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Pearl Jam's Vedder: Why I lent music to war doc

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

The anti-war politics were an obvious draw, but Eddie Vedder's two original songs for the documentary Body of War are anything but a case of token celebrity activism.

The film, co-directed by television talk-show veteran Phil Donahue and documentary maker Ellen Spiro, distills the Iraq war into two key elements: the rhetoric from the White House parroted by congressmen before the invasion and the story of Tomas Young, a young veteran and now an outspoken critic of the war who was crippled by a bullet in the back after less than a week of duty.

Vedder met Donahue by chance and agreed to write two songs after hearing about the film. Within a couple of weeks, he was at Donahue's home, screening the documentary.

Then, after speaking to Young at length about his new wheelchair-bound, pharmaceutical-dependent life, Vedder sent Donahue the completed music within a few short days in an e-mail. The songs went on to become central to the film.

But this is far from one celebrity simply scratching another's back.

As the Pearl Jam front man explained in an interview in the middle of the Toronto International Film Festival, the songs and the message of the film connect to his own experience with death and suffering, an experience Vedder bets some of the top decision-makers in the White House have never had.

"We had a concert in Denmark in 2000 and nine people were tragically killed in a crush in front of the stage," Vedder said. "So that was obviously the hardest thing any one of us had ever been through in our lives. It happened right in front of us. And after that, you change. Your appreciation for life ... the ante has been upped.

"When I now hear about a parent losing their son or daughter in this criminal war, I know what that feels like. I know the parents of those kids from Denmark. We saw the wave of impact that it had on the families, on their communities, just for nine kids.

"I have a hard time thinking that our representatives in Washington, certainly [U.S. Vice-President] Dick Cheney or George Bush. ... I don't know if they've had this close an experience with tragic death right in front of them. It's one reason why I was drawn [to the film]. And I'm just so proud to be part of this, so people can get to know a human being who's been so adversely affected and has to courageously face intense challenges just to get through the day."

Young was sitting next to him in his wheelchair as Vedder said this. And Young noted how strangely life had come full circle. As a teenager, he had found solace in Pearl Jam's music. Now, Vedder was singing about him as a war veteran.

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