“I’ll never forget the shot, and it’s a pretty famous shot, that comes around and reveals the look in [Eddie's] eye that’s almost evil incarnate. I’ll never forget saying ‘Oh my God’ when I [was] sitting there watching the monitor and the shot was happening. I actually did get chills.” – director Mark Pellington to the author, on directing Eddie in the “Jeremy” video.
An affluent suburb. 9:45 in the morning.
Exactly 20 years ago this weekend, a Texas high-schooler named Jeremy ended his life tragically and “Jeremy,” one of Ten‘s classic songs, was born. Brand-new Seattle resident Eddie Vedder, who had become Mookie Blaylock/Pearl Jam’s singer just three months earlier, sat down with the newspaper and came across a January 9, 1991 wire story from the Dallas Morning News that began with the headline “Richardson Teen-ager kills Himself In Front Of Classmates.” The article described how Jeremy Wade Delle, a sophomore just a month shy of his 16th birthday, put a .357 Magnum in his mouth in Ms. Barnett’s second period English II class at Richardson High School in Richardson, Texas at a quarter to ten on the morning of January 8, 1991.
“At Home Drawing Pictures…”
Eddie recalled his retreat into Pearl Jam’s basement rehearsal space at Galleria Potatohead in Seattle to write “Jeremy,” on the Rockline radio show on October 19, 1993. “I remember one night in this basement when I was writing that I thought, man… Some kid did this,” Eddie said. “I didn’t make that up and that’s a fact. It came from a small paragraph in a paper.”
“Daddy Didn’t Give Affection…”
That Dallas Morning News article that formed the basis of what Eddie read went into eerie detail about Jeremy Delle’s last moments, saying he pulled the trigger in front of the class of 30 after leaving an undisclosed suicide note with a friend. The story called him a “loner who had been in counseling” with his father, and mentioning his parents were divorced and that he lived with is dad, who had been called to the Principal’s office to talk about Jeremy’s poor attendance. Delle’s regular in-house suspension is also alluded to.
Eddie told Rockline that it struck him hard that such a huge gesture could be reduced to such a small piece of newsprint. “It means you kill yourself and you make a big old sacrifice and try to get your revenge, that all you’re gonna end up with is a paragraph in a newspaper,” Eddie said on Rockline in 1993. “Sixty-three degrees and cloudy in a suburban neighborhood. That’s the beginning of the video and that’s the same thing is that in the end; it does nothing, nothing changes. The world goes on and you’re gone. The best revenge is to live on and prove yourself. Be stronger then those people. And then you can come back. That’s kinda what I did.”
“Clearly I Remember Picking On The Boy….”
Eddie had revealed that there was second kid that co-inspired the song when Pearl Jam were guests on Dallas’ KLOL, with host David Sadoff in December 1991. “I actually knew somebody in junior high school, in San Diego, California that did the same thing, just about,” Eddie told Sadoff. “[He] didn’t take his life but ended up shooting up an oceanography room. I remember being in the halls and hearing it. And I had actually had altercations with this kid in the past. I was kind of a rebellious fifth-grader and I think we got in fights and stuff. So it’s a bit about this kid named Jeremy and it’s also a bit about a kid named Brian that I knew.”
It’s unclear exactly what day Eddie set his thoughts about Jeremy and Brian to Jeff Ament’s music, and the band was off to Vancouver on for a gig at Harpo’s opening for Alice In Chains, but like many early 1991 shows, the setlist hasn’t yet been re-uncovered, so there’s no way to know if Mookie Blaylock had this key “Ten” song in their repertoire yet. And though “Jeremy” isn’t on a confirmed setlist until the Jan. 10May 17, 1991 show at Seattle’s Off Ramp (well after the recording of “Ten” was over), the song certainly existed in its final form by March 27, 1991, the date of Eddie’s hand-labeled cassette of “1st Takes London Bridge” from the “Ten” sessions.
Ed has never been shy about commenting on the song in concert:
“Maybe [Jeremy] should have just ran away”
- Dec. 11, 1991 Dallas, Texas
“I wish he would have killed his parents. Then maybe he wouldn’t have killed himself.”
– March 12, 1992 Frankfurt, Germany
“I don’t need no mom and dad”
- a quote from “Sonic Reducer” sung as a tag at the end of “Jeremy” during the MTV Music Video Awards, Sept. 9, 1992
“Living is the best revenge”
- Rochester, NY, April 7, 1994, after Kurt Cobain was reported missing, but the day before his body was found.
By mid-1991, the song was a staple of Pearl Jam’s setlists, and with “Alive” still brand new, it was clear the band were setting their sights on “Jeremy” as a follow-up single. In fact, considering the fact that the band enlisted photographer Chris Cuffaro for a video they shot on Oct. 4, 1991, “Jeremy” almost trumped “Even Flow” as the second single from “Ten.” Cuffaro’s black and white take, which prominently featured Eddie in a white tank top with a black arm band and a different boy playing the role of Jeremy, was shelved in favor of running with “Even Flow,” whose video was a straight-forward live clip filmed a Jan. 17, 1992 PJ show at Seattle’s Moore Theatre. But “Jeremy” was still on the agenda.
Below: The 1991 Chris Cuffaro version of “Jeremy”
“We Unleashed A Lion…”
an affluent suburb (typed)
the woman was killed instantly (newspaper)
charges against girl… ying stun town… the teenagers stand accused of (newspaper)
4 teenagers shot (newspaper)
girls in torture… Indiana (newspaper)
64 degrees and cloudy (typed)
3:30 in the afternoon (typed)
taunted the crowd with racial epithets (typed)
Bishops say they are determined to halt child molesting by Priests (newspaper)
the serpent was subtil (handwritten)
genesis 3:6 (handwritten)
described as….. (handwritten)
because I say so (handwritten)
[classroom blackboard] …behavior
- Anxiety disorders
- Environmental Stress
- Hereditary Factors
- Factors that affect
3:30 in the afternoon (handwritten)
an affluent suburb (handwritten)
64 degrees and cloudy (handwritten)
On the strength of his video for Public Enemy’s “Shut ‘Em Down,” Mark Pellington was hired to have another go at making a “Jeremy” video and shortly after doing a massive eight-page treatment of his vision for the song, he was ensconced in Kings Cross Studios in England with the band, likely on June 7, 1992, the free day Pearl Jam had between playing the Finsbury festival in London on June 6 and rocking Pinkpop in the Netherlands on June 8.
The resulting video, with its eerie text and the boy standing in front of his blood-spattered classroom, has become almost as famous as the song itself. I spoke with director Mark Pellington several years ago about it, and he delved deep into the making of the clip:
“I had a 45 minute conversation with [Eddie] about the story about the kid,” Pellington told me. “It was kind of the normal methodology when you do a piece; You have a one on one with the writer of the song…. We connected… I understood they were looking for a story that would go into other levels, other themes about the song.”
“I wrote a seven or eight page treatment,” Pellington continued, “And sent it to them and they were very supportive. It was quite a long, elaborate, emotional treatment so we set about onto casting and production. We shot the band in England, and thank God, they were like, ‘We don’t want to play our instruments, we want to be in it but very little and really have Eddie’s performance be the main anchor.”
“We set up a very very simple dolly track and shot him. And really the power of the song, the emotion, was very pure that came out of him. I think we did 3 or 4 takes. I’ll never forget the shot, and it’s a pretty famous shot, that comes around and reveals the look in his eye that’s almost evil incarnate. I’ll never forget saying ‘Oh my God’ when I’m sitting there watching the monitor and the shot was happening. I actually did get chills.”
The well-known 1992 “Jeremy” video directed by Mark Pellington:
“We did five different versions [of the ending],” Pellington went on. “One where the kid brings the gun up to his mouth and its blurred and then you cut in closer and you see his head sligtly move… [is] the unedited version, which is what I show to people and I have shown in public at screenings. it’s still very subtle but it’s clearer what happens. Right as he puts it in his mouth it cuts to ’3:30 in the afternoon, an affluent suburb.’”
“I came up with the phrases and worked with a young graphic artist who wrote them on black showcards. I shot like 40 phrases. It was just to have a whole other level of subtextual comment on it, from the first instance of evil in the Bible to the interior thoughts of his parents to kind of a third person commenting on it.”
“I don’t think I directed [Eddie]. I don’t think I told him to do one thing. I think I maybe told him a couple of times to keep his head up because I wanted to see his eyes. He didn’t want to look into the camera although he does once by mistake and I kept that in there. When you’ve got something pure, let it happen, capture it, and make sure that you don’t fuck it up.”
Today, in Richardson Texas, incidentally, it is forecast to be 63 degrees, but not cloudy. Twenty years later, we’re still listening to the song born when a Texas teen died.
The Dallas Morning News January 9, 1991: [ back to article ]
“Richardson Teen-ager Kills Himself In Front Of Classmates”
By Bobbi Miller and Annette Nevins
RICHARDSON – A Richardson High School sophomore, described as a loner who had been in counseling, fatally shot himself Tuesday in front of a classroom of about 30 students.
Jeremy Wade Delle, 16, who had transferred from a Dallas school, died instantly after firing a .357-caliber Magnum into his mouth about 9:45 a.m. police said.
Because he had missed class, the teacher in his second-period English class told Jeremy to get an admittance slip from the school office. Instead, he returned with the gun, police said.
He walked directly to the front of the classroom.
“Miss, I got what I really went for,” he said, then placed the barrel in his mouth and fired, according to Sgt. Ray Pennington, a police spokesman.
The shooting occurred before the students or teacher Faye Barnett could react, said school district spokeswoman Susan Dacus-Wilson.
It stunned students and faculty members throughout the school at 1250 W. Belt Line Road.
Brian Jackson, 16, said he was working the combination on his locker just outside Jeremy’s English class when he heard a loud bang “like someone had just slammed a book on a desk.”
“I thought they were doing a play or something,” he said. “But then I heard a scream and a blond girl came running out of the classroom and she was crying.” Frightened, but curious, Brian looked into the classroom and saw Jeremy lying on the floor bleeding.
“The teacher was standing against the wall crying and shaking,” Brian said. “Some people were standing around her holding her as if to keep her from falling.”
Another student, Howard Felman, an 11th-grader, was in government class when he heard the shot. At first students joked about the noise, thinking that someone was playing around, he said.
“But then we heard a girl running down the hall screaming,” he said. “It was a scream from the heart.”
Sgt. Pennington said Jeremy apparently had given some thought to his actions because he left a suicide note with a classmate. Investigators would not disclose its contents.
Principal Jerry Bishop said Jeremy’s class attendance had been sporadic. Mr. Bishop said he had met with the boy and his father to discuss the problem.
Police said that Jeremy had been in counseling with his father, but they did not know the specifics.
Sgt. Pennington said police did not know where the youth got the gun and had no clue why he would kill himself in a crowded classroom.
The classmates who witnessed the shooting were immediately ushered to a secluded room for counseling.
About 30 members of the school district’s volunteer crisis team arrived to counsel students.
Classes continued throughout the day. Some students were allowed to leave early, but counselors encouraged them to stay at school and discuss their feelings.
Lisa Moore, 16, said she knew Jeremy from the in-school suspension program.
“He and I would pass notes back and forth and he would talk about life and stuff,” she said.
She said Jeremy wanted to discuss the boy she was dating and also mentioned that he was having trouble with one of his teachers. He signed all of his notes, “Write back.” But on Monday he wrote, “Later days.”
“I didn’t know what to make of it,” she said. “But I never thought this would happen.”
However, Sean Forrester, 17, remembered Jeremy as friendly with no outward signs of turmoil.
“He never looked like he had anything wrong with him. He always made a joke over everything,” Sean said.
Jeremy was the son of Joseph R. Delle of Richardson, with whom he lived, and Wanda Crane. The couple divorced in 1979, according to Dallas County court records.
Mr. Delle could not be reached for comment. Ms. Crane, through a spokesman, declined to comment.
Tuesday’s shooting was the first known teen suicide in a Richardson school. It was the first by a Richardson student since 1988, when student suicides prompted the creation of the crisis intervention program in May that year.
Three Richardson students committed suicide during the first half of 1988. They included a sixth-grader and two sophomores at J. J. Pearce High School. One of the sophomores hanged himself from a tree behind Mohawk Elementary School during a weekend.
In 1985, a 17-year-old Arlington student shot himself in front of four fellow students in the drama classroom at Arlington High School.
Earlier, and outbreak of teen suicides in Plano, where eight youths killed themselves in 1983 and 1984, helped focus national attention on the plight of suicidal teen-agers.
Students and counselors agreed that the shock of Jeremy’s public demise would have a lingering effect on the Richardson students, particularly the witnesses.
“They are going to go through a ton of sadness, anxiety and fear,” said Sheryl Pender, a counselor with Willow Park Hospital in Plano and former director of the Suicide and Crisis Center in Dallas.
Staff writer Jeffrey Weiss contributed to this report.