"I held him against the wall and spit in his face... then all hell broke loose": the night Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder was arrested for fighting and locked up in New Orleans

Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder
(Image credit: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images)

By 1993 the status of grunge rock as a genuine cultural phenomenon was undeniable. Which is why Time magazine used an image of Eddie Vedder on the cover of its October 25, 1993 issue, hailing “angry young rockers like Pearl Jam” for giving voice to “the passions and fears of a generation.”

Given how few rock musicians have ever been accorded cover status by the prestigious news magazine, readers may have imagined that Vedder would have been thrilled and honoured, but in reality the 28-year-old singer, who had refused to be interviewed for the cover feature, was furious, viewing the editorial team's decision as further proof that he was fast losing control over his own life.

Pearl Jam's second album, Vs., had emerged one week earlier, with that idea as one of its central themes, expressed on songs such as Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town and Leash, on which Vedder channeled all his frustrations into the ferocious lyric, "Get outta my fuckin’ face.”

One man who may have missed that memo was 24-year-old New Orleans waiter James Gorman, who very much got in Vedder's face when he encountered the singer having drinks with friends - Chicago White Sox pitcher Jack McDowell, and two members of Chicago alt.rockers Urge Overkill - in a bar in the city's French Quarter the following month. The night in question would end up with McDowell in the city's Charity Hospital, and Vedder locked up in Orleans Parish Prison.

Gorman's version of events was that Pearl Jam's frontman spat on him "for no reason", grabbed him by the throat, and began shoving him around.

Vedder didn't argue with some of these details, but he lay the blame for the fracas squarely at the door of the "little dick" who he claimed provoked him to lose his temper, by repeatedly telling the singer that he "wasn't his Messiah."

"I talked to this guy for a while, and we tried to walk on," Vedder told [now defunct] UK music magazine Melody Maker after the fact. "But this guy, he wouldn't let it go.... Finally I kinda held him against the wall and I spit in his face. Big fuckin' deal. Anyway, then all hell broke loose. But I never threw a punch. Thank goodness. Because - who knows - I could really have hurt him."

A raging Vedder was hauled off to jail, and charged with public drunkenness and disturbing the peace. He was bailed on a $600 bond at 5am that morning, and told that he could potentially face 90 days in jail for his part in the dust-up. Weeks later, however, the charges against him were thrown out. The incident did nothing whatsoever to tarnish Vedder's image, and within a decade, Vs. was certified for seven million sales in the US alone.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.