Spin the Black Circle
In the early ’90s, it’s no surprise that snippets of the lead-off single to Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy would leave some to believe the song was about heroin, especially in the wake of numerous tragedies in 1994 and years prior. “See this needle! / See my hand! / Drop drop dropping it down oh so gently!” Vedder screeched over a torrent of raw punk chords: don’t think for a second that the connotations were lost on the band or unintended. But still, Vedder’s purpose, cheeky as it was, was to glorify the fading technology of vinyl records, G.
Vitalogy as a whole is something of a grasp for purity and control, often in the face of cosmic odds. As a symbol, you can’t get much better than an old 45, 78, or what have you, as a metaphor for the good old days. The band had Epic release Vitalogy on vinyl two-weeks before the CD edition, and the artwork for all three singles (“STBC”, “Not For You”, and “Immortality”) were given old Epic 45 sleeves (which curiously referred to their parent album as Life). Though all but extinct to mainstream music fans thanks to the digital clarity and song-skipping convenience of CD’s, vinyl records still hold allure to audiophiles and music lovers who treasure the time and patience required to tend to them, the size and quality of the artwork, and the warmth and fullness of the sound.
As everything Vedder loved about music was seemingly becoming subsumed by commercial considerations, hype, ridiculous expectations, and overall bullshit, “Spin the Black Circle” channeled his love for the pleasures of the record format as a defiant stance against the rapidly speeding up music industry. And all this before the ease and prevalence of the mp3! For the band’s part, some members have remarked that the grinding bash-it-out punk rock of STBC was territory they’d long since covered in their youth (Green River et al), and that the simplicity of the song had felt redundant to them at the time. Most likely this reaction was also caused by Vedder’s taking control of Vitalogy, and the band, at this time. But while Ed’s desperate grab at aesthetic virtue may have spun the band into further crises at the time (along with the Ticketmaster battles, etc.), it eventually pulled them through the fray of superstardom, and kept the band focused on doing what they do for the love of it, the passion that made them music geeks and fans in their youth, angling that needle down to the groove, and getting lost in the world that sound creates.