Fan Club Single #3 – Like An Angel, Part 1

by John Reynolds on December 8, 2009

Christmas, 1993: Pearl Jam’s “Ten” was already an instant classic, Lollapalooza had earned them legions of fans, and “Vs.” sold like 839 billion copies in its first week of release. Wouldn’t that be a great time to break Christmas tradition and mass-produce the band’s third Fanclub-only Christmas single? Try again.

Just past the new year in 1994, fans with valid Ten Club memberships started receiving their slightly-belated Christmas present by mail- still a 45 rpm vinyl record. 50,000 copies of the record were made and distributed, according to most collectors’ sites.

Side A:  “Angel”
Side B:  “Ramblings”

The Cover

The front cover features a cut and paste collage (yes, with actual scissors and glue!)  featuring the “Vs.” style “Pearl Jam” logo. The backdrop is an American flag – stars top left, stripes top right – and front and center is what can best be described as a “grunge angel”, complete with wings, a Converse high-top and saluting with her right hand.

In the bottom left is a headshot of former U.S. President Richard Nixon in a field of tall grass with a halo over his head (ironic, considering he was the only U.S. President to resign his position). At the bottom is a crossword puzzle snippet with the words “angel”, “sage”, “ed”, “bond” “one” and “devil” filled in. In the right corner is a male hand holding a cross, a snippet of a map of North and South Dakota, and an excerpt from a newspaper.

Like the first two Christmas singles, all the artwork is done by Jeff Ament, as you can see the “Ames” in the bottom left.

The back is less dynamic, but it looks as though there is an underlying photo covered by a black screen, and the symbols around the outside have been cut out, showing but not revealing the photo beneath. Also shown is a collage of a man pointing a gun.

Enough with all this artsy cover stuff … what music is actually on it?

Side A contains “Angel”, a song credited to Eddie Vedder and Dave Abbruzzese. Score a writing credit for Dave! Well, actually, he has writing credits on “Go” and “Blood”, so at the very least carve another notch in his songwriting headboard.

“Angel” – released just a few months after Vs. – is quite a contrast to the fiery, explosive tracks on that record. “Angel” contains Ed singing over just Dave A.’s guitar track. And it’s not just one Ed – it’s a lot of Eds – as many layered harmonies mold this song into an interlaced weave of bass, baritone, tenor and falsetto vocals. Without even getting to the lyrics yet, the vocals and open-string chords create an orchestra of vocal and musical color, much in the way “Arc” did on “Riot Act”, only this time with words.

Very early on – both in Kathy’s zine Footsteps and Sony’s “Synergy” site – the lyrics for Angel were listed as “Lyrics inspired by ‘The Eloping Angels’”.  “Eloping Angels” (sans the “The”) was an 1892 poem by William Watson (1858 – 1935). Apparently “Eloping Angels” wasn’t taken very seriously when published, described as a “comic opera” and a critic in 1893 went so far as to say the “levity in these twenty-nine stanzas is ponderous rather than hazardous.”

We encourage you to read the full text to “Eloping Angels”. Its story is whimsical, curious and full of levity. In short, the story involves Faust and Mephistopheles being bored with “life on earth”, and suggest a joy ride to Heaven just for the hell of it (pun intended). When they get there, they eavesdrop on two angels deeply in love, but who yearn for the validation of their love in the form of marriage, because their state as angels does not allow for their union. Faust and Mephistopheles engage these angels and offer their clothes to the angels so that they can “trade places”, return to earth, and live in love together.

Knowing this, the inspiration of “Eloping Angels” is clear, and serve as just one theme in his plurality twist from being about two angels, to him as just one “Angel”. First let’s look at Ed’s lyrics:

Like an angel fly over your house
Like an angel pass out wishes
Like an angel I remove the arrow
Like an angel I live alone

I’m not livin’ what was promised
I am close but can’t enjoy
Oh I’m not dyin’
Oh I’m so …

Tortured ’cause I see all
Tortured and all I cannot do
Tortured all I should have done
Tortured while I occupied a man

I’m not livin’ what was promised
I am far from glorified
Oh I’m not dyin’
Oh I’m not alone

Mind is not a celestial state with idle hymns of praise
Time is short I have an appointment at noon … at noon in Hell
Across the waste of space and fields of air I glide alone at night
Oh please please think of me ’cause I’m … I’m by your side
I’m by your side I’m by your side oh
Oh I’m right in front of you,  I’m by your side

The first two unique verses and repeated chorus clearly define Ed’s “Angel” character in this lyric. This angel is an an immortal companion to a mortal human – always surrounding, helping, aiding, but ultimately alone and “close but can’t enjoy”. He (presumably) struggles deeply with the past and his immortality, “tortured” by what he knows he could have done while a mortal.

The third verse clearly associates to “Eloping Angels” by referencing phrases and entire lines from four different stanzas.

( Stanza 8 )

Faust had not erred. These angels were indeed
Two human lovers, who, by sudden fate,

Full early from the yoke of life being freed,
Renewed their vows in that celestial state.

Now Faust, although immoral, was, I need
Hardly affirm, a gentleman. ‘ I hate,’

He said, ‘to play the spy at scenes like this.

So he coughed loudly on their whispering bliss.

(Stanza 10)

‘ Friends, for such tidings ye in vain apply
To me,’ the radiant Youth Angelic said.

‘We lead a life withdrawn, this maid and I,
Nor love the life by other angels led

All idle hymns of praise to the Most High.
Our one supreme desire is to be wed,

And we were even now concerting schemes

How to escape and realise our dreams.

(Stanza 14)

So Faust and his companion entered, by
The window, the abodes where seraphs dwell.

‘Already morning quickens in the sky,
And soon will sound the heavenly matin-bell ;

Our time is short,’ said Mephisto, ‘for I
Have an appointment about noon in hell.

Dear, clear ! why, heaven has hardly changed one bit

Since the old days before the historic split.’

(Stanza 15)

But leave we now this enterprising pair,
Faust the explorer, Mephisto the guide,

And follow yon bright fugitives in their
Ethereal journey whither mortals bide.

Across the wastes of space and fields of air
Tireless they sped, and soon this orb descried,

Hung like a fairy lamp with timid gleam

From the great branches of the Solar Scheme.

As the song comes to a close, the angel begs silently for the mortal to “please, please think of me” and Ed’s voice hits falsetto notes that float over layer upon layer of harmonies that reincarnate the musical themes exhibited earlier in the song.

Studio

The origins of this song are rather interesting. In a Rolling Stone article from May 1994 – shortly after the last performance of “Angel” in Chicago – author Kim Neely indicates the song was written as early as 1991, meaning the poem’s inspiration was just shy of 100 years old. So if this song was written in 1991, that means it sat on the shelf for a few years before being released on the Holiday Single.

Since Pearl Jam were busy bees from 1991 to 1994, it’s very easy to pinpoint when this was recorded because of the writing credit, which is shown as “Recorded and Mixed by Rick Parashar”.

We all know that the tracks on Ten (and early Ten demos) were recorded by Rick Parashar from the famed London Bridge Studios in March and April of 1991, then mixed by Tim Palmer in England. After Dave Abbruzzese joined in August 1991 and extensive touring in the fall/winter of 1991, Pearl Jam returned to London Bridge in January of 1992 to record songs for Singles, re-record some singles and new songs:

  • Even Flow” – Produced by Rick Parashar, Mixed by Brian Malouf
  • Jeremy” – Produced by Rick Parashar, Mixed by Brendan O’Brien
  • State of Love and Trust” – Produced by Rick Parashar, Mixed by Brian Malouf”
  • Breath” – Produced by Rick Parashar, Mixed by Brian Malouf”
  • Yellow Ledbetter” – Produced by Rick Parashar, Mixed by Brian Malouf”
  • Dirty Frank” – Produced by Rick Parashar, Mixed by John Goodmanson
  • Angel” – Produced and Mixed by Rick Parashar

There were no other recording sessions until the band’s trip south to Northern California for the Vs. sessions in early 1993, which did not involve Rick Parashar.

Live

Being a special song, the inclusion of “Angel” in Pearl Jam’s often violent and energized 1992->1994 sets was indeed a rarity, but each of the four total live appearances had its purpose:

May 17, 1992 – Roseland Theater, Portland, OR

Why did “Angel” debut at this show you ask? It was Dave’s birthday!  Ed says “Tonight also is like the night that me and my girlfriend have been together for eight years. It’s serious. It’s probably the sole reason that I’m alive. But, ah, that’s why I wanna stick around on earth. I don’t ever wanna be an angel or nothin’. I wanna be right here with her and, ah, so let’s try this song.”

November 1, 1992 – Bridge School Benefit, Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA

The band’s acoustic performance at their inaugural Bridge School Benefit allowed the song to be played in a somewhat natural setting and was played Ed reveals the band “had to make a deal with the drummer, because we couldn’t bring the whole set, that we’d let him play guitar.”

November 12, 1993 – Moody Coliseum, SMU, Dallas, TX

A year later, and in Dave A.’s home state of Texas, the “EV/DA” duo (hey! rearranged that spells D-A-V-E”) closed with “Angel” at SMU’s Moody Coliseum.

March 13, 1994 New Regal Theater, Chicago, IL

The song’s final performance (and about a month before Dave A’s final performance) was described in the aforementioned Rolling Stone article: “To anyone unfamiliar with the song’s genesis, the full impact of those lyrics would have been lost. But to watch Vedder on that last night in Chicago, pouring his soul into lines like “I’m not living what was promised, I am close but can’t enjoy” was to be absolutely, spine chillingly certain that for him, the words had just grown a little weightier.”

Legacy

As is the outcome of other famous splits, Dave A’s dismissal from the band in 1994 signaled the end of future live versions of “Angel” – but, then again, we never thought we’d hear “Bugs” again, either!

While many Christmas Single tracks were released on the B-sides collection “Lost Dogs”, “Angel” was a notable omission. Was it ever considered? Maybe, a promo version of Lost Dogs didn’t include the song, but said “Track 10 Angel Missing“.

Side B?

All this fun info on “Angel” … and it’s just Side A of the Christmas Single!!! Read about Side B: “Ramblings”, characterized by a “shock and awe” array of f-bombs, a bleeped c-bomb(!) and a reason to keep your shoes on the next time you’re at a Pearl Jam concert.


Notes:

  • “Angel / Ramblings” scans courtesy of the excellent PJCollectors.com
  • “Dirty Frank” originally listed as John Burton, but was actually John Goodmanson, who later recorded Three Fish and The Rockfords
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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