Brain of J.
“The whole world will be different then / Go to hell if you don’t believe it.” That was the F–K missing from “Brain of J.” when it ended up on Yield two-and-a-fraction years after its live debut in Salt Lake City in late 2005. Or was it “Oh monkey see monkey do / Play the fucking fool”? Yep, there’s a F–K in there for sure. Or what about “Oh Jackie O! / Oh how we feel for you now!” Obviously there were quite a few lyrical changes between the original live renditions of this Vedder/McCready collaboration and its final studio incarnation. Often there are a few little tweaks here and there that we are able to detect if there’s a sizeable gap between the unveiling and the album, or if the song is remixed with alternate takes. But “Brain of J.” is one of the few Pearl Jam songs that fans have been able to witness as almost a complete overhaul.
Behind the scenes of course, and as evidenced by Vedder’s self-edited lyric sheets, the songs go through scores of permutations–but listeners rarely hear early drafts. By the time the band is ready and confident enough to play a song live, the song is pretty much in place the way they want it. With “Brain of J.” however, which was written with plenty of time for it to be recorded for and included on No Code, that was clearly not the case. Something made them shelve it for a later date, putting it back in the cupboard after only two performances until the warm-up shows for Yield, when the band opened for the Rolling Stones. Why?
The motivations behind the band’s decisions to keep/discard/alter/abandon songs is mostly known only to them, unless hints are dropped, or lost dogs are found. But by looking at early versions of songs and comparing them to the finished products, we can at least evaluate each on its own terms, and ultimately conclude that the band wanted the effect that the latter achieved. In this case, the earlier “Brain of J.” is a much angrier song. I’m not one who believes that the simple addition of a few cuss words makes a song tougher or meaner, but in this case they do. I’m not even talking about the “Monkey see monkey do” line with its perfunctory f-bomb–which had to have been an easy cut to make. It’s the “go to hell if you don’t believe it” that marks a serious difference between the outlooks of of the old and new Brains.
The “Brain of J” of 1995 (or “Brain of JFK” to fans of ye olde bootlegs) took an antagonistic stance toward the listener, a “with us or against us” point of view if you will (yikes!). By 1998, the song transformed to say that “The whole world will be different soon / The whole world will be relieved,” an optimistic outlook. I’m a fan of the old lines, mostly because it’s fun to be righteously pissed off sometimes, but also because I’ve never been comfortable with how the song forces Vedder to pronounce “relieved” as “relieve-ed.” It also sounds like he could be singing, “the whole world will be really Ved.” Way to stroke your own ego Eddie! Ha!
But the more open, hopeful sentiment, though lodged in a still formidable, ferocious McCready-style punk song, does make more sense in the context of Yield, and the band’s evolving commitment to taking hold of its discontent and bending it towards making some kind of difference.