural. With the band in hiding, then, it has been up to Curtis to talk to the media about the various projects; he's done more talking into reporters' tape recorders the past few months than Vedder's done the past few years. "It's funny, but the amount of press this band gets for a band that doesn't do press is insane," Curtis says. "It's just insane."

But Curtis has as much right to talk about Pearl Jam as though he's in the band as any of the musicians who take to stage or studio beneath its moniker. He was there before Pearl Jam ever existed: In 1988, he met Gossard and Ament when they were playing in a band called Mother Love Bone; he helped the band sign its deal with PolyGram Records. Curtis was also in the hospital room on March 19, 1990, when Mother Love Bone's singer Andrew Wood, who had overdosed on heroin, was taken off life support. And he was there when Ament, Gossard, McCready and a 25-year-old singer named Eddie Vedder played their first shows as Mookie Blaylock.

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