A young, vibrant alternative scene has turned music on its ear. But are the new stars too hot to be cool?

This is the story of how a gas-station attendant and high school dropout grossed more than $50 million for a record company and found himself in the middle of rock's noisiest controversy.

Only three years ago, Eddie Vedder was working the night shift at a service station in San Diego, sometimes telling people he was a security guard to impress them. He doesn't have to worry about that anymore. Today the 28-year- old singer and lyricist for the alternative-metal band Pearl Jam is rock's newest demigod. His group's debut album, Ten, has sold nearly 6 million copies and still ranks...