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Music

When R.E.M. and Eddie Vedder teamed up to play 'Man on the Moon'

If there are two opposing forces battling for the soul of rock and roll in the modern age, it’s hard to get more disparate than Eddie Vedder and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Vedder is a classic rock true believer who filters his love of The Who and Neil Young through a DIY punk aesthetic, one that seeks to highlight the darker corners and less-celebrated figures that deserve recognition. In contrast, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has taken everything great about rock and roll, sanitised it, corporatised it, and simplified it to the extent that entire chunks of a band’s history can be thrown by the wayside if the lead singer decides they don’t want to focus on those individuals.

Despite this, Vedder has spent more than his fair share of time within the halls of Jann Wenner’s personal wet dream of what rock history looks like. Maybe he’s just too nice to say no when asked, or maybe he’s willing to look past the egregious nature of the Hall’s history in order to hang out with some of his heroes. He’s a go-to favourite for inductions, and before Pearl Jam were given their own induction in 2017, Vedder had already been the shepherd for acts like Neil Young, the Ramones, and R.E.M.

It was as the inductor of the latter that Vedder got to show a side of himself that wasn’t all that well known beforehand. Within the world of grunge superstars, Kurt Cobain was always seen as the biggest R.E.M. fanboy, but Vedder proved himself to be just as big a fan of the Athens legends as anyone during his reverential and hilarious induction speech. Maybe that’s why they keep asking him back: he’s actually really good at inducting people.

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When it came time to perform, the members of R.E.M. extended their gratitude back to Vedder by inviting him on to trade verses of their legendary ode to Andy Kaufman, ‘Man on the Moon’. Even though they had a whole decade of experience on Vedder, R.E.M. were contemporaries of Pearl Jam in 1992 when ‘Man on the Moon’ came out, and it’s easy to see Vedder looking to someone like Michael Stipe for advice about how to handle celebrity and fanaticism.

On a more wacky note, there doesn’t seem to be any two people in the world who have more different vocal cadences than Michael Stipe and Eddie Vedder. Stipe’s sly and bright tenor is contrasted by Vedder’s gruff and haggard baritone, but they end up fitting together like chocolate and peanut butter. Add on another layer of Mike Mill’s soaring harmony over the top, and it’s a match made in rock and roll heaven.

Whenever I get cynical about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I like to return these kinds of moments that likely wouldn’t have happened without it. Every time I see Vedder and Stipe trade lines as the complete lineup of R.E.M. (with Bill Berry on drums) play together for the rare occasion, or whenever I see Neil Young join Led Zeppelin for a one-off guitar duel with Jimmy Page, I begin to think that maybe the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame isn’t so bad after all. Then I come to my sense and see it for the fraudulent enterprise that it actually is. But these moments are still nice.

Watch Vedder play ‘Man on the Moon’ with R.E.M. down below.