By God it’s been so long, never dreamed you’d return.

I probably have no right to be saying anything about Pearl Jam on the internet, as I’ve only ever owned their first five albums.  But I think their music is an important part of what this blog is about, and my interest in those first five albums has recently been rekindled.

I still remember how I felt that fall day of 1991 when I got in my car parked in the Nordstrom’s parking lot at the Tacoma Mall, opened Ten, put it in my CD player, and listened to it while reading through the lyrics scrawled in the liner notes.  It was the first time I’d listened to music and felt like it was speaking to me.  I wanted to take all the poetry that I’d written and never shown to anyone and send it to whoever this Eddie Vedder guy was, because I thought he might get what I was trying to say.Now if you’re familiar with Ten, you might take that to mean I had a troubled home life.  That wasn’t really the case.  That wasn’t the reason why it spoke to me.  It spoke to me simply because it was real.  In a different context, perhaps, it might not have been quite so meaningful, but with a backdrop of Unskinny Bop, and She’s my Cherry Pie, “’Is something wrong’ she said.  Of course there is,” seemed very profound for some reason.

Grunge got a reputation for being depressing music, but I found Pearl Jam’s lyrics to be a refreshing contrast to the incessant demands of oversexed baby boomer metal bands trying to teach us how to objectify women.  Declarations of vitality such as “I’ll show you how to fax in the mail room honey” or “Don’t give up an inch, girl, if you won’t take me for the mile” didn’t seem quite as real as questions of mortality such as “if so, who answers?” or “why3 can’t it be mine?”  When Eddie Vedder sings “her legs spread out before ” it sounds a lot different than if someone like David Lee Roth had sung the same thing, and that’s because it didn’t mean the same thing.  It is about a memory laden with painful emotions that the singer would just as soon forget, not some leering tales of conquest.

Pearl Jam songs had morality.  And I suppose that is part of what made them stick to my ribs so much.  They weren’t trite tales or sermons on how to be good, they were sweeping expositions about a failed wasteland devoid of any natural law.  There was really no precedent for something like that in my experience.  Dr. Feelgood was just a Miami Vice episode with a bass line, not a story that reached into your life.  Aerosmith had two socially responsible songs in their twenty year history to that point, so when Steven Tyler sings Janie’s Got a Gun, you always got the feeling that he’d “rather be ODing on the crack of her ass” or some such.  Axl Rose just had some sort of beef with C. Everett Koop, which made for good individuation, but wasn’t really a tale of morality.  That was as close to morality as the immoral majority of hair bands ever got, and other alternative bands seemed too blasphemous for my tastes at the time with lyrics like “bow down before the one you serve, you’re going to get what you deserve” or “Ge-he-he-he-zusss Christ (deny your maker).”  Which doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy listening to Man in the Box when it came on the radio, I just felt guilty about it when I did. I never felt guilty about listening to Pearl Jam songs, in fact in my late 20s I drew a couple of personal mantras from lyrics to some of them.

If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that my take on the morality of Pearl Jam songs when I first heard them 20 years ago often involved pointing an invisible mental finger at someone who I thought was in the wrong.  Often enough, that was either the father or the boyfriend of some girl I was interested in at the time, but there’s almost always another shoe to drop whenever you start pointing fingers, invisible or otherwise. 

20 years later, I find that all of those fingers are pointing back at me.  I’m the father.  I’m the one who might reap that wasteland if I fuck this up.  Of course it’s easy to say that I would never do all those horrible things like not paying attention or lying to my child about something.  But by the grace of God there go I, and all of that.  The point is, when I listen to Pearl Jam songs, I am convicted of my own responsibilities.  I think my greatest fear is that by some turn of events I might become the man from Betterman.  If my wife ever lies and says she’s in love with me because she can’t find a better man, that would just be the worst.  Dear God in Heaven, let me never be that guy.  All the stupid decisions and well meaning choices that inevitably led to failure through the past 20 years of my life are just fine with me as long as I never end up being that guy.

And maybe someday in the next 20 years, my son will prove to be a man and ask me, politely or more likely not, to drop the leash.  And when that happens I’ll have to learn what it means to get out of his fucking face. 

Hearts and thoughts might fade away, but Pearl Jam songs are still alive.

 

3- as in three times with varying degrees of inflection to show that he really, really really, wants to know why.

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2 Responses to “By God it’s been so long, never dreamed you’d return.”

  1. Your writing is so good!

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