The Tragic Tale behind ‘Alive’ by Pearl Jam

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Alive is one of the most significant songs by Pearl Jam. It is their debut single and was released on 7th July 1991 as part of their debut album ‘Ten’.

Alive is the song that feels like a very cheerful song to listen to, but actually has a very dark backstory to it.

The song mainly tells the story of Eddie Vedder and his childhood experience, but the song’s origins actually date further back to when Eddie joined the band.

In 1990, Pearl Jam’s guitarist Stone Gossard composed the music for the song ‘Dollar Short’ when he was still part of the band called ‘Mother Love Bone’. The lead singer Andrew Wood had even sung on it but died later due to heroin overdose.

Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament and Mike McCreedy started playing together intending to start a new band.

Dollar Short and 4 other songs were put into a tape and circulated around to find a new singer and drummer for the group. Eddie Vedder found the tape through Jack Irons who was the drummer for Red Hot Chilli Peppers at the time.

Eddie wrote the lyrics for it and sent them to the band through mail and was called by the band. They were joined by drummer Dave Krusen and eventually formed and took the name of ‘Pearl Jam’ after signing with Epic Records.

Song Meaning

The song is based on Eddie Vedder’s real life. His mother Karen Lee Veder had divorced his biological father Edward Louis Severson Jr when Eddie was an infant. She remarried Peter Mueller who Eddie thought of as his biological father.

He went by the name Eddie Mueller for a long time. Karen and Peter divorced but Eddie stayed with his father Peter in California so that he didn’t have to change schools.

After the divorce, Eddie learned the truth that about his biological father. By the time he came to know about it, Edward had already passed away from multiple sclerosis. Edward had met Eddie before but Eddie only thought of him as an old friend of his parents.

The original story being told in the song is of a young man being made aware of some shocking truths.

And one was that the guy he believed to be his father while growing up was not, and number two was that his real father had passed away a few years before. As if adolescence wasn’t tough enough…

The guy was me, but I barely knew me then. To be honest I was barely there to be known. So he took this to be a curse, like fine you told me this secret, but I’ve gotta figure a way to deal with this.

And fine the dad’s dead but I’m still alive and I’ve gotta deal with this. So it was a curse.

Eddie Vedder

Eddie talked about how being alive felt like a curse when he learnt the truth. The fact that his biological father had died and he got to know about it years later made him extremely bitter.

However, when the fans heard the song they took it positively and were celebrating when the chorus was being sung during live performances. It felt like they had lifted the curse.

So cut to a few years later and we’re playing to larger and larger audiences and they’re responding to this chorus in a way that you never thought.

And folks are jumping up in the aisles, using their bodies to express themselves and singing along ‘I’m still alive’ en masse. So every night when I look out at this sea of people reacting on their own positive interpretation, it was really incredible.

The audience changed the meaning of these words and when they sing ‘I’m still alive’ it’s like they’re celebrating.

And here’s the thing. When they changed the meaning of those words, they lifted the curse.

Eddie Vedder

There is also an element of her mother having an incestuous relation with her son because he reminds her of his biological father who is no more but that is only a fictional element added to the song.

The song is the first part of the ‘Momma Son’ trilogy followed by Once and Footsteps. Alive is about Eddie learning the truth about his biological father, Once is about becoming disturbed and committing crimes and Footsteps is about ending up in jail.

The band was still broke at the time when they were filming the video. It was made under a budget of $20000, because the band thought it would turn out to be a stupid idea to spend high amount on a video if it didn’t sell well.

They used a footage of their concert at the club RKCNDY in Seattle on August 3, 1991 because the band despised the idea of lip syncing for their songs.

This was the story about the band. Let me know your opinions in the comments below.

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