What’s That Line in “Black, Red, Yellow”?

by John Reynolds on May 3, 2004

“Black, Red, Yellow” was recorded during the No Code sessions and, along with “Dead Man”, was relegated to a B-Side. Appearing on the flip side of the oddly hard-to-find “Hail, Hail” single, the song is a slap-your-knee low-fi rocker written by Ed, with an upbeat melody and rhythm that makes you think this was a fun song for the band to write, practice and perform.

But what the heck is Ed singing about? The truth came out pretty quickly that the song was about Dennis Rodman – athletic oddball and monster Pearl Jam fan. And it’s Rodman on the “answering machine” during the song. Black and red are the Chicago Bulls team colors, but that lyric has an additional meaning. “Yellow” references Rodman’s oft bleached hair. Once you know these things, you get the general idea of the lyrics, as Ed’s singing is particularly articulate on this song.

So even if you don’t understand what he’s referring to, you can at least sing along knowing the words – except for that one line after “Freud walking the sidelines, clipboard, score on the brain”. What the hell does he say? It’s a shame, because – along with “vehicles swervin!” it’s a fun line to bark out when you’re listening to it, as it sounds like Ed and maybe stone provide backing vocals on that line in the verse. So what’s your guess?

  • “Black magic painted trees, makes me sane?”
  • “Black magic painted pink, makes me sane?”
  • “Bah bah b-bah bah bah, makes me sane?”

The lyric is actually “Black magic viente y tres” – “viente y tres” translates to “23″ in Spanish. This is not Rodman’s number, but the number of the one and only Michael Jordan – the untattooed yin to Rodman, the officially flamboyant yang. Now the pieces fall into place. “Freud walking the sidelines, clipboard, score on the brain,” is then-Bulls philisophical coach Phil Jackson pacing the sidelines. “Black magic viente y tres makes me sane” a reference to Jordan. Consider this cold-case lyric question solved.

For our next seeker, we’ll reveal the lyrics to “Yellow Ledbetter”. Haha, just kidding. Or are we? … Stay tuned.

John Reynolds ( Twitter: @jjjrrr )
A New Jersey based programmer, John handles TFT’s programming and technical aspects. He also conceives and writes his share of TFT’s articles and sections. John’s first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 12, 1992.

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