As a an impressionable young adult in the early 90s, the big music blasting our vivacious hearts and minds was ignited from Seattle. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Sound Garden were pumping the airwaves with a vast array of steely melancholic grunge tunes. It enchanted disenfranchised students like us and we explored ways and means to experience obscure beatnik places in Canberra that embraced such music.
The song that had the biggest impact on me from the outset was Alive by Pearl Jam. It was their debut single and appeared on their debut album Ten in 1991, which I still consider one of the greatest 90’s albums. The story behind how the song came into being had circulated among us with great relish adding to our immense appreciation of this track. Even re-reading the origin of Alive now, I find myself as stirred as when I first heard it. It has to be one of Rock ‘n’ Roll‘s most remarkable stories of serendipity in the wake of sorrowfulness.
The following excerpts from wikipedia give you the low-down of this legendary rock-n-roll story which is ‘Alive’:
Origin and Recording
Guitarist Stone Gossard wrote the music for the song, which he titled “Dollar Short”, in 1990 when he was still a member of Mother Love Bone. According to Gossard Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood had even sung on it. After Wood died of a heroin overdose, Gossard and his bandmate Jeff Ament started playing with guitarist Mike McCready with the hope of starting a new band. “Dollar Short” was one of five tracks compiled onto a tape called Stone Gossard Demos ’91 that Gossard, Ament, and McCready circulated in the hopes of finding a singer and drummer for the group.
The tape made its way into the hands of vocalist Eddie Vedder, who was working as a security guard for a petroleum company in San Diego, California, at the time. He listened to the tape shortly before going surfing, where lyrics came to him. “Alive” was the first song for which Vedder recorded vocals. Vedder mailed the tape back to Seattle. Upon hearing the tape, the band invited Vedder to come to Seattle and he was asked to join the band.
(Less than 2 years later Eddie Vedder would be performing Masters of War at Bob Dylan’s 30th anniversary concert in Madison Square garden!)
The band recorded “Alive” during a demo session at London Bridge studio in January 1991. The version recorded during this session would later appear on the group’s debut album, Ten.
“Alive” tells the story of a young man discovering that the man he thought was his father is actually his stepfather, while his mother’s grief leads to an incestuous relationship with the son, who strongly resembles the biological father. “Alive” has been revealed by Vedder to be part autobiographical and part fiction. When Vedder was a teenager, his mother revealed to him that the man he thought was his father was actually his stepfather, and that his biological father was dead. The first and last verses detail those actual events, but the second verse is storytelling on Vedder’s part. The lyrics of the second verse read, “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…,” and Vedder revealed that “she” was the mother, and “the look” referred to was not the look on her face, but “the look is between her legs. Where do you go with that? That’s where you came from.”
I suppose that leaves us to pause and ponder how Vedder’s voice and his lyrics propelled this group to become one of the world’s most successful bands for nearly 3 decades. Even his influence as a solo artist has been impressive. His acoustic soundtrack on Into The Wild is nothing short of eerily beautiful. Which other lead singer/s and lyricists have had such an an immediate and immense impact on their band’s success as Eddie Vedder? I’m sure some of you with a more consummate knowledge of contemporary music may be able to wield your weight on this topic.