Certain Songs #1501: Pearl Jam – “Jeremy”

Album: Ten
Year: 1991

I’ve been wrong about many many things. I will continue to be wrong about many many things.

But there were very few things I was as wrong about as I was Pearl Jam when they first came out. They were basically a microcosm of a larger thing I was initially wrong about: grunge. Which I guess doesn’t make anything better.

I can remember when the first grunge records started trickling down from Seattle into the KFSR studios, I really had no interest. My take was that I was old enough to have loved Black Sabbath & Led Zeppelin in their original incarnation, why did I need warmed-over metal in the late 1980s. Or something like that.

And perhaps I was correct about the initial records — your Green Rivers and Mothers Love Bone and even your early Soundgardens — but then Kurt Cobain came along, and blew the doors off of the world, which required a rethink. At least on my part. 1992 was the year when that rethink made me realize I couldn’t just wholesale write off an entire genre of hard rock. And I think that part of this was my irrational love for the Guns n’ Roses Use Your Illusion twins, as well. So there were a lot of moving parts at play, not

Of course, Nevermind came out after Ten, so I was already somewhat acquainted with a couple of Pearl Jam songs; the videos for both “Alive” and “Even Flow” received decent MTV and probably radio airplay after Ten came out in the summer of 1991, but neither one jumped out at me.

Instead it was three songs that convinced me to pick up Ten, two of which weren’t even on the record: Temple of The Dog’s “Hunger Strike” which featured Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder dueting with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, and Pearl Jam’s “State of Love and Trust.” Both of these songs will get their own entires, so I mention them to say that they kinda set me up for the gut punch that was “Jeremy.”

Daddy didn’t give affection, no
And the boy was something
That mommy wouldn’t wear
King Jeremy the wicked
Ruled his world

And I can’t be the only one. It seems to me that “Jeremy” suddenly felt like the right song at the right time for a generation that had grown up in broken homes, and while Ten had been climbing the charts in the wake of Nevermind, as well the success of “Even Flow.” I did a little bit of research of the Billboard albums chart, and in January of 1992, while Nevermind was the #1 album in the world, Ten was languishing in the 140s. But by the end of the year it was the 11th biggest selling album of the whole year, and sold consistently enough to be the 8th biggest album of 1993. And if “Jeremy” wasn’t the reason, it sure as shit was the catalyst, as the video was hugely popular, and — crucially — the song itself was only domestically available on Ten.

Based on a newspaper article that Eddie Vedder had read about a teenager who had committed suicide in front of his class, “Jeremy” was dark and serious, but also strangely beautiful and overwhelmingly powerful. And when Vedder sang the simple one-line chorus — “Jeremy spoke in class today” — he made it seem like it was the most important thing that anyone had ever done in the history of the world. It was that huge, that epic, that massive, that awful. All of which was signified by of the look in Eddie Vedder’s eyes in the video, which was on MTV seemingly every second.

Of course, the guitar fills by Stone Gossard and Mike McCready didn’t hurt, especially the curlicues that augmented the verses and the choruses, but none of that would have mattered without Vedder’s performance, so intense that it fucked with his public image for a long time, as the desperate “hoo hoo hoo hoos” that dominate the the coda could only have been done by a crazy, desperate man. Of course, as we’ll will discover in the next couple of weeks, there was way more to Eddie Vedder than crazed intensity.

“Jeremy” official music video

“Jeremy” performed live at Pinkpop, 1992

“Jeremy” performed live on MTV Unplugged

“Jeremy” performed live in San Diego, 2000

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One Response to “Certain Songs #1501: Pearl Jam – “Jeremy””

  1. I can relate to your initial thoughts about grunge and Pearl Jam, and then being blown away. Jeremy and its video were defining 90s musical development moments. We did a Mental Illness and Pop Culture podcast about Pearl Jam and “Jeremy” on our podcast Mental Illness in Pop Culture: https://www.podomatic.com/…/2018-07-15T05_42_42-07_00

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