Q&A with Jonathan Cohen
By Adam Lukach
Both Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and Pearl Jam’s “Ten” turn 20 this year, and both have celebrated with massive reissues.
Jonathan Cohen, an IU and IDS alumnus who now books bands for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” has just released “PJ20,” the Pearl Jam book he wrote in conjunction with Cameron Crowe’s new rock doc, “Pearl Jam Twenty.” Cohen has worked closely with the band for several years, and after he made an offer to help with the project, he was presented the opportunity to pen the tome.
Cohen spoke to WEEKEND about his book, booking Pearl Jam for Fallon and the ’90s nostalgia boom sweeping the nation today.
WEEKEND How did you get started on a project of this magnitude?
JONATHAN COHEN Well, it was intended to be a normal book with a chapter-by-chapter narrative. But when the band got involved, Eddie (Vedder) wanted a different approach, and it became more of an oral history, with a chapter for each year and each album. I was worried about changing the whole structure of the book like that at first, but it was a brilliant move. It ended up being a good way to organize information, and the process became pretty quick after that.
WKND How closely did you interact with the band, then, during the book-writing?
JC We worked with them pretty intimately. They were a part of everything from the manuscript to the end of the book.
WKND What was the hardest part of writing the book?
JC Well, as you would expect from any band with a 20-year history, there are some famous stories that have become part of the mythology of the band that are not technically true. So we were trying to set the record straight about some of those things. For example, during their tiff with Ticketmaster during the ’90s. The band never actually sued Ticketmaster, even though a lot of people think they did. So we wanted to present the real narrative there.
There’s also been a lot written about how Eddie really became a member of the band that is not correct. Some of it has certain elements of truth, but I think we were able to really nail down his first days in Seattle much better.
WKND Pearl Jam played Fallon a few weeks ago. What was that like, bringing them onto the show?
JC It really was pretty heavy. It’s gotta be one of the hardest shows we’ve had for me. I mean, I started as a teen and a fan just like everyone else, and I’ve been lucky to work very closely with them both personally and professionally since. So it was really a full-circle moment and I was very proud that I was able to work with them on that level.
They went above and beyond the call, too. They performed a new song for us, they did a collaboration with The Roots and did a Pink Floyd cover, since they were here during our Pink Floyd tribute week. They don’t like TV appearances. They do it very infrequently. But we had a really good time. I was glad to help them in some way.
WKND Keeping with the ’90s spirit, what do you make of this year being something of the year of retro? Nick at Nite brought back all their old shows, all the rock docs coming out, the bajillion reissues, etc.
JC Well, that was an extremely significant time for people. There was tremendous change for pop and rock music. Hair metal kind of got blown away by a move to more down-to-earth rock bands that didn’t have to rely on an image and just wanted to make good music. The nostalgia is very strong for that time and it speaks to the enduring strength of that music. U2 had “Achtung Baby,” Nirvana made “Nevermind” and obviously “Ten.” Those are still touchstones of rock and roll — they’re still powerful after 20 years.