Pearl Jam – The Solitary One

TokoPyramid Pearl Jam The Solitary One

“If it weren’t for music, I think I would have shot myself in front of the classroom. It really is what kept me alive, so this is kind of full circle. So to the power of music, thanks” – Eddie Vedder made this statement when the band Pearl Jam accepted the award for Best Metal/Hard Rock Video for the song “Jeremy” at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards.

The video for the song depicts the real-life story of 16-year-old Jeremy Delle, who committed suicide with a gun in front of his teacher and classmates. This true story led Vedder to reflect on his unhappy childhood and his own thoughts of giving up on life.

Pearl Jam Portrait 1992
Pearl Jam Portrait 1992

1. Alive

Green River is considered the first Grunge band in Seattle, leading the wave of pioneering bands including Soundgarden. Their EP “Come On Down” (1985) was the first Seattle-centric release. However, internal conflicts over direction caused the band to disband before their official album release.

Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament were two members with a shared vision. Firstly, their musical style was heavily influenced by classic rock of previous decades. Gossard drew guitar inspiration from the likes of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Queen, and KISS. Ament learned bass from bands like The Who, Aerosmith, Sex Pistols, and The Clash. Secondly, they both aimed to secure contracts with major record labels for financial stability rather than pursuing independent development like some other members.

As a result, despite Green River’s considerable reputation in the Seattle scene, the band dissolved. Gossard and Ament then diligently formed the new band Mother Love Bone. Their dedication, along with the participation of singer Andrew Wood – a prominent figure in the Seattle music scene at the time, quickly made Mother Love Bone one of the most promising bands. After the EP “Shine” (1989), the band recorded their debut album named “Apple”. The music on Apple was notably different, leaning towards Glam and Metal rather than the later Grunge sound, with Andrew Wood’s vocals reminiscent of Axl Rose, which was intriguing. However, just days before the scheduled release in early 1990, Wood tragically passed away due to a heroin overdose.

His death struck Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard deeply as they saw their second shot at glory slip away, witnessing a friend depart from life at too young an age. Ament and Gossard ceased playing music for a while until one day they found Eddie Vedder.

Vedder was invited by Gossard and Ament to audition after they heard what he showcased on a demo tape they sent out in search of a new singer. Not only did Vedder possess a resonant and emotive voice, but a three-chapter saga he had written, akin to a mini-musical, compelled the two to arrange a meeting.

Within a week, Vedder swiftly ascended to the position of frontman for the band that Ament and Gossard had envisioned for the third time. Thankfully, this time, Jeff Ament (bass), Stone Gossard (rhythm guitar), Mike McCready (lead guitar), and Eddie Vedder (singer/guitarist) solidified into a steadfast lineup for Pearl Jam (PJ). The cohesion of PJ’s members enabled them to record even faster and more harmoniously than during the Mother Love Bone days. Their jam sessions were spirited and recording sessions were straightforward, allowing the music to flow effortlessly.

However, not everyone was on board with the band swiftly “moving on” from Andrew Wood to embark on a new chapter in their journey. Wood’s fiancée bitterly listened to PJ’s debut album – “Ten” (1991) – feeling a pang that a quarter of the album featured Wood’s contributions. This sentiment arose from the familiarity of the music, as most of “Ten” had been composed by Ament and Gossard prior. The song “Alive” had even been written by Stone Gossard under the title “Dollar Short,” and Andrew Wood had recorded a demo for it while he was still alive.

Subsequently, Vedder rewrote the lyrics under the title “Alive”, telling the story of a young man who discovers that the man he always thought was his biological father is actually his stepfather. Meanwhile, his mother watches him grow up resembling her deceased husband. The events between the mother and her son drive him to madness, turning him into a murderer in the subsequent tracks “Once” and “Footsteps”, forming a trilogy reminiscent of the intense childhood of Tommy in The Who’s an album of the same name, which Eddie Vedder was greatly influenced by. The chorus of the song “Alive” includes the lines:

“Oh, I, oh I’m still alive
Hey, I, oh I’m still alive
Hey, I, oh I’m still alive
Hey, oh”

However, far from being joyful, it resembles the sarcastic words of someone whose soul has been corroded.

However, when Pearl Jam fans sing along to the chorus at concerts, the collective voice of celebration transforms the dark story into a bright declaration. PJ’s audience rejoices in their own existence. This positive energy is transmitted to Eddie Vedder himself, turning the song that his late colleague Andrew Wood once recorded into an anthem for PJ.

In a collective sense, the song suddenly lifts the curse for Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder!

2. Black

On April 8, 1994, Pearl Jam had a performance scheduled in Virginia at 8 p.m. Just a few hours before that, the news of Kurt Cobain’s death was discovered, casting a dark shadow over the atmosphere of those attending PJ’s concert. People wondered whether the show would go on, considering Nirvana and PJ were both representatives of the Seattle Grunge music scene.

PJ’s unprecedented success not only left bitter tastes in the mouths of individuals like Andrew Wood’s fiancée but also triggered discomfort in Kurt Cobain regarding the band. To Cobain, PJ’s music didn’t align with the Alternative Rock sound that he and Nirvana brought to the music scene. Like some critics, PJ seemed to be “riding the coattails” of the Seattle scene and “borrowing” from Grunge, only to outsell even the iconic Nirvana’s album “Nevermind” with their debut album “Ten”.

The music on “Ten” carries influences of Classic Rock, which Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament favored. Therefore, the abundance of guitar solos played by Mike McCready on “Ten” surpasses the style pursued by Cobain and Nirvana, something Cobain somewhat detested about PJ’s music, akin to how he lumped them together with Alice In Chains.

However, to be fair, PJ’s success and the success of “Ten” didn’t come overnight as many might assume. Two PJ members had tasted the bitterness of dissolution twice before. “Ten” also took a year before it began climbing high on the charts.

If PJ were opportunists chasing fame, they wouldn’t have limited their single releases early on, nor would they have ceased making music videos from the era of their debut album. The song “Black” by PJ never got an official music video, as the record label pressured the band against it. At that time, PJ simply wanted their listeners to imagine their own visuals for each song according to their interpretation.

Pearl Jam's Black MTV Unplugged Show
Pearl Jam’s Black MTV Unplugged Show

This was a wise decision because watching PJ’s live performance of “Black” at Pinkpop 1992 brings about a much more emotionally charged atmosphere. Despite a slightly shaky start, Vedder’s deep voice gradually immerses listeners in a melancholic yet gentle musical ambiance. Jeff Ament’s bassline may lack the smooth finger-plucking effect he employs on his fretless bass in the studio recordings, possibly due to live recording conditions or playing on a regular bass, but it still effectively drives the live rendition of “Black” forward. The twin guitars of Stone Gossard and Mike McCready run alongside each other but remain distinctly separate due to Gossard’s Les Paul and McCready’s Fender Strat, with contrasting rhythms and tones.

The beauty of Vedder and his bandmates’ performance once again lies in the authenticity of their emotions. From the fourth minute onwards, as the song reaches its climax with McCready’s wailing guitar solo intertwined with Vedder’s vocals, one can truly appreciate the blend and synergy of PJ’s music. Despite Vedder’s voice not being particularly high-pitched, it is complemented by McCready’s soaring guitar riffs, adding depth to the emotional resonance and bridging the gap in range.

Then came PJ’s performance on the evening of April 8, 1994, the very day Kurt Cobain’s death was discovered. Vedder’s remarks about the somber atmosphere of that day are poignant. Three days later, at another show, PJ performed “Black” again, but this time with a slight difference. There were moments of silence to allow Vedder’s voice to resonate. He sang higher notes in the second verse, and by the end, the audience sang along in unison, their voices tinged with a chilling sadness.

“I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life
I know you’ll be a star
In somebody else’s sky
But why
Why can’t it be
Come as you are
Come as you are”

No one expected the line “Come as you are” that Eddie Vedder inserted from Nirvana’s song of the same name as a tribute to Kurt Cobain. Before his death, Cobain had the opportunity to reconcile with Vedder because no one could dislike the easygoing and genuine guy who led PJ. For Eddie, he understood Kurt’s pain to some extent because both found themselves lonely at the peak of fame. However, Vedder always had a different perspective.

During PJ’s appearance on Saturday Night Live just a few days later, the band continued to pay tribute to Kurt Cobain through a cover of Neil Young’s “My My, Hey Hey.” This was because Cobain’s suicide note included a line from this song: “It’s better to burn out than to fade away”. However, Vedder didn’t sing that line but replaced it with:

“Rock and roll can never die
There’s more to the picture than meets the eye”

Because, at that moment, “can never die” held more significance for him than “burn out” did.

3. Jeremy

Eddie Vedder had an incomplete childhood. Hindered by financial struggles, his education was always affected by the extra jobs he had to take on. Lack of sleep, exhaustion, and skipping school were commonplace. Moreover, Vedder’s relationship with his father was never harmonious. When the family decided to move to Illinois, Vedder chose to stay in San Diego despite heated arguments with his father. The resolution afterward was to cut ties with his father, and he took on the responsibility of his own education and livelihood.

Pearl Jam Jeremy Video Screenshot
Pearl Jam Jeremy Video Screenshot

Vedder gradually found joy in music and independent living. Just when he thought he was on the verge of a breakthrough, one day his mother appeared at his doorstep and revealed that the despised “Lawyer Fuck” was actually his stepfather. This ironic twist became the inspiration for Vedder’s lyrics in the song “Alive.” Ironically, Vedder’s biological father had passed away when he was 13, and he had visited their home several times as a family friend.

The fleeting joy of realizing that his despised father was just a stepfather was immediately overshadowed by the pain of never having the chance to build a relationship with his biological father again. Although never close to him, Vedder undoubtedly inherited his musical talent from his father, who used to play guitar in restaurants to make a living.

Emotional deprivation, struggles for survival, and academic challenges once drove Vedder to contemplate death. But at the end of the day, music was what lifted him up. His childhood was compensated by the image of the “imaginary father” Pete Townshend, who provided him with a spiritual refuge through stories like “Tommy” or “Quadrophenia” that he could relate to.

This is why Eddie Vedder removed the thought of putting a gun in his mouth like the boy “Jeremy” did. Music saved him.

However, that miracle did not happen to his fellow Seattle peers.

The day Layne Staley passed away, Vedder secluded himself in a hotel room. At that time, Vedder’s band PJ had already achieved considerable success. While Soundgarden led the pioneering wave and Nirvana widened the doorway, Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam brought their own unique colors to the Grunge music scene. However, commercially speaking, Alice In Chains did not enjoy the same glory as PJ, something that Vedder and the band didn’t feel too proud of.

PJ halted making music videos for a while. They declined media interviews. PJ was willing to visit places where the band’s shows were canceled by local authorities to meet fans, offer words of encouragement, and sign autographs and records. They fought against Ticketmaster’s monopoly, which inflated ticket prices for fans.

However, Vedder and the band received backlash from the media, labeling them as opportunists. Vedder was accused of fabricating an unhappy childhood story to fit into the Grunge music scene, failing in the battle against Ticketmaster by not being able to carry out large-scale tours for fans or mocked by some fans during their meet-and-greet sessions. In the end, who truly shared the struggles of Vedder, Ament, Gossard, or McCready?

What Eddie Vedder witnessed around him was enough to make him yearn for something more positive. Andrew Wood passed away as the brightest star in Seattle. Kurt Cobain took his own life when music couldn’t lift him up. Layne Staley lost himself too soon to addiction and depression. And just when it seemed that was enough, Chris Cornell met his end at the age of over 50, something no one in PJ expected to happen to their close friend.

Wood was once the star that Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard were fortunate enough to play with. Cobain once embraced Vedder onstage at the MTV Awards. Staley once recorded with McCready for a side project under the name Mad Season. And Cornell once recorded with PJ members under the name Temple Of The Dog to pay tribute to Wood – their dear friend.

The world is too small and life is too short. The friends around Vedder and PJ couldn’t resist the actions of the boy “Jeremy” from back in the day.

“Try to forget this
Try to erase this
From the blackboard
Jeremy spoke in class today”

The gentlemen chose to “speak” to the world in this way.

Eddie Vedder alone chose to speak to the world by saying:

“You kill yourself and you make a big old sacrifice and try to get your revenge. That all you’re gonna end up with is a paragraph in a newspaper. In the end, it does nothing. Nothing changes. The world goes on and you’re gone. The best revenge is to live on and prove yourself. Be stronger than those people.”

If you’re interested in the band Pearl Jam, why not check out our collection of Pearl Jam shirts? We believe you’ll love it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *