Immortality

If Vitalogy is the Pearl Jam album most crying out to be experienced on vinyl, then “Immortality” is the reason. While I’m not the world’s biggest collector, the “Immortality” 7″ is at the top of my list of coveted Pearl Jam items. The song deserves the experience of setting needle to record, in the dark or near-dark, and hearing the song heavy in the air, its waves replicated in wax, not as “immortal” as digital code, but temporal, fleeting, of the earth. And though my short list of quintessential Pearl Jam tracks is a lot longer than I’d anticipated, “Immortality” could never, ever, ever be excluded. It is one of a handful of truly defining moments in the band’s career, a song as enormous and infinite as its title. Performed live, its gravity never fails to draw in the audience’s attention like a black hole. The opening one-two of “Of the Girl” and “Immortality” at the Sendai, Japan show in 2003 remains one of my favorite pairings from all of the live sets I’ve been fortunate to hear. There is little to connect the two songs thematically or stylistically, but both wield dense atmosphere with uncommon grace.

Were it not for the late addition of “Stupidmop” to Vitalogy‘s end, “Immortality” would have been the closer. With that in mind, it’s important to remember the tone with which the song finishes as much as its primary sound. Though “Immortality” is most often characterized as a dirge, and understandably so, the entire song has a strong sense of rhythm and movement, a subtle sway that separates it from connotations of plodding and drag. This is especially apparent after Ed’s final words, when the song lifts out of its minor key fog, reclaims at least a semblence of optimism and groove, and trails off into the distance. The album’s seemingly most unforgivingly dark song actually provides its surest flicker of hope, the crocus after a long winter. Oh but what a winter, piled onto the hard ground of steel-stringed acoustic guitar, icy shards of cymbals, and a noticeably varied vocal performance by Ed, both strident and defeated. Mike McCready’s solos on “Immortality” are among my favorite (particularly at the 2:20 mark), serving the song more than mere embellishment, channeling the confusion and frustration of Vedder’s coded lyrics into singular lines as primal as waves carved in wax.

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~ by Michael on October 5, 2007.

10 Responses to “Immortality”

  1. Absolutely nothing I can add to that :)

  2. That was a beautiful write-up.

    I had forgotten that we hadn’t gotten around to IMMORTALITY yet. PJ has been around so many years, and there’s so much music out there that it’s easy to forget why I’ve loved this band so much. Then every once in a while something like the IMMORTALITY snippet from their new DVD hits me between the eyes.

    I’ve puzzled over the lyrics to this song, gone through many interpretations, but none of it really matters when I hear the song played. I can’t think of anyone else who could have created this.

  3. That’s a good point. The song gets Neil Young comparisons but they don’t entirely pan out.

  4. I don’t hear Neil Young here. And I didn’t hear it in I GOT ID either. You can be friends with someone and not base your entire catalogue on them. I sometimes wonder whether people are listening to the same things that I am.

  5. Immortality stands out and above the rest…encapsulationg all the rage and laments and complaints about rock star fame from all through the album and, as the bookend to Last Exit, both songs coming from the shadow of Cobain, beautifully offering up nothing less than Ed’s heart and soul…opening himself up with a message about the music, the lyrics (scrawl dissolved, cigar box on the floor), the songs (stripped and sold mom) that have put Ed, and Kurt before him, in this extremely fucked up position of being immortalized…one way or another. It’s such an honest and open and personal song that, to me, marked the last of that type of song from Ed…there was so much attention to and speculation about Ed’s past because of songs on the first two albums…Vitology, and Immortality were a natural response to that…and, for whatever reason, I really can’t think of a song since then that has gone there…long live Immortality…the fitting end to both the “i’ve had a fucked up childhood and here’s a song about it” and the “oh shit i can’t believe i’m getting rich and famous because of it” genres…

  6. I agree with a lot of what you’ve said oleyever. IMMORTALITY is something truly special. Not to turn this thread into a discussion of Into the Wild, also, but the song GUARANTEED, though different in style, struck me as intensely personal. I’ve read the book, and it does describe Christopher McCandless, but it also feels like Ed talking about himself. There are many great lines in that song, but this verse struck me as so decriptive of Ed:

    “Everyone I come across, in cages they bought
    They think of me and my wandering, but I’m never what they thought
    I’ve got my indignation, but I’m pure in all my thoughts
    I’m alive…”

  7. Does anyone know the original lyrics of this song? i know they played it alot, before they put it out on vitalogy, in the 94 tours, but the lyrics were different on the tour version, i have a video of it, but i can’t decipher the lyrics, anyone here know?

  8. Did you never, in all your intense scrutiny, piece together that this song (in its album version anyway, an earlier version with different lyrics exists that pre-dates the event) is a tribute to Ed’s hero Kurt Cobain (stripped and sold off, auctioned fore-arm…scrawl dissolved, cigar box on the floor), or just feel that was so obvious as to not require mention?
    Musically speaking, I think it’s worth noting that the instrumental bridge (on the album) is obviously an outtake from an unrelated jam coopted into service of this song. The earlier versions didnt include this key change and it doesnt appear until after recording of Vitalogy, where it is so sonically different from the rest of the recording that it is obviously sourced differently.

  9. I dunno Ackack, was “your intense scrutiny” meant to be facetious? I like the information about the bridge being taken from another unrelated song, thank you for that.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve look at my blog, so maybe I did scrutinize lyrics intensely from time to time, but I think I tried to avoid it. I find really close examinations of Ed’s lyrics don’t really bear fruit, and it’s not all that interesting, at least to me.

    • Nothing facetious intended, no disrespect meant, just found it obvious that you had put a lot of time and effort into it. I realized later how out of date I was, I actually havent cared much for PJ since EdVed took control of the band and tried to turn what was essentially an arena rock groove outfit into Bad Brains or whatever punk group he idolizes, a development that began with this album and continued through to the unlistenable stuff post-yield, but found myself wondering what the hell “Aye Davanita” meant and found your blog. Wow, that last “sentence” could use some serious punctuation. Anyhow, sorry if i ruffled feathers, i honestly dont believe in anonymous fights.

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