This is a song that has often been misunderstood throughout the years. I can say that because I’m one of those people who has often misunderstood it.
Of course, we all know that Stone Gossard wrote the music for the song when he was still a member of Mother Love Bone. (Gossard called the instrumental track A Dollar Short.) Even before he was formally invited to become the leader singer of the band that would become Pearl Jam, Vedder heard Gossard’s music and came up with the lyrics for Alive. The song deals with a boy who discovers that the man he thought was his father was actually his stepfather. That part is autobiographical. The song also tells the story of how the boy has an incestuous relationship with his mother. That part is definitely fictional.
The lyrics are pretty dark and Vedder has said that the “I’m still alive” chorus was originally meant to be an acknowledgement of a curse. With everything terrible that has happened, the song’s main character was still alive and still having to deal with all of his pain. However, people like me heard that “I’m still alive” and adapted the song as an anthem. We interpreted the song as saying that, despite everything, the singer is still alive. We saw it as a positive thing.
(Of course, we didn’t consider that Alive is the first part of a three-song mini-opera about a man who goes mad and embarks on a killing spree.)
According to Vedder, seeing the positive reaction to the song’s chorus caused him to realize that the song’s “curse” had been broken. That’s a very Eddie Vedder way of saying that it’s okay to see the song as being an anthem.
As for the music video, the shots of the ocean remind us that Vedder reportedly came up with the lyrics while surfing. The rest of the video was filmed at an actual Pearl Jam concert in Seattle. Playing drums for the video was sessions drummer Matt Chamberlain. Reportedly, the man who would become Pearl Jam’s official drummer (on the recommendation of Chamberlain), Dave Abbruzzese, was in the audience while this video was being filmed. The video was directed by Josh Taft, a childhood friend of Stone Gossard’s who also directed videos for EMF, Stabbing Westward, and Stone Temple Pilots.