Last Soldier

If one wanted to attempt to string a narrative together between recent war-related Pearl Jam songs, then “Last Soldier” might be told in the voice of the absent, overseas father of “Army Reserve”. It’s certainly another attempt on behalf of Vedder to pen a lyric that details the human toll of recent current events. Now the word on the street is that Ed has been working on a soundtrack to a documentary about a severely wounded Iraq War veteran, with a new tune, “No More War”, already making appearances at solo performances. Could/should “Last Soldier” be considered?

One of my greatest disappointments as a Pearl Jam fan is that “Last Soldier” has never, at least not to my knowledge, been attempted in the studio. The song made its live debut at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit concert in the fall of 2001, shortly after the World Trade Center catastrophe, along with “I Am Mine”. But while the latter was already in the can for Riot Act, “Last Soldier” didn’t make the cut, and maybe was never even considered. Mike McCready has been quoted as saying “We never talked about doing it.” Dear lord why not?

The closest I can get to an answer is that the song just never seemed to fit in with any of the projects on the table thus far. The hole in this theory of course, is that in addition to “Last Soldier”, McCready also wrote the music for the similarly styled “Down”, which became both the b-side to “I Am Mine” and a standout track on Lost Dogs. But while “Down” is a wonderful song, I love “Last Soldier” much more, enough that it’s probably in my Top 10. There’s no accounting for taste of course, and my preference might not be something I can justify in words, but I will do my best to extol the virtues of the great semi-lost “Last Soldier”.

The song sounds absolutely effortless. For an open-chord folk strummer, the song is less self-conscious than “Driftin'” and gentler than “Down”. Vedder is full-on Zen mode here, fatalistic yet calm, and his voice reflects that spirit even when delivering lines like “My number’s up / My time has come.” Standing bravely in the face of death is one of the most affecting acts one can portray in art as far as I’m concerned, which is probably why I cry at way too many movies that no one has any right to cry at, like Bruce Willis on that frickin’ asteroid. This is what “Last Soldier” is like for me, minus the tears and shame. It’s just a straight-forward, no bullshit account of sacrifice. The chord progressions are familiar but effective, perfect for the stripped down acoustic arrangement with its poignant harmonica embellishments. Vedder’s melodies are efficient, pretty, and he doesn’t overdo or over-think a single thing.

“Army Reserve” isn’t the only song that can be traced back to “Last Soldier”. “World Wide Suicide” is another that easily springs to mind when considering the lines, “And my decision’s been made / From some other place / By someone I don’t know and they don’t know me.” I’m sure there are plenty more as well. Of course the song’s old man-ish wisdom and peacefulness wouldn’t have flown on either of the last two records. But perhaps someday it might be better recorded for a compilation with other like-minded tracks like “Long Road”, “Who You Are”, any song that seeks clarity and understanding, however difficult or melancholy.

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~ by Michael on May 11, 2007.

9 Responses to “Last Soldier”

  1. I love Last Soldier. I think it’s so much better than I Am Mine, and I’m only comparing the two because of the Bridge School debuts.
    The only other time it was played was:

    04/09/04 – Westin Hotel: Seattle, WA (2nd Annual IMPACT Awards)
    Set: Last Soldier, Down, 1/2 Full

    Another great review by the way.

  2. I love LAST SOLDIER, too. But I’m not sure how many PJ fans love it the way we do. Maybe that’s why nothing more was ever done with it. This type of stuff gets torn down a lot by the fans. Typical is the response to a song like PARACHUTES.

    I love the story-telling in this song. Ed always does such a good job with it. The fatalistic quality is very moving. This is the man who is absent in ARMY RESERVE. It was a really good idea to place these two together. The matter-of-fact quality of the vocals is very effective. It would have worked well at Benaroya Hall.

  3. You’re right. I think the matter-of-fact vocals is what turns people off, although I would like to see a lot more of them. From hearing songs like “Last Soldier” and Ed’s contributions to Cat Power’s “You Are Free” record, there are just so many more places the band can go, and will go. I think mainstream rock and pop radio listeners have been conditioned to associate emotive vocals with actual emotion. In the case of Pearl Jam, I think those two things were pretty damn close together. But too many bands in the wake of PJ aped the superficial quality of the band’s sound, and Ed’s voice, without anything real behind it. And maybe a lot of people have been unfortunately fooled into thinking that if a singer uses a lot of vibrato, etc., that means they really mean it. Because subtler performances just don’t seem to resonate with mainstream rock audiences anymore.

  4. I never heard this one either. Im sure it’s great though!

  5. I really love the way Pearl Jam deal with this one and of course Last Kiss. They have done 2 beautiful covers of oldies, with respect to the originals

  6. Hi Giannis–I think you’re thinking of “Soldier of Love.” “Last Soldier” is a great Pearl Jam original from a Ten Club X-mas single.

  7. C13, you are so right about subtlety going out the window. Have you heard Linkin Park’s latest single? I only mention it because they are playing with Pearl Jam on their European tour.

    The problem might be that you can’t just imitate Eddie Vedder, you need to feel it from the ground up, and the best way to do that is to write songs that actually mean something to you.

  8. I haven’t heard the Linkin Park single, but I was surprised to hear that they were playing with Pearl Jam. I don’t know anything about that band, except that Lincoln Park in Chicago is yuppie headquarters.

  9. Sorry C13 I read your review yesterday and I decided to answer today…so when in the morning I saw the “soldier” I started unfolding my thoughts for Soldier of Love lol!
    So let’s talk about LAST SOLDIER…I think it is one of their best songs of the Holiday Singles.The harmonica parts are so good!

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