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Pearl Jam has been around for 30 years with the band’s formation in 1990. Their first album, Ten, debuted on 27 August 1991. This album propelled the grunge movement of the ’90s. Almost everyone believed Pearl Jam bandwagoned grunge because of the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind (released 24 September 1991).
As a kid, I listened to both Ten and Nevermind. Although I have seen the music videos of Nevermind, I was able to enjoy Ten without visual aids. Looking back on what I have experienced at the time, I now see that I was surrounded by creativity and positive nebulous change in rock with relevant lyrics that pinpoint the emotions of someone living in an ever-changing world of uncertainty.
Let’s look back at how Ten stands tall:
“Once” is about a man’s life breaking apart as his madness propels him to be a serial killer. This song got lead singer Eddie Vedder his role in Pearl Jam after Vedder obtained a demo tape called Stone Gossard Demos made by guitarist Stone Gossard. Vedder made the lyrics of “Once,” recorded three of the songs in the tape and mailed it back to the band in Seattle. After accepting an invitation by Pearl Jam, Vedder was asked to be the lead singer.
“Even Flow” has made a cultural impact even though the lyrics are about a homeless man asking for change while possibly being mentally ill (the main part starting with the words Even Flow states that the man is having trouble keeping his thoughts together). Adam Sandler’s Operaman character uses the song to sing the news during his original tenure. This song is a statement about the hidden population of Americans facing troubling times; it is still relevant today.
“Alive” is one of Pearl Jam’s biggest hits, but it has dark lyrics. It’s actually part of a trilogy in what Vedder calls Mamasan, a “mini-opera” that has these songs in order: “Alive,” “Once,” and “Footsteps.” The song mentions Vedder’s reactions about his father really being his stepfather while his biological father has died. As for “Alive,” the story is about a young man realizing his father is not his real father and his mother’s grief for her former husband leads to her having sex with her son. Despite this, the young man is still alive. “Footsteps” conclude Mamasan as the young man (grown-up) is awaiting his execution in prison.
“Jeremy” came from an article Vedder read about high school student Jeremy Wade Delle. Welle shot himself in front of his English class on 8 January 1991. The lyrics are about a boy named Jeremy, an abused soul who tries to get by in his young life. There were two versions of a music video: the original version has Jeremy getting by while the band performs in a warehouse with Vedder wearing black tape as a mourning band for Jeremy. The second version is the one we all know: Jeremy getting by while dealing with abuse and then committing suicide in front of his peers in class. This version is usually edited because of its controversial ending. “Jeremy” is a statement about unresolved problems in young people’s lives that end in tragedy and how these issues are not a big deal when in fact are a huge deal that must be solved. This song is ahead of its time for its message of awareness to take action and change problems that would build up into tragedy.
Ten is a great album to listen to with its great musicianship as well as the lyrics. Pearl Jam is still together to this day and their first album proves that. Be aware of the lyrics as the songs may have valid messages behind them.