Setting: my 8th grade music class in rural New England. The assignment is to bring in a recording of a favorite song, play it for the class, read the lyrics aloud, and discuss what the song means. I wanted “Jeremy”–and were it not for the “fuck” clearly audible in the song’s second verse (harmless and little though it was), it would have been my selection. As it were, I chose “Alive”, but my music teacher did persuse the liner notes in the cassette, and remarked about “Jeremy”, “this is some disturbing stuff.” I couldn’t exactly argue.

In 1991, mainstream rock and roll was still largely concerned with hairspray and babes, love in elevators and unskinny bopping. Graphic examinations of teen suicide and school violence were not generally considered chart toppers. But “Jeremy” had that incessant hook bellowed by that expressive baritone, and backed by a distinctive 12-string bass driven arrangement–if it weren’t for the subject matter, it’d be no surprise that the song was known back-to-front by rock fans the world over in a matter of months. In 2007, “Jeremy” still haunts–an unfortunately prescient bit of songwriting in a world where school murders and suicide seem increasingly common.

Without delving too deep into a song that has already been written about exhaustively, I want to mention that of Vedder’s “troubled youth” songs, it ranks near the very best, if not the best. Lyrically it’s his the strongest effort on Ten from a technical standpoint, efficiently making great use of strong imagery without getting confusing or self-consciously poetic, as Vedder let his imagination fill in the blanks in the story of the late Jeremy Wade Delle. Without coming close to condoning Jeremy’s horrifying end, Vedder and the band present a character with a realistic background that digs deeper than newspaper and other media accounts of similarly depressed kids. The media, because it’s charged with reaching as many people as possible, tends to reduce human beings to overly simplistic terms–celebrities, politicians, mass murderers, school shooters–making everyone too easy to dismiss. “Jeremy” makes it more difficult to dismiss, detailing a whole community of people surrounding this child, reminding us that we all have a part to play in each others’ lives: we are not simply spectators.


~ by Michael on May 22, 2007.

13 Responses to “Jeremy”

  1. This was my favorite Pearl Jam song for a long time (before I really began to enjoy the textured sounds of some of the band’s more recent albums). I still come back to this song often; it feels like a band at its most sincere. Sixteen years later, the song still carries an emotional weight in the live setting that cannot be beat. Ed seems to sing this one with gusto every single time out. I love that. Musically, I’ve also loved Jeff’s work on this song. And I loved the way the song was reworked in ’95 and ’96 with a much more laid back, borderline ambient, feel. This will always be one of my favorites. Great write up, C13.

  2. Thanks NC: I can’t believe I forgot about the reworked version!!! I LOVE that stripped down version. I’d probably put the re-worked Jeremy in my top 10 or 15.

  3. …back in the summer of 2001, a 16 years old boy who had been listening to Nirvana that summer, decided to give a try to another band from Seattle named Pearl Jam. He bought a copy of Ten and…his life changed, Pearl Jam became his favourite band and he bought every album of them within a month. Jeremy became the anthem that this boy dreamed to hear one day live. His dream came true five years later in his first PJ concert in Lisbon…and he also heared this one on the first concert of his favourite band in his country ever (Greece).

    One of their best for sure. The singalong of the crowd at the end of the song is a perfect live moment.

  4. Great story Giannis! Have you ever heard the re-worked version?

  5. Great song, defiently “haunting”. And, despite all of the attention (good or bad) it recieved, what a great music video. Very, very cool music video.

  6. Jeremy is a great tune, I think it holds up better than a lot of TEN songs these days.

    The banned Jeremy video (not the black and white original version) where you see Jeremy actually stick the gun in his mouth is crazy. Although maybe too direct, this version would of cleard the common misconception that he killed his classmates.

    On a side note, I always wondered if the Delle family sued PJ for this song. Isn’t that decimation of character? I would think Ed would change the name.

  7. Yes c13 I have heard the reworked version of Jeremy! Is the one they played in Red Rocks 95 right? Great version and Eddie plays guitar also! But I prefer the original one because it suits better in a concert, is more intense

  8. Could you please suggest a bootleg that has the reworked version on it? I haven’t heard it.

  9. Hey ericdb chech this youtube link –>

    and this is the mp3 of this version –>

  10. To me, the best of the “anthem” songs from that era

  11. I agree Charlie, altough Even Flow sometimes takes that spot for me.

  12. Nice. I had never heard the re-worked version of Jeremy before. As omnipresent as the song was in the years 1992-1994, I never really tired of it. Credit should go to the band, too, for not abandoning the song — even though it must have driven them crazy to play it night after night and to know some fans attended their shows just to hear that one song.

    I do like the song better, though, without the first chorus, the way the band plays it live (almost?) exclusively now. The vocals are absent from the chorus now, but my favorite has to be the radio-broadcast Atlanta 1994 version, where upon reaching the chorus, Dave just counts off before the band launches into the second verse.

    As noted by Believe You Me, Jeremy has aged very well, and to my ears only Oceans and Release from Ten can say the same. In fact, the more I think about it, the more it seems clear that what set those songs apart is that they made the best use of Eddie’s voice as an instrument. Not just any singer could have handled the intense, sustained vocal parts that close all three tracks.

  13. one thing i love about this song is how beautiful the music is around the incredibly dark tragic lyrics, it really gives the song this whole powerful atmosphere that not a lot of bands could accomplish with this subject matter. im not really into political bands or bands that mainly write about universal issues for some reason, but this is different, and i think it probably spoke to a lot of people about the problem of school violence and depressed kids. its such a real thing and i think it takes a lot of balls for a band to write about such a thing, let alone actually score a radio hit with it, especially because they dont support or condemn the kid in the song. they just tell the story, all the facts, and i think explain a little of the psychology behind it. probably one of the saddest songs ever written, because its true

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