3. Pearl Jam – Ten

cd cover 3. Pearl Jam – Ten

We’re nearing the end of the countdown.. I’m as ready to be done with it as you. The unfortunate thing is that I’m getting to the albums that I like the most, and have spent the most time thinking about, and mean the most to me, but I’m also growing tired of talking about all these albums… though that didn’t really stop me with the Counting Crows album… In my defense, that one took me over a week to write. Anyway, we’re on to number 3: Pearl Jam – Ten. Let’s face it, two things are very true:

  1. Pearl Jam is excellent
  2. Ten is Pearl Jam’s best album.

That said, it makes sense that this album appears near the top of my list. It introduced me to Pearl Jam, the songs are a ton of fun to play on the guitar, and sing along to in the car. I also find the lyrics of the album fit together fairly well to tell an interesting story. This album also holds a number of my favorite songs, including Black and Porch, which are very high on my list.

I’m also going to make a slight exception with this album, and include a few of the B-sides from singles of this album. For any other band, these B-sides would be the hit singles of the album. Songs like Yellow Ledbetter and Footsteps are just plain amazing, and I think they deserve to be considered more or less part of the album. (Tac an * on to this one if you want, I don’t care).

Okay, first, a little history, cause I think it makes a few of the songs seem a lot kewler if you know the history: Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard were in a band called Green River. Green River broke up after a relatively short time and Stone and Jeff joined Mother Love Bone with Andrew Wood. Wood died of a heroin overdose, and Jeff and Stone eventually met Mike McCready and began playing together. There was a demo tape of some stuff they had done (“The Gossard Demos”), and it made its way to Eddie Vedder via Jack Irons. Eddie wrote some lyrics, and dubbed his vocals over the demos, and sent it back to them, titled “Mamasan”. These 3 songs became known as The Mamasan Trilogy, and included Alive, Once, and Footsteps. Eddie called it his mini-opera. Anyway, they join up around the time that the group was playing in Temple of the Dog with Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron of Soundgarden, and Eddie lended his vocals to a few of the tracks (remember Say Hello to Heaven and Hunger Strike? Fantastic Stuff). After that was finished, Dave Krusen joined them, and they formed a band: Mookie Blaylock. The New Jersey Nets point guard apparently didn’t think that was so grand, so they had to change their name… and they became Pearl Jam.. supposedly named after Eddie’s grandma’s hallucinogenic preserves. (It had peyote in it). The name Ten is in reference to Mookie’s jersey number.

The part that I find the most interesting is the Mamasan Trilogy. If you’ve read this site this far, you know I’m a fan of lyrics and albums that have stories behind them, and link together to tell a story. Well this story is no exception. This album in also a bit hard to understand at first glance, because it’s hard to tell if the songs are supposed to be coming from Eddie, or if he’s writing about some other [fictional] person. There’s an interesting cross of Counting Crows-esque lyrics that are obviously about the author, and make no secret of that fact. I see a song like Black or Porch and have to believe there’s got to be a lot of personal feelings involved in a song like that. But then there are songs that seem more R.E.M.-esque to me. Songs about other people, told from their point of view… and while there may be some personal similarities, it’s using someone else’s life to tell about some sort of universal feeling/emotion/problem/etc. Take a song like Jeremy or Alive, and you get what I mean.

Okay, with that said, let’s look at a few songs: First, there’s The Mamasan Trilogy. We start with Alive, which has been for quite some time one of my favorite songs to play on the guitar. The story in short: This boy is told by his mom that the guy he thought was his dad is really his step-dad, and his dad is dead.

"Son," she said, "Have I got a little story for you.  What you thought was your daddy was nothing but a...  While you were sitting home alone at age thirteen your real daddy was dying.  Sorry you didn't see him but I'm glad we talked."

So the Mom is still reeling from the fact that this guy she loved is dead.. and even though she’s remarried, she still is fairly messed up about her first [perhaps only] love dying. Meanwhile, her son is growing up, and looking more and more like his father… and I guess the Mom sees him as the only way to be with this guy that is gone, so she goes and has sex with her son… Needless to say, this messes up the son fairly well.

  Oh, she walks slowly, across a young man's room  She said I'm ready...for you  I can't remember anything to this very day  'cept the look, the look...  Oh, you know where, now I can't see, I just stare.

In live versions, the line “she said I’m ready for you” is replaced with “She said I’m ready to fuck you“. As for “the look“. This verse is coming from the kid’s point of view.. so I always imagined that “the look” referred to the look on the Mom’s face.. but the “oh, you know where“, along with the “I can’t see, I just stare” makes me think it’s more likely the look between her legs. So yeah.. this kid is warped for life now.

So now we get to a part that gets a little confusing to me. I think the Mom is talking to herself here, or perhaps she’s talking to the son. Perhaps it’s both.

  "Is something wrong", she said  "Well of course there is"  "You're still alive", she said  "Oh, and do I deserve to be?  Is that the question?  And if so, who answers?"

If the mom is talking to herself, then it’s her struggling to deal with 1.) Being around after the love of her life died. 2.) Being around now that she’s completely messed up her son. So at this point she’s looking at her life, and what’s going on, and all she really knows is that she’s “still alive”. If she’s talking to her son, then she’s asking him what’s wrong, and he knows he’s totally messed up, and probably will be forever. He knows what happened was wrong, and has no idea how to deal with it, and questions whether he deserves to live at all.

And now we flash forward to Once. The son has grown up, but he’s still messed up.. and has turned into a criminal. His way of dealing with his problems: Killing hookers.

  I admit it...what's to say  I'll relive it...without pain  backstreet lover on the side of the road  I got a bomb in my temple that is gonna explode  I got a .16 gauge buried under my clothes...I play.

Then we get to the chorus, that seems to call back to the events of Alive:

  Once upon a time I could control myself.  Ooh, once upon a time I could lose myself.  

Second verse, he picks up the hooker, and prepares to kill her

  Oh, try and mimic what's insane.  I am in it...where do I stand?  Indian summer I hate the heat  I got a backstreet lover on the passenger seat  I got my hand in my pocket  so determined.. discreet...I pray.

And now we’ve got the prostitute getting killed: “You think I’ve got my eyes closed? I’ve been looking at you the whole fucking time.“.. And with the deed done, we go back to the chorus. He’s messed up, and he knows he’s messed up, and he knows when it happened.

  Once upon a time I could control myself  Once upon a time I could lose myself.  Once upon a time I could love myself.  Once upon a time I could love you.

Flash forward once again. And we have Footsteps. He’s been caught, and now he’s on death row:

  Don't even think about reaching me. I won't be home.  Don't even think about stopping by. Don't think of me at all.    I did a what I had to do. If there was a reason, it was you.    Aaah, don't even think about getting inside. Voices in my head.  I got scratches all over my arms. One for each day since I fell apart.    I did, oh, what I had to do. If there was a reason it was you.    Footsteps in the hall... It was you.  Oh, pictures on my chest... It was you. It was you...    I did a what I had to do. Oh, and if there was a reason... Oh, there wasn't no reason. no.  And if there's something you'd like to do. Oh, just let me continue to blame you.    A footsteps in the hall... It was you.  Oh, pictures on my chest... It was you.  

I assume the “footsteps in the hall” point to “she walks slowly, across a young man’s room.“.

So that’s that section. there are a number of other songs on the album that are certainly worth talking about. Even Flow ranks high on the list of songs that should be played very loud and very often. I’m assuming just about everyone knows the story of Jeremy… the song still rocks, and the video is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Deep is an interesting song about 3 separate people who are stuck in fairly hellish situations. The first verse visits a drug addict shooting up, the next verse takes us to [I think] a guy contemplating suicide or murder [and then going through with it], and the third verse has a girl either being raped, or just having sex with some guy that doesn’t care about her, and she doesn’t care about. Release deserves mention because it’s just such a good sounding song. Garden and Oceans get nods for being good songs on a album filled with spectacular songs.

That leaves us with 2 songs.. my favorites on the album: Porch and Black. Porch became my favorite Pearl Jam song for quite some time based mainly on one line: “You didn’t leave a message at least I could’ve heard your voice one last time.“. This was around the time that Sarah and I were doing the off again on again thing, and she’d up and just kinda disappear for weeks at a time, and I’m not kewl with that at all. So when you get a song that starts off “What the fuck is this world running to? You didn’t leave a message, at least I could have could’ve heard your voice one last time.” you kinda take take to it.. Well, I did anyway. It’s like when you haven’t talked to someone in a while, and things are going poorly between you, and they finally call the one second you’re not by your phone, and they don’t leave a message.. I hate that a lot. If you’ve ever seen Eddie perform this live.. he goes nuts! He seems legitimately pissed/insane while singing it.. especially during the extended guitar solo… he just goes off and starts trashing stuff… It’s that kind of song.. a perfect “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore” type song.

And now Black. I toss between Rearview Mirror and Black as my favorite Pearl Jam song. Currently, it’s Black. It’s a song of unrequited love.. so go figure I’ve taken to it, eh? The first time I heard this song and really took notice of it was back when I was in high school. At the time, I liked Ten, and Pearl Jam just fine, but they were nothing special. I was far too into R.E.M. to pay too much attention to other bands… but I was watching David Letterman (which is kinda weird, cause I very, very rarely watch Letterman.. as in never. Anyway, I was watching him, perhaps while flipping channels, and Paul was playing a little ditty on the keyboard that sounded familiar.. and David Letterman turned to him and said “hey, I like that.. what is that?”.. or something like that, and all of a sudden Eddie Vedder showed up, and hopped on stage, and the band started up, and he sang these words, which instantly hit me, and remain some of my favorite lyrics of all time…

  I know some day you'll have a beautiful life  I know you'll be a star in somebody else's sky.  But why can't it be mine?  

I think that’s my favorite quote from a song ever. In some live versions, he goes on to sing [well, scream, really]: “I don’t think these people understand. We belong together.” I think Black is one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded. A great song about unrequited love… yeah, I listen to it a lot.

9 thoughts on “3. Pearl Jam – Ten

  1. This is one of the first entries on your site that I agree with wholeheartedly. Everything you write is dead-on. I haven’t heard Footsteps, but I will look for it now. Your analysis of The Mamasan Trilogy is spectacular, and sheds new light on the songs, especially Once. Black is one of the best songs ever, Pearl Jam or otherwise.

  2. 1st time commenter….love your page Ron.
    I agree with “pcg” about your Mamasan comments, although as a PJ fan myself I’ve read, heard, or come to many of the same conclusions about it myself already.
    It is truely unfortunate that the b-sides weren’t included on the album. It is nice that for fans who weren’t Pearl Jam freeks like me (over 50 PJ CD’s) they can now get their hands on many of the great B-Sides on the new Lost Dogs Album.
    Final comment – if U2’s Joshua Tree Album doesn’t show up as #2 or #1 I will be sadly disappointed especially considering your predisposision for albums with meaningful lyrics and bands with a social conscience.

  3. Hey Peege, good to hear from you. Hope all is going well out your way.

    The Lost Dogs album is pretty swell, although I was disappointed that it didn’t have “Breathe”, “State of Love and Trust”, “I Got Id”, “Longroad”, “Crazy Mary”, or “Leatherman”… The first 3 especially rank as some of my favorite songs of any band. Considering I have them already, though, I’m glad they included a lot of new material. (Whale Song rules!)

    As for U2.. Sven mentioned that one as well. Be prepared to be disappointed, I guess. I have the album, and recognize that it is very good. but I never listen to it. Can’t explain why, but I just never got big into U2.

  4. Mock 9: sorry that we made things difficult to find around here! The easiest way to download the baseball video from Ron’s site is to simply press -F4. That will immediately begin streaming the video complete with commentary by the renowned columnist Bob Saget for your viewing pleasure.

    Hope this helps!


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