Parting Ways

“Drifting away…” Drifting yes, but of a much different sort than “Driftin'”. Tides are always pushing and pulling in the Pearl Jam songbook, marine imagery all over the place as you’d expect from a lyricist with a serious passion for surfing. “Parting Ways” is no exception, though its reference is subtle. It’s an interesting thread to follow throughout the band’s catalog, how and when oceanic themes and language are used. Sometimes the seas are choppy, violent, or simply pull loved ones far away. Other times the ocean is benevolent, home, supportive.

In “Parting Ways” of course, the currents that once glided people towards each other, have shifted. If you hadn’t heard the song, only that its subject matter dealt with a crumbling relationship, you might expect some serious old-school Pearl Jam anguish. And you’d be wrong. There’s no shortage of sadness in “Parting Ways”, in fact the song is infused with a deep sense of loss, but there’s also acceptance, however reluctant. The song is written in the third person, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the authorial voice of the song is part of the story/breakup. It’s also written in the present tense, though the perspective of the song is possessed of the kind of wisdom that usually (hopefully) comes after time and contemplation. These two forms of detachment are essential to the power and hopeful maturity of the song.

It’s pretty clear that “Parting Ways” exists thanks in no small part to “Long Road”. The musical similarities are glaring, but the almost Buddhist-like philosophy, while less so, is also present in both songs. I read somewhere that the song was attempted for Yield (and in fact, the song was soundchecked even prior to No Code), but it doesn’t surprise me that it didn’t appear fully until Binaural. If the song has any kind of autobiographical resonance, which I don’t care to speculate on much more than this, it probably would have been too much to perform without more closure and distance. But there it is at the end of Binaural, searching for handfuls of solace from a few echoing chords and warm, sonorous cellos (hey Pearl Jam! more cellos please!), and somehow finding it.


~ by Michael on May 15, 2007.

10 Responses to “Parting Ways”

  1. This is about his relationship with Beth, right? I think it came to an end during the Binaural period. Nice song 😉

  2. I’ve always thought this was a great album closer. C13, you hit on something really important: the acceptance of the chaacters in this song to understand that the end has come. This is a break-up song for grown ups. A song for those of us who have been in relationships that fail for one reason or another and even if it’s painful, we know it’s for the best. That what I hear when I listen to “Parting Ways.” I wish the song was longer, but it’s still one of my favorites.

  3. This is my favorite song on Binaural. The cello and viola are beautiful, and I love the way they die away as the song dies away. I also love Eddie’s voice on this one.

    For the Binaural songs, are you going to talk about Tchad Blake and binaural recording at all. I believe this is one of the tracks that was remixed by Brendan O’Brien. Are you one of the people who likes the sound on binaural, or do you feel that it could have been clearer?

  4. More cellos is always a good idea. Always.

  5. I’m not much of a recording/audio-phile, though I’m a musician and am gradually paying more and more attention to that sort of thing. Apart from the dog growling from speaker to speaker on “Rival”, I haven’t given too much thought to the overall sound quality on “Binaural”. My general feeling is that some songs sound roomier than others, but I will pay more attention to the binaural recording–that’s an interesting aspect to explore.

  6. I think the sound quality on Binaural is the best yet. It is recorded/ mastered so well. It makes sense, the title refers to the way each song, or at least a good part of the song, is recorded (Binauraly). They do this by putting 2 microphones in a human dummy head which pick up sound in the inner and outer ear, the shape of the human head creates a surface for which sound to move. This only works when using headphones. It can be reproduced using just a stereo. Tchad Blake, is probally the guy who mastered and mixed this album, it’s one of his trademarks i guess.

    The song is probably my favorite off of Binaural, and is uber similar to “Long Road”. Both have nearly identical tempos and usee the same ringing D chord. Parting Ways only adds a few note between each strumm, while “long road” keeps a rythmm with a single note.

  7. I had to just throw in the other side of the argument: I think the production on “Binaural” ruins the album. To my ears, it sounds like one big muddled mess. And yes, I’ve listened on heaphones and I’ve listened with the volume up but nothing makes it sound any better to me. I am happy that Tchad Blake has not come within 10 miles of a Pearl Jam song since 1999/2000. My one major complaint is that Ed’s vocals are just completely drowned out for most of the album. Had songs like “Breakerfall”, “Grievance” or “Insignificance” been recorded by Brendan O’Brien with a cleaner sound, I think the results would have been so much stronger. Sorry, PT, I’m definately not trying to be a pain…just sharing some thoughts.

  8. Doesn’t bother me at all, thats what opinons our for anyway.

  9. I think the production on the slower songs from Binaural are amazing. ‘Of the Girl’ is breathtaking in it’s production, so is ‘Parting Ways’. But I’m no producer, so I would rather hear the opinion of a producer on what they think of the Binaural sound.

  10. All these comments about Cellos! Have you all gone mad and forgotten about April Cameron’s stellar Viola playing? Matt’s wife also played viola on Wellwater Conspiracy’s “Felicity’s Surprise”, in which Eddie wrote co-wrote and sang) Justine Foy played the Cello, and he and April have played live with PJ during ‘Parting Ways’.

    Just to comment on this song being soundchecked in 1996. Yes it was soundchecked, but it was just a shell of the song, not fully writen or even close to completed. I don’t think the words ‘parting ways” or “drifting away” were used, (it was pretty much mumblings, ala Yellow Ledbetter) The verses were played over and over again for 6 or 7+ minutes.

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