On December 5, 1996, Italian newspaper La Repubblica ran the headline “Eddie Vedder back to Rome”. The night before, a small club in Rome called Goa hosted a private party where Eddie Vedder made an unannounced appearance to play in front of a small and amazed crowd. After closing Pearl Jam’s European tour in support of ‘No Code’, the singer was still eager to play, so he decided to plan a couple of shows with two young local musicians, Fausto Casara on drums and Francesco Aliotta on bass. Here’s their story.
PART I: THE MEETING
Ok, let’s jump back to 1996, 14 years ago in Rome. Under what circumstances did you meet Eddie Vedder?
A series of fortunate coincidences: I had just rented a casale [a country house] in the now famous Via della Giustiniana in Rome, a rundown place that gave me the opportunity to play at any time, day and night. You have to know that I had just resigned from a tourist entertainment company to start learning to play drums, although I had been playing them since I was 11, so it was an ideal place for a student like me. I used to play there with several musicians and we had a rehearsal space. On one of those music nights, in December, my brother rushed in to tell me that my friend Davide Battista had called to announce I was supposed to go on tour with Pearl Jam… ?? However, my brother continued, Davide would have stopped by later for details. It was 4 AM and I was there with 5/6 friends, as usual. When Davide arrived, he explained that a few hours before he was at the opening of the Diesel Store in Via del Corso, where he met Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, who was vacationing in Rome with [his then wife] Beth Liebling and [her band] Hovercraft just after the No Code tour ended in Istanbul. Years before, Davide had played drums for about 45 minutes, and being quite a daring and enterprising guy he introduced himself to Eddie as a drummer. Meanwhile, he was already thinking of me. Eddie told him that he was looking for a rhythm section to play with at a private party for his friends in Rome, so he gave him a setlist to learn and made an appointment for the next morning.
I had barely heard of Pearl Jam because I had been working in tourist villages for four years and certainly had never seen let alone heard of Eddie Vedder, except for a cassette a Norwegian woman gave me in order to introduce me to ‘grunge’, and that included songs by Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, the great Nirvana (I already knew them) and two PJ songs, “Alive” and “State of Love and Trust”. They grew on me so much that I started singing them loud, not even knowing the exact words, at a resort in the Caribbean for rich people who surely weren’t in line with any of my artistic tendencies. “Alive” gave me the courage to say ‘fuck you’ to everything (3 million lire a month plus full board accommodation in dream places) and everybody (the holiday club of Mr. Calisto ‘thief’ Tanzi).
Did you know Pearl Jam before meeting Vedder?
No, just those two songs from the tape the Norwegian woman gave me.
PART II: THE SHOWS (feat. unreleased tracks)
What are your memories of the shows at Caffè Latino and Goa?
Chocolate and shit…
I remember the Caffè Latino gig as one of the most beautiful nights of my life, while the Goa gig was awful. A few memories:
At the Caffè, Eddie introduced me to his then wife Beth, certainly not a model, but friendly and nice like no other. I filmed the whole Hovercraft concert (very cool) and then I gave it to the royal couple;
Eddie was wearing a straw hat and drinking beer on stage. He took off his hat when he started counting ‘one-two-three-four’ and I saw his eyes change – a nice guy suddenly turned into a stage animal, even though he was just playing in front of 60 people backed by two kids;
Well played and powerful music, we were calm and confident, the setlist was good;
Eddie, Davide Lepore and I, after a little ball squeezing joke and a fight between friends, got drunk after downing a bottle of Batida de Coco stolen by Eddie at the bar after the show… disgusting (the Batida, not the show!), testosterone-fueled stuff;
Alessio Picci, Brando Lupi an I got drunk while celebrating with two bottles of spumante worth 3.500 lire each at the Autogrill Pisana Interna, lying on the G.R.A [Rome’s ring road] at 6:25 AM;
Eddie’s exhausted face at lunch before heading to the sewer known as Goa.
The show at the Goa club was a trap set for innocent musicians by crooks.
It should have been a private party: our guests (we had 10 invitations each, 110 people in total) were supposed to enter the venue at 9 PM, before the official club opening. Let me just say that at midnight the concert had yet to start, and I had to pay 35.000 lire to let my brother in!
I felt frustrated, tired and disappointed. Eddie was in the club’s private room with his people while I was trying to plug the organizational leaks with 10.000 lire bills; Eddie certainly was (and is) Eddie and I was just a poor asshole, but he was my leader of the pack and did nothing to protect me, and you can hear it during the concert.
The sound technician was a total incompetent (Francesco played the first two songs with his bass amplifier off!!!), monitors were all linked together so when I asked for more guitar, the volume went up on every monitor. There was a continuous coming and going of people on stage that was far from relaxing; I mean, just listen to the recording, it was the worst concert of my life, for how I played and for how the whole thing went down. I think and hope that Eddie and Francesco feel the same way about it.
The day after, Eddie left to see The Who playing in London.
During Pearl Jam’s show in Venice 2010, Eddie dedicated MFC to his Roman friends. What’s the relationship between him and the city of Rome?
Three brothers from Rome went to California in the ’80 and befriended Edward Louis Severson III/Vedder from Chicago, who at the time didn’t know he would move to Seattle shortly after to become one of the biggest music icons of the last 20 years. Other than that, I know he got married in the Campidoglio Palace [in 1994, with his first wife Beth].
How long did you rehearse before the shows? Legend has it that you recorded several hours of covers, unreleased songs and improvisations. Tell us a little more.
Not much, we rehearsed for two days. You have to understand that I didn’t know his original songs at all.
I admit that I didn’t exactly nailed a few songs, like RVM, which I messed up during the Goa show (now it’s one of my favorite ones, and to make up for my mistakes at the concert I re-recorded it all by himself, playing each instrument, and then gave it to him as a gift).
The recording sessions took place after the show in a studio owned by a group of friends in Rome that I had helped build with my own hands.
I forgot to mention that ‘MFC’ and ‘Parting Ways’ were recorded and played for the first time by the EFF trio (this is how I like to call our trio: Eddie, Fausto and Francesco). Obviously I haven’t written anything, Eddie suggested me the rhythm pattern for ‘MFC’ (for drum nerds: the bass drum sounded upbeat in the eighth and the snare was on the second and fourth quarter, hi-hat on the first).
The recording sessions went on for three nights and the entire studio became a shrine of rock and is still a destination for pilgrims from all around the world.
PART III: EDDIE VEDDER
Any stories or anecdotes about Eddie?
At a pub in Viale delle Milizie he paid 7.000 lire for his half pint of beer, counting every single bill one by one.
The fact that he talks as if he has a mouse in his mouth.
The fact that he takes one long drag off a joint before passing it back to you.
When Francesco’s acoustic bass fell down and broke, he almost cried.
The fact that he didn’t know Jeff Buckley, whom we loved (a few months later, Eddie was the person who called me to announce that Buckley had died).
The moment when he came to my house as happy as a child because he had found a book with his lyrics translated to Italian by a minor publishing house, and the real tears he cried when I translated back to English what these thugs had wrongly translated. For example, ‘Around the Bend’ had been translated as ‘I’ll steal your soul’.
The fact that when we were at his hotel’s bar, I was sitting right behind Arnold Schwarzenegger, touching that giant with my shoulder, and Eddie told me to be careful not to touch the shit.
The fact that I denied him my last goodbye.
The fact that we hugged each other for a long time before he left.
The fact that when I drove him back to his hotel the morning after our rehearsals, he went jogging.
When Francesco and I decided to add “Next to You” by the Police to the setlist, he didn’t know it very well, but the next night he knew it PERFECTLY. Credit where credit is due, the man never stopped playing when we took breaks.
And the fact that during the improvisation at Goa he pulled the strings of his Stratocaster so hard that they popped off one by one, and one of them got stuck 3-4 cm deep into his palm. When he took it off, the blood spilled for a few seconds on his guitar. He didn’t clean it off.
During the time you spent together, did you talk about music? Any shared musical preference?
We didn’t talk much, we just played.
Have you ever talked about politics?
Only the Schwarzenegger reference I mentioned before. You have to understand that I was coming back from the moon after a four year journey. At the time, I was even happy that the nasty midget [Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s current Prime Minister] had entered politics! My enthusiasm was very short-lived.
How did this meeting influence your life in the music business?
In important ways and on multiple levels. First of all, it was a confirmation that my decision to leave the tourism sector to pursue a career as a professional musician was wise and right.
It made me understand grunge, a cultureted punk rock movement, crucial for contemporary music and very, very cool.
I smelt the shit coming out of those arse-licking losers that would sell their asses for a few seconds next to a ‘star’.
Above all, I looked into the eyes and felt the taste of a unique man. I will never forget that.
Have you kept your friendship alive?
Yeah, I used to send him Diabolik postcards [popular anti-hero featured in Italian comics] that I found around and he would make a phone call every now and then.
I don’t know about Francesco, but I went to Pearl Jam’s concert in Verona , just before the ugly tragedy in Denmark. He was fine, he offered me raspberries and I also got to know McCready (I love him). He invited me to see the concert on stage but I already had my ticket.
How did he relate to you guys? Was he shy and secretive, as legend has it, or was he open and communicative?
He was just a regular guy. Of course he had a different attitude than us italians, but he was always very friendly and straightforward with us. The first time he came to my house, he brought a Champagne bottle! We drank it out of plastic cups!
Having met him at such a difficult and tormented time for him, did you ever think he’d come so far with Pearl Jam?
I have never doubted his prospect of becoming a number one in what he does. I had the opportunity to meet other number ones and to work with them, so I think I can recognize them. I believe, in fact, that he still has a lot left in the tank.
PART IV: PEARL JAM
This year marks Pearl Jam’s 20th anniversary. Any thoughts?
An excellent group of musicians that have been able to shake off their past while remaining true to themselves and their music. I think all their records are of high-value, musically and lyrically, except for something in ‘Binaural’ and – please, don’t hate me – ‘Ten’. With their last one, ‘Backspacer’, they seem to have removed the black cloud that overshadowed them after Roskilde.
Have you seen Pearl Jam live recently?
No, unfortunately, but I bought the ‘Immagine in Cornice’ DVD. Beautiful.
PART V: THE SHOWS
December 3, 1996 – Caffè Latino: Rome, Italy
Setlist: I Can’t Explain (The Who), My Generation (The Who), Corduroy, Immortality, Mini Fast Car, Not For You, Love->Building On Fire (Talking Heads), Next To You (The Police), Rearviewmirror, So You Wanna Be A Rock n’ Roll Star (The Byrds).
December 4, 1996 – Goa Club: Rome, Italy
Setlist: Off He Goes (Ed Vedder solo), The Kids Are Alright (The Who), I Can’t Explain (The Who), My Generation (The Who), Corduroy, Immortality, Mini Fast Car, Not For You, Crazy Mary (Victoria Williams)/Love->Building On Fire (Talking Heads), Lukin, Next To You (The Police), Rearviewmirror, So You Wanna Be A Rock n’ Roll Star (The Byrds)/Improv, Around The Bend, Rockin’ in the Free World (Neil Young)
PART VI: FAUSTO CASARA BIO
He began playing drums at age 11 and his earliest experiences were in pop rock groups: he performed with EX.I.T., known in the Roman music scene of the 80’s.
His interest later shifted to drummers who excell in innovative and creative drumming, from classic rock artists such as Bonham and Paice to masters such as Gadd, Colaiuta, Weckl and Beauford, through Copeland, Mullen and Collins.
At age 26 he expanded his jazz studies with Ettore Mancini, Gianni Di Renzo and Fabrizio Sferra.
His career evolved to embrace original and independent music as he worked with bands such as Carlostanout, Fleurs du Mal, Marco Liotti’s Fifty Fifty and Jahmila.
He played with Pearl Jam’s singer Eddie Vedder in studio and live. His musical experience is not limited to drums, he also added choirs-harmonies/solo singing to his drumming.
In 2001 he once again proved himself to be a well-rounded artist when he composed 8 volumes of original scores for RAI TV together with Submax pjr. The group enjoyed considerable success with the program “Italia Amore Mio”.
In 2007 he founded Quinto Quarto, writing music and lyrics and performing as lead singer on their debut album “Misticanze Metafisiche”.
He has been directing music labs at Ladybird Project – School of Music with Andrea Romanazzo since 2006.