Un-rock Star

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But when Abbruzzese joined Pearl Jam things were still simple..... M"There was no record. There was no nothing. Pearl Jam was nothing. Ten hadn't come out yet," Abbruzzese remembers about those early, humble days. "We went on tour when the record came out. We'd play clubs where there'd be a hundred people at a 500-seat club. We went out and we worked, and we worked really fucking hard."

He had never met the members of the band before his audition. Abbruzzese just played on Chamberlain's drum set--and landed the gig. He had no idea what he was getting himself into, because Pearl Jam had yet to attain the wide radio air play and MTV exposure that would rocket the group to enormous fame.

"Then we got on the [Red Hot Chili] Peppers tour and everything just went crazy. Went through the roof," he says, still sounding amazed.

From that point on, it was virtually nonstop touring. Ask him what Seattle's music scene was like during its heyday, and you'll be disappointed. He doesn't have an opinion, because he hardly ever saw or participated in it. The band members were too busy globe-trotting, and, if they were not, he never liked to hang out in clubs, anyhow. He liked the city enough, though, that he settled in the area five years ago and moved his parents out there, too.

Abbruzzese was one of three unique personalities within Pearl Jam. Vedder was the sullen martyr, a paradoxical individual who verbally disdained celebrity yet didn't scale back his exposure in the media. Gossard was the fair-minded, level-headed diplomat who controlled the band from behind the scenes. And Abbruzzese was the nice guy--the enthusiastic one whom the fans could approach and talk to, and who didn't mind the attention--because he still remembered what it was like to be a fan. Abbruzzese appreciated the fans and, in fact, maybe enjoyed the fame a little too much. More so than the other members of the band may have wanted him to.

"Famous people who say they don't enjoy fame are the ones who want more of it," Abbruzzese says. "It takes a lot of work to be famous. Those who don't want to be famous can just drop out of sight and, in six months, nobody will remember them or care. But they don't do this."

Shifting from admirer to being admired was more than odd--sometimes it felt schizophrenic. Abbruzzese tells how he fell into gushing fan mode when he met his idol Peter Gabriel. This, despite that by that time Abbruzzese himself was a member of an immensely popular band. (Abbruzzese remembers that, when he played in Dallas bands, he was nervous when he met Paul Slavens, singer for Ten Hands, who like Gabriel was somebody Abbruzzese admired.)

So when did things with Pearl Jam go bad? And why? Abbruzzese claims he doesn't know.

His dismissal came on August 25, 1994. That day, Abbruzzese thought he and the other four members of the band were to meet for preliminary discussions on the artistic direction they were going to take on the next album--Pearl Jam's fourth. Instead, only Gossard was present.

Gossard put it simply. Pearl Jam was looking for a new drummer.
Theories abounded after word got out that Abbruzzese was out of Pearl Jam. At first, the official word given by the band was that the split was an amicable one, with its drummer leaving to "study music." Abbruzzese felt uncomfortable with maintaining that absurd untruth.

"It made my stomach hurt every time I saw the word 'amicable.' Looking back, once it all went down, the more I thought about how--if I didn't say anything and just quietly went away--the last thing attached to my name with that band would be totally untrue," he explains. "I wanted others to know that I didn't know anything about what happened to me, either."

Fans speculated everything: Abbruzzese had a personal conflict with Vedder; his aggressive drumming style wasn't in sync with the sound that the rest of the band wanted on the next album; Abbruzzese's "Texas, pickup-truck personality" (he drives a truck and owns a couple of guns) clashed with Vedder's politically correct sensibilities; Abbruzzese wanted to tour rather than waste time taking on Ticketmaster; the Pearl Jam drummer had disagreed with his bandmates about the cover art for the band's second album; Vedder conspired all along to replace Abbruzzese with friend Jack Irons (now the band's drummer), formerly with Los Angeles funk rockers the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Basically every theory was present except the second gunman on the grassy knoll.

Abbruzzese says that he can't pinpoint why he was let go. He's certain, however, that his dismissal had nothing to do with the quality of his drumming talents--an assessment many fans and industry insiders share. Nor did he think anything was wrong with his relationship with the others in the group. But in interviews after Abbruzzese's departure, Gossard revealed--in Musician magazine particularly--that the climate within the band leading up to Abbruzzese's firing was "complex," and that the band members were unable to find a "balance, a mutual respect for each other."

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Howard Wen