Music Video of the Day: Alive by Pearl Jam (1991, directed by Josh Taft)

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.


Music Video of the Day: Jeremy by Pearl Jam (1992, dir. Mark Pellington)

Might as well do this music video now. There’s no “good” time to do it. I never thought too much about the music video till now. It’s montage/collage shots of a kid who obviously has a very unhappy life played by Trevor Wilson. Eddie Vedder stands around as the narrator for the boy’s story. Finally, we have the ending where the kid goes and kills himself in front of the class as clearly shown by the kids holding up their arms to protect themselves from the splashes of blood.

That is what the video is about, but not what some people think it is about. Some people think it is about a kid who brought a gun to school, then shot his fellow students. Others have even tried to use this video as a scapegoat for their actions. I remember once reading about some people who were blaming their actions on The Matrix. Might as well give it a try. People sure ate it up in the 80s when people would blame Satan and Heavy Metal. So why not blame this music video for your actions? I won’t link to it here, but I have come across a site in the past that even though it acknowledges what Ozzy Osbourne’s song Suicide Solution is actually about, they still say they are sure kids have killed themselves a result.

Based on the Wikipedia article on this video, a lot of this nonsense seems to stem from real world school shootings. Enough. The song is about a kid who is so tortured by his life and the people around him that he sadly does what some people do. He kills himself, and in his case, does it in a manner that leaves a message for others. In the case of the story in this music video, it’s killing himself in front of all the kids who made fun of him while his home life was a personal hell, which the song talks about. In particular, the line about cleaning it from the blackboard. I have a feeling more people need to see Frederick Wiseman’s 1968 documentary called High School.

However, you can’t completely blame this on people misunderstanding the music video. The music video came in two stages. They filmed a prototype-like version of it before deciding to film the one above. Well, sort of the version above. The second version they filmed edited out the kid putting the gun in his mouth to commit suicide because of censorship restrictions. That’s why people looked at the kids afterwards and thought it represented them having been killed. Thanks, MTV!

With that out of the way, let me just say that I never particularly liked the music video. I love the song, but just like Smells Like Teen Spirit, it became annoying because it was overplayed. The music video has always been an example to me of why Pearl Jam shouldn’t have been making music videos at the time. Eddie Vedder looks ridiculous while trying to convey some very serious material. Still, it is another essential of the early 90s. It is devastating and heartbreaking. It is also a prime example of how editing–forced or not–without thinking can have serious consequences. It is also a prime example of how censorship can completely transform a work of art into something else for a portion of its’ audience.

Music Video of the Day: Do the Evolution by Pearl Jam (1998, dir. Kevin Altieri & Todd McFarlane)

You may or may not remember that for a while there Pearl Jam stopped making music videos. I don’t recall off the top of my head if they refused to be in them, or had a blanket ban on having them made using their music. I have to imagine that they totally stopped. I say that they probably stopped entirely because of a famous band from the 80s and several of their videos that they made, but refused to be in themselves. Luckily, Eddie Vedder came to his senses by at least 2002 and went back to appearing in music videos. I’m guessing he was as sick of all those Vedder sound-a-likes that were commonplace in the late 1990s and early 2000s as I was. Before Pearl Jam returned, we got this gloriously dark animated music video taking us through the worst of human history with some of that late-90s Internet paranoia. It was put together by famous animators Kevin Altieri and Todd McFarlane.

I’m pretty sure the video speaks for itself, except for one thing that I want to point out. The VR guy at the end sure made me think of the Internet detective from the first episode of the short-lived Ralph Bakshi show Spicy City.

Spicy City (1997)

Spicy City (1997)

Review: Eddie Vedder – Ukelele Songs

When I heard that Eddie Vedder had released a new album using nothing but a ukelele and his phenominal voice I had pretty mixed expectations. It was the first album associated with Pearl Jam that had been brought to my attention in over a decade. I don’t know what prompted me to never buy Riot Act, because I loved Binaural, but by 2011 they’d dropped so far off my radar that I didn’t even know the self-titled and Backspacer existed until a few months ago. I made the mistake of jumping immediately to Backspacer without hearing their prior two and was so annoyed by the trendiness of it–that incorporation of a somewhat 80s sound that’s all the deplorable rage now–that I couldn’t make it through one listen.

Can’t Keep

So Ukelele Songs was in a pretty good position to impress me, really. I knew Eddie Vedder could do better than what I’d so recently heard on Backspacer, I knew the small scope of his instrument of choice would force him to get pretty creative, and at the same time I was already mildly disappointed going into it, so a poor output wouldn’t have been any sort of heartbreak. As it turns out, what he created here is definitely worthy of attention. This may be no Bob Dylan or The Tallest Man on Earth, but as acoustic solo albums go it’s well above average.

The first track, Can’t Keep, is the most abrasive song on the album. Offering it up first might seem an odd decision. It definitely doesn’t set the mood–that’s something you’ll pick up further in. But it does quickly and definitively do away with any stereotype of the ukelele as a Hawaiian novelty toy.


So as he goes on to apply the instrument a bit more traditionally throughout the rest of the album you never second guess his decision to limit himself to it; If he wanted to do something more aggressive he certainly could. Goodbye is one of my favorite examples of what you’re more likely to encounter further in. Most of the tracks are sort of like this, little subdued 2 minute laments reminiscent of Soon Forget on Binaural. They might start to fade together after a while if you don’t pay close attention, but if you do you’ll find he continues to put the instrument to pretty diverse ends even as he’s maintaining the same general mood.

You’re True

The song that stands out most to me is similar to the opener in that it’s a lot more powerful than the rest of the album, and it really highlights how beautifully Vedder can still sing in the absence of rock and roll. If the entire album had as much emotion packed into it as this one it would be destined for fame. Unfortunately, You’re True doesn’t have much competition there. The rest of the album isn’t so much moving as just calmly pleasant.

Tonight You Belong To Me

Chan Marshall of Cat Power fame makes an appearance on the second to last track, a traditional piece dating back to 1926, marking my other favorite song on the album and the opposite extreme of You’re True. If you think of Ukelele Songs’ sixteen short tracks as all falling somewhere in between these two, you’ll have an idea of what to expect. It’s an unusual and pleasant little work that won’t disappoint, at least so long as you’re expecting what the album title implies and not Pearl Jam. A little too calm and lyrically simplistic to make waves as a folk album, it’s something you’re probably only going to like if you like Eddie Vedder’s voice, but I imagine most people do.

Yeah, nothing earth-shattering here, but it makes me smile, and ever since I picked it up I’ve been on a 90s rock binge, despite of the grand distance between this and the likes of say, Ten or Vs. Vedder’s vocal sound is so unique that you can’t help but make the connection.