Certain Songs #1511: Pearl Jam – “Off He Goes”

Album: No Code
Year: 1996

The result of particularly turbulent time in Pearl Jam’s career, and the first album with former Red Hot Chili Pepper (and guy who got their demo tape to Eddie Vedder) Jack Irons, No Code was the first Pearl Jam album I actively disliked.

In theory, it was fine to continue with the experimentation that had thrown all off of the good songs on Vitalogy into sharp relief, but the problem with No Code was that, for the most part, there weren’t any good songs: the rockers were tuneless, the ballads were focusless and the experiments were pointless.

There were a couple of exceptions: “Hail, Hail” was a strong rocker with a pretty cool bridge, and of course, there is “Off He Goes,” on the short list of the Prettiest Songs Ever Recorded, Grunge Department.

The first thing you realize about “Off He Goes” is that there aren’t any fuzzed-out electric guitars: instead, it’s a tangle of Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard & Mike McCready acoustic guitars, with Jeff Ament’s stand-up bass and Jack Iron on the brushes playing the most basic beat possible.

All the more for Eddie to softly sing about what a total dick he is to his friends and family.

Know a man, his face seemed pulled and tense
Like he’s riding on a motorbike
In the strongest winds
So I approach with tact
Suggest that he should relax
But he’s always moving much too fast
Said he’ll see me on the flip side
Of this trip he’s taking for a ride

All the while Eddie is singing, McCready and Gossard are going off on gorgeous acoustic runs mixed with the the hint of a twinkling electric guitar, and the overall effect is a combination of lovely and heartbreaking, especially on the chorus.

He’s been taking too much on
There he goes with his perfectly unkept clothes
There he goes

The way he sings “per-fect-a-lee” is utterly sublime. A song like “Off He Goes” was, of course, yet another reaction to stardom, and yet, unlike “Corduroy” it wasn’t as much a look at how his stardom was affecting him, but more like how he saw his stardom affecting others. Almost an apology note for the fact that the demands on his time from his career was affecting his relationships, while acknowledging that it probably wasn’t going to change anytime soon.

Of course, I don’t know how much of that I got in 1996: I know I knew that he wrote “Off He Goes” about himself, maybe through interviews, maybe through osmosis or maybe through the fact that so many of his best songs were about himself, and none of that mattered as much as the emotion I got from it, and how beautiful I thought it was. And is.

“Off He Goes”

“Off He Goes” Bridge School, 1996

“Off He Goes” Bridge School, 1996

“Off He Goes” live in Seattle, 2002

“Off He Goes” live in Chicago, 2016

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