While some Ed Vedder solo compositions have yet to see full band treatment (“You’re True”, “Longing to Belong”, etc.), “Gone” had a quick turnaround from its creation to its appearance on 2006’s Pearl Jam. Similar to “Elderly Woman”, “Gone” instantly won the favor of the rest of the band, who cajoled Vedder into further developing the song. Written (and demoed) in a hotel room just the night before its first performance in Atlantic City, New Jersey, “Gone” is the latest in a long line of Ed tunes which focus on escape via automobile. In that respect, the song wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place on Yield, sounding like an amalgam of “MFC” and “In Hiding”.
What starts out as a glum, sadsack moodpiece eventually breaks out with a clatter of triumphant chords on the chorus. Then the cycle of build-up and release starts anew. Acknowledged by Vedder as a latter day “Rearviewmirror”, “Gone” is lyrically direct: an escapist anthem about getting out of a dead-end town/job/situation. Had the Pete Townshend reference “If nothing is everything / I’ll have it all” appeared on Vs., however, it would have certainly been connoted as suicidal. In 2006, thankfully that sort of dire Gen-X assumption doesn’t wash. Also including the line “This American dream / I’m disbelieving”, “Gone” is much more concerned with socio-political themes of materialism, the environment, and Big Oil (“When the gas in my tank / Feels like money in the bank”), than it is with personal crisis.
The larger escape in “Gone”, of the kind that makes Vedder wish for “Tee-pees-R-Us”, is framed in the narrative of an individual attempting his own flight from society (via a hybrid no less, according to the man himself). That’s an important step in Vedder’s development as a writer. Where he once played down his writing skill with regard to “Rearviewmirror”, saying “I am not a good enough writer to have an agenda or come up with a message and try to put it into a song,” he has since learned that good writers DON’T have agendas that they try to squeeze awkwardly (and preachily) into songs. Good writers use interesting language to describe events and actions that inspire feeling in their listeners. To force an agenda in art inevitably results in something didactic that is not art, but rather propaganda or advertising.
Although I would hesitate to hold “Gone” in the upper echelon of Pearl Jam songs, or even more specifically Vedder-penned Pearl Jam songs, it’s quite good, belying a growing confidence in the overall arc a song can take, and because of lines like “The lights of the city / Only look good when I’m speeding”. Perhaps a cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”, or Victoria Williams’s “Lights” is in order?