Rearviewmirror: In Their Own Words

by John Reynolds , Jessica Letkemann , Kathy Davis on November 16, 2004

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There comes a time in every successful band’s career when the record company decides to put out a Greatest Hits record and Sony has decided that now is the time for Pearl Jam’s entry. Ho Hum? Maybe not.

Although not nearly as anticipated as the rarities set Lost Dogs, this collection, Rearviewmirror, has put enough of a spin on the greatest hits formula to be worth buying. Though there are two common songs between Lost Dogs and Rearviewmirror (“Last Kiss” and “Yellow Ledbetter”), casual fans will enjoy having staples plus a few songs they missed all in one place. Hardcore fans will want the remixes (“Once” “Alive” and “Black”).

Lost Dogs had a great booklet of notes on each song from the band members themselves. They chose not to repeat themselves with Rearviewmirror so decided to fill that void. We reached back into our files of vintage interviews and shows and dusted off some great quotes -both familiar and obscure- from the band themselves. Thirty three quotes, one for each song on Rearviewmirror.

Quotes compiled by Jessica Letkemann and Kathy Davis


“Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t want to do it, but there’s a sense of, and again and again I frighten myself by relating so much, a sense of ‘Fuck it. If I’m going down, and it’s not my fault, and I did everything I fucking could, and I worked with these hands, and I didn’t do drugs; If I’m outta here, then I’m taking a few people with me.’. There’s no logic there, but that misplaced passion.” – Eddie Vedder (Melody Maker, February 1992)

Flipping Two Birds with One Stone
There are two slightly varying Lance Mercer photos of the band posing in a mirror on the floor. The cover of the CD (top left) shows Ed standing with his hands relaxed (bottom left). Another version (top right) used in print advertising shows Ed (bottom right) giving the camera the middle finger … not once, but twice!

(Click to enlarge the photos above)
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“The story of the song is that a mother is with a father, and the father dies. It’s an intense thing because the son looks just like the father. The son grows up to be the father, the person that she lost. His father’s dead, and now this confusion, his mother, his love, how does he love her, how does she love him? In fact, the mother, even though she marries someone else, there’s no one she’s ever loved as much as the father. You know how it is, first loves and stuff. And the guy dies. How could you ever get him back? But the son. He looks exactly like him. It’s uncanny. So she wants him. The son is oblivious to it all. He doesn’t know what the fuck is going on. He’s still dealing, he’s still growing up. He’s still dealing with love, he’s still dealing with the death of his father. All he knows is “I’m still alive” – those three words, that’s totally out of burden. Now the second verse is “Oh she walks slowly across a young man’s room. She says ‘I’m ready for you.’ I can’t remember anything to this very day except the look…the look.” And I don’t say anything else. And because I’m saying “The look, the look,” everyone thinks it goes with “on her face.” It’s not on her face. It’s between her legs. Where do you go with that? That’s where you came from. “But I’m still alive.” I’m the lover that’s still alive. And the whole conversation about “You’re still alive, she said.” And his doubts, “Do I deserve to be? Is that the question?” Because he’s fucked up forever! So now he doesn’t know how to deal with it, so what does he do, he goes out killing people – that was [the song] “Once”. He becomes a serial killer. And Footsteps, the final song of the trilogy, that’s when he gets executed.” – Eddie Vedder (Rolling Stone, October 28, 1993)

“I thought I’d throw in a bit of street education while you still have an open mind… Right across the street there’s a little homeless comunity that lives under the bridge. You should just know that those people ain’t all crazy and sometimes it’s not their fault. This song is called ‘Even Flow’” – Eddie Vedder (onstage in Florida, March 28, 1994)

“A kid blew his brains out in front of his English class. That probably happens once a week in America. It’s a byproduct of the American fascination, or rather perversion, with guns.” -Eddie Vedder, (Kerrang!, June 1992)

“Eddie was writing lyrics pertaining to what he was getting out of the film. I think he probably took a heavier angle on what the movie was about than a lot of people will, but that’s Eddie, which is a beautiful thing.” -Jeff Ament (Hit Parader, September 1992)

“I don’t wanna talk about [who the anger is directed at]. It’s not so much personal, it’s just, some person at the record company said the other day that they wanted the vocals turned up. He wanted people to understand exactly what I was singing. So I told him what it was about and he said, ‘You’re right. Let’s leave the vocals as they are. Maybe we don’t really want people to understand it.’” – Eddie Vedder (Melody Maker, 1993)

“I just happened to pick up the guitar at the right moment. Stone asked what I was playing and started playing it, then Jeff started playing it, and Eddie started singing with it, and it turned into a song.” -Dave Abbruzzese (Modern Drummer, December 1993)

“The toughest thing is to devote yourself to a cause. And the people who do that should be praised. Because there are people who literally give up their lives for a cause. Like that abortion doctor [David J. Gunn] who was shot in Florida. He gave his life to keep alive the freedom of women who choose to have an abortion. And that’s something that should be their right by law. It’s not as if he was doing anything illegal, although there are a lot of fucking people out there right now who want to criminalize abortion. In “Dissident,” I’m actually talking about a woman who takes in someone who’s being sought after by the authorities for political reasons. He’s on the run, and she offers him a refuge. But she just can’t handle the responsibility. She turns him in, then she has to live with the guilt and the realization that she’s betrayed the one thing that gave her life meaning. It made her life difficult. It made her life hell. But it gave her a reason to be. But she couldn’t hold on. She folded. That’s the tragedy of the song.” -Eddie Vedder (Melody Maker, October 10, 1993)

Layout is everything
The cover art is a previously-unseen vintage PJ photo from early 1991 shot by Lance Mercer at the band’s early rehearsal space in Seattle, Galleria Potatohead. The shot was probably taken during the photo shoot for the Ten album cover as the band members – including original drummer Dave Krusen – are wearing the same clothes as the Ten cover, and you can see high intensity lights in the background. Rearviewmirrow comes with a 16-page booklet filled with 25 photos from the last 14 years, including a “2004 version” of the cover art with the current Vedder / McCready / Ament / Gossard / Cameron lineup. Most of the photos depict the band writing and/or recording, including photos of Kelly Curtis in a messy office and photos in studio, with walls adorned with posters of the likes of Ice Cube and Charles Barkley.

“We start off with the music and it kind of propels the lyrics. It made me feel like I was in a car, leaving something, a bad situation. There’s an emotion there. I remembered all of the times I wanted to leave.” -Eddie Vedder (Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1994)

“That’s me trying to do Johnny Thunder leads. I actually overdubbed those leads, but when I do it live, that riff is so hectic and frantic, I have to be warmed up or it sounds really shitty.” -Mike McCready (Guitar School, May 1995)“You don’t know what this is, do you? This, ladies and gentlemen and youngsters who may have been too small to remember, is vinyl… There’s a new song we wrote, it’s a love song about vinyl. It’s called ‘Spin the Black Circle,’ get it?” -Eddie Vedder (onstage in Kentucky, March 24, 1994)

“It is about a relationship but not between two people. It’s more one person’s relationship with a million people. In fact, that song’s almost a little too obvious for me. That’s why instead of a lyric sheet we put in an X-ray of my teeth from last January and they are all in very bad shape, which was analogous to my head at the time.” -Eddie Vedder (Los Angeles Times, November 20, 1994)

“I think that when you play music that hard, giving all you have every night, travelling to another place, setting up the circus again and really putting your head in the lion’s mouth, doing everything you could to make each show the best it could be, I think after doing that, and then people whether they work with the record company, press department, or they work with, let’s say, a music channel or something like that, and then they think the reason you were successful is because of them, you’d say, ‘fuck you!’. What about all this, that we’ve done? It’s not that we want to take credit. That’s fine. I don’t care. I don’t want credit, it’s not like I’m trying to claim that. But when they start acting like they own you, that they are the reason… that’s something that’s not true. These attitudes out there that the music is theirs that it’s the industry’s music… And it’s not. It’s mine. And it’s yours. Whoever’s listening to it. It’s mine and it’s yours. And everybody in between, they’re the distributors. I think that something like a music channel can be very powerful. Sometimes they think they’re the ones who decide what’s heard. I think that’s a dangerous situation. And, I think, what’s more dangerous situation. And, I think, what’s more dangerous is that they think it belongs to them. That’s probably what ‘Not For You’ is about.” -Eddie Vedder (Big O, April 1995)

“There was a record where Neil Young asked everybody in the band to be his band. Figured he’d use us and steal our youth and we’d use him and steal his wisdom. And I think it worked out great. Although he’s probably younger than we are wise, but anyways. There were also two songs that weren’t on his record, which was Mirror Ball, and that was a little single. And this is one of those songs.” Eddie Vedder, Charlotte, North Carolina, August 4, 2000

“People say that No Code wasn’t like a rock record. The big comment you’d hear over and over again was ‘experimental record.’ But then you hear ‘Habit’ and ‘Hail Hail’ and ‘Lukin,’ and those songs are totally rock.” -Stone Gossard (Guitar World, April 1998)

“That song is all about someone who’s drunk with technology, who thinks they’re the controlling living being on this planet. It’s a another one I’m not singing as myself.” -Eddie Vedder (Philadelphia Inquirer, February 8, 1998)

“One thing I’ve learned about addiction in the last few years is that having seen other folks go through it… with heroin which can grip you that intensely. I didn’t have a complete understanding and a lot of times it was easy to come to the conclusion that you place blame on the person or accuse them of weakness or ask ‘Why couldn’t Kurt keep it together?’ There was always that in the back of your mind. What I’ve learned is there really isn’t any blame. It has happened to some folks I cared about so much and had it so together. I think the song is expressing how badly you want to help” -Eddie Vedder (New Zealand Herald November 9, 2002)


Back to the Mixing Board
Three songs from 1991′s Ten – “Alive”, “Once” and “Black” – were remixed by Brendan O’Brien. Brendan has produced or mixed just about all of Pearl Jam’s releases since Ten. We’ve all had fun with figuring out that Ed says “you think I got my eyes closed, but I was looking at you the whole fucking time” in the album version of “Once,” but see if you can decipher the additional mumbled line thrown in afterward in the remix. And it’s the versions of “Even Flow” and “Jeremy” re-recorded in early 1992 that are included here. Those same sessions that produced “Breath” and “State of Love and Trust” for the Singles soundtrack, but the “State” that appears on Rearviewmirror is clearly a different mix.

“Some songs just aren’t meant to be played between Hit Number 2 and Hit Number 3. You start doing those things, you’ll crush it. That’s not why we wrote songs. We didn’t write to make hits. But those fragile songs get crushed by the business. I don’t want to be a part of it. I don’t think the band wants to be part of it” -Eddie Vedder (Rolling Stone, October 28, 1993)

“Breath” and “State of Love and Trust” were recorded last February [1992] in Seattle, and are just a couple of songs that we thought would be good for the soundtrack. Not much of a story. They’re older songs. “Breath” is on the first demo we did as a band. I used a Les Paul and Marshall on that track. We had a day-and-a-half to do it, so I just played through my normal set up.” -Stone Gossard (Guitar World, September 1992)

“The child in that song obviously has a learning difficulty. And it’s only in the last few years that they’ve actually been able to diagnose these learning disabilities that before were looked at as misbehavior, as just outright fuckin’ rebelliousness. But no one knew what it was. And these kids, because they seemed unable or reluctant to learn, they’d end up getting the shit beaten out of them. The song ends, you know, with this idea of the shades going down — so the neighbors can’t see what happens next. What hurts about shit like that is that it ends up defining peoples’ lives. They have to live with that abuse for the rest of their lives. Good, creative people are just fucking destroyed.” -Eddie Vedder (Melody Maker, 1993)

“It’s kind of about a lady, and she’s getting on in years, and she’s stuck in this small town. Small towns fascinate me: You either struggle like hell to get out, to some people want to stay ’cause then they’re the big fish in the small pond, and then others just kind of get stuck there. So here she is working in this little place, and then an old flame comes in, and he’s probably driving a nice car and looking kind of sharp – not a fancy car, but he’s moved on. And then she sees him, and at first she doesn’t even remember who he is, and then she realizes who it is. She’s just too embarrassed to say ‘hello’. -Eddie Vedder (Spin, December 1993)

“That was written when we were on tour in Atlanta. It’s not about Kurt. Nothing on the album was written directly about Kurt, and I don’t feel like talking about him, because it [might be seen] as exploitation. But I think there might be some things in the lyrics that you could read into and maybe will answer some questions or help you understand the pressures on someone who is on a parallel train…” -Eddie Vedder (Los Angeles Times, November 20, 1994)

“It’s a new song, but it was written a long time ago. And it’s dedicated to the bastard that married my mama” -Eddie Vedder (onstage in Atlanta, April 3, 1994)“Sometimes I think of how far I’ve come from the teenager sitting on the bed in San Diego writing ‘Better Man’ and wondering if anyone would ever even hear it.” -Eddie Vedder (Los Angeles Times, December 22, 1996)

“Nothingman” was written in an hour, and so I like listening to that ’cause it just happened and somehow captured a mood there, at least for me in the vocal. Any time I can nail down a song, a thought, in a half hour, that feels really good. -Eddie Vedder (Spin, December 1994)

“We realized that we had an opportunity to experiment. For instance, everyone has written that ‘Who Are You’ was obviously inspired by my collaboration with Nusrat, but that’s not where it came from.” -Eddie Vedder (Spin, February 1997)“I’d been playing that [drum pattern] since I was eight. It was inspired by a Max Roach drum solo I heard at a drum shop when I was a little kid.” - Jack Irons (Spin, February 1997)

“I think there’s a little self-examination.. something that a lot of my friends are going through too, as they approach 30.” -Eddie Vedder (Los Angeles Times, December 22, 1996)

“[I imagined the song as] a 20-page cardboard (children’s) book with a line on each page and a picture to go with it. It’s a fable, that’s all. The music almost gives you this feeling of flight, and I really love singing the part at the end, which is all about rising above anybody’s comments about what you do and still giving your love away. You know ? not becoming bitter and reclusive, not condemning the whole world because of the actions of a few.” -Eddie Vedder (Philadelphia Inquirer, February 8, 1998)

“It was a stream-of-consciousness exercise. McCready booked studio time in a tiny studio here with our friend Stu behind the board and another friend playing drums. We don’t have the discipline to sit down and teach each other parts, so you’re writing simple chord changes that someone else can follow without having to take breaks to learn them. It was probably eight minutes long originally. I listened to the tape and picked out the better wishes.” -Eddie Vedder (Microsoft MusicCentral, Febrary 1998)

“You know what was interesting? The ‘Last Kiss’ single was something that was recorded at a soundcheck and given away as a Christmas single on 45 vinyl to a small amount of people, friends or fans of the band, and it kinda took off on radio. It was a stange little anomaly. It somehow cut through all that [pop] stuff. here was a song that was not produced, it was one take and somehow it was getting played on the radio ’cause it had a nice story to it, maybe… That was kind of uplifting or at least it re-instilled some faith that a good song can cut through, even though there’s no dancers on stage when we do the song, or video to go with it or anything like that. That helped me feel like all was not lost or something, at least in our world here.” -Eddie Vedder (Rolling Stone Australia, August 2000)

“[It's] a dark, heavy tale… For me, it’s a song about judgment and not always understanding what is going on with another person.” -Jeff Ament (Boston Globe, May 14, 2000)

“With ‘Light Years,’ Mike McCready had written some music. We were excited about it for a while, but when we got down to recording it, it was too nice, too right there – it was a little too close to ‘Given to Fly.’ We changed the tempos, and then one night Mike and I, after working on it all day and getting frustrated, just flipped it backwards, and in about 35 minutes it became ‘Light Years,’ with words and everything. It still has a fairly contagious chorus and melody, but it’s just sideways enough to make me happy.” -Eddie Vedder (Revolver, May 2000)“[It's about] a pretty heavy loss… Loss and where does that energy go? Big questions.” -Eddie Vedder (New Musical Express, May 13, 2000)

“[The saddest song on Riot Act is] ‘I Am Mine,’ without a doubt. It was written in a hotel room just before our first show after the Roskilde tragedy.” -Eddie Vedder (Humo [Belgium], November 2002)

Dave and Dave and Jack who?
Curiously, the liner notes in Rearviewmirror make no mention of Pearl Jam’s earlier drummers Dave Krusen, Dave Abbruzzese or Jack Irons, though their drumming is included in the retrospective.

“We were so blown away by the movie. Eddie and I were standing around talking about it afterwards and were teary-eyed. We were so emotionally charged and moved by the imagination and humanity that we felt because of the movie. It affected me in a spiritual way. It made me think about the relationship between my father and myself. My dad isn’t like him, but I know a lot of guys like the character Albert Finney plays, in how they tell tales. Are they really true? Does it really matter? I still love him anyway.” -Mike McCready (, January 8, 2004)

“Eddie kind of mumbled through that one, I don’t think he even had the lyrics together when they did that” -PJ manager Kelly Curtis (Wall of Sound, March 2001)

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.
Jessica Letkemann ( Twitter: @Letkemann )
TFT co-editor Jessica Letkemann is a New York based digital music journalist & editor. She's currently VP & Editor-In-Chief of Digital at Fuse Media ( and was previously managing editor of She has also been on staff at Spin and Premiere magazines. Her first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 2, 1992.
Kathy Davis ( Twitter: @CrookedArm23 )
A Bay-Area based entrepreneur, co-editor Kathy conceives and writes her share of TFT’s articles and sections. She was co-editor/co-founder of one of the first Pearl Jam fanzines "Footsteps" (1992-1997). Kathy’s first Pearl Jam show was at the Bridge School Benefit on November 1, 1992.

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