Day One Hundred and Seven: "My Baby's In Love with Eddie Vedder" from Running with Scissors
The early 1990s were a crazy time for pop music. Hair metal and synth pop were on their way out and a fun new fad was sweeping the nation: “Grunge” rock. The King of Grunge Rock was Kurt “King” Cobain who famously went on MTV and said, “I’m the King of Grunge and I challenge everyone to a Grunge-Off! If you can defeat me in the three core elements of Grunge– playing wicked guitar solos, freestyle dancing and wearing gold lame pants and pink feather boas with aplomb—then I will step down as the King of Grunge and happily cede my title. Also, I will give you all my money and custody of my child. But first you must beat me in a contest judged both by a series of outrageous celebrities like Jim J. Bullock and Alf as well as a studio audience at home.”
Only Eddie Vedder of the guitar-based rock and roll band Pearl Jam had the chutzpah to challenge the legendary King of Grunge and, in a FOX special hosted by Arsenio Hall, Vedder shocked the world by besting his rival by performing a 14 minute guitar solo with his teeth, earning him a ten-minute standing ovation from the studio audience. Some say that Cobain never really recovered, and that the previously happy-go-lucky musician, nicknamed “Chuckles” for his upbeat, easygoing demeanor, never really recovered, and got involved with drugs and depression as a result of his crushing, very public defeat.
In 1992 American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic recorded a song that defined a generation with “Smells Like Nirvana.” It was received at the time as the ultimate grunge anthem, easily beating out its inspiration, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” “Smells Like Nirvana" isn’t just easily one of the best and most important songs in Al’s oeuvre, helping him recover from the critical and commercial failure of both the UHF soundtrack and the film itself: it’s one of the most important songs ever written.
So it makes sense that Al would revisit the subject of rock star hypocrisy and pretension, Seattle Grunge rock-style, later in the decade with the Zydeco ditty “My Baby’s In Love With Eddie Vedder.” Alas, Al may have revisited this subject a little too late. The song would have had more satirical thrust if it had come out earlier in the decade, when Grunge was more in vogue. By 1999 Eddie Vedder had peaked as a cultural figure so while Al’s tribute/satire of the famously tormented pop star is funny and even pointed, it lacked the timeliness that distinguished both “Smells Like Nirvana” and “The Saga Begins.”
“My Baby’s In Love With Eddie Vedder” consequently makes for an interesting companion piece and counter-point to his earlier career-reviving Nirvana take-off. Sonically, “Smells Like Nirvana” sounds exactly like its inspiration, of course, with a lot of goofball sound effects and kazoo thrown in for the sake of wackiness, “My Baby’s In Love With Eddie Vedder” not only belongs to a different musical genre than Pearl Jam, it belongs to an antithetical genre.
If Grunge is all about gloom and doom and heavy riffs, heroin addiction and mournful, moaning vocals, then zydeco is all about high spirits and party music and entertaining the nice people. In “Smells Like Nirvana”, Al used Cobain’s own music to destroy him satirically by portraying him as a rock star who mumbles a lot.
With “My Baby’s In Love With Eddie Vedder” the underlying musical satirical conceit is similar to that of Al’s polka medleys: using some of the happiest, goofiest, most upbeat music imaginable to undercut the pretension of rock and roll at its most solemn and dour, and in the 1990s at least, they didn’t get much more solemn or angsty than the Pearl Jam lead singer/Grunge-Off champion.
Lyrically, the gag’s right there in the title: treating a ponderous “artist” as a dizzy heartthrob/dreamboat who has the singer’s girlfriend in a feverish state of perpetual lust. As is sometimes the case with Al, it’s funny because it’s true. Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell and Bush’s Gavin Rossdale became grunge mega-stars because of their expressive, emotional voices and catchy tunes but also because every single last one of them was an extraordinarily handsome man. Model handsome. Not to speak too glibly of the dead, but they were grunge heartthrobs whose gloomy good looks got heartbeats racing as much as their grunge anthems did.
“Smells Like Nirvana” was half tribute, half loving mockery of Kurt Cobain and his generation-defining anthem. “My Baby’s In Love With Eddie Vedder” is less loving and more cutting. In his maiden foray into the world of zydeco, Al paints a withering satirical picture of the “Alive” hit-maker as a caricature of the brooding, pretentious Artiste as a wealthy, pampered hypocrite.
The song is full of cutting couplets like “She likes his brooding angst and his wild-eyed stare/Yeah, he’s her very favorite slacker multi-millionaire” and “But my girl can't get enough of his sullen demeanor/Like he’s some big tortured genius and I’m some kinda wiener.”
And, like Al’s polka medleys, the musical language of zydeco affords Al a rare opportunity to get busy with the old squeeze box in a non-polka setting.
Yes, “My Baby’s In Love With Eddie Vedder” is a worthy, silly companion piece to “Smells Like a Nirvana” and one of Al’s strongest, most direct statements about rock star hypocrisy and pretension. It’s also, as the young people say, a straight-up zydeco banger that, unfortunately, seems to have come out about seven years too late.
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