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.


~ by Michael on June 1, 2007.

7 Responses to “Spin the Black Circle”

  1. Really interesting post, C13. I enjoy StBC…it’s not my favorite, but it’s worth a listen every now and then. But I’ve always found this “era” of PJ history to be the most interesting. From all that we’ve read and heard, this is the time when we came closest (maybe with the exception of post-Roskilde) to losing this band. I think that 1995 was a pretty tumultuous year for the band and every time I listen to Vitalogy, I can’t help but think, “What if this had been the last Pearl Jam record?” Doesn’t matter now, but I always thought it was interesting.

    Anyway, StBC — yeah, I don’t know. Really enjoy the album version. Can take or leave the live version. I feel like Comatose could have bene called “StBC Part II” but I digress…Lyrically, I’ve always assumed the literal meaning was pretty obvious. But I guess people wanted to stretch and find some alternative meaning to these words. I can see where they’re coming from. I’m rambling.

  2. I agree with NoCoder. We came really close to losing the band during the Vitalogy era. When I listen to the album, the fury of it blows me away. There are times when Vedder seems like he’s going to spontaneously combust. It’s still amazing to me that they were able to go from Vitalogy to the introspection of No Code.

    C13, thank-you for including some of the band’s history in your reviews. I had read that Jeff, especially, was not happy with the direction that Vitalogy took. That’s too bad because Vitalogy is certainly one of the great albums of the 90’s.

  3. Vitalogy might not be Pearl Jam’s best collection of songs (or it might, I dunno), but it is definitely Pearl Jam at its best, if that makes any sense.

    “About to spontaneously combust,” as the poster above me put it, is about right. The band was like a speeding car about to veer through the guard rail and over a cliff … and this record sounds that way.

    The songs were important. They had Meaning, with a capital M. Listening to this album, you felt like you were listening to a person about to lose their mind.

    That’s all very powerful to a boy of 18, which was my age when this album came out.

    I think Yield is my favorite PJ album. It has the best songs, imo. But I don’t think any album will ever be as powerful and important as Vitalogy.

  4. I talked about this one with a friend who listens to Pearl Jam since 1992-93 (me since 2001). He loves this song because he has lived the vinyl era, and he still collects vinyls. Me, speaking as a child of the compact disc era, I can’t really appreciate what this sing says. Musically is quite good, but lyrically speaking has nothing to say to me (but to others has).

  5. Intresting choice for the lead off single, but it did what it had too: If pj released corduroy first the album would have been too “like the ones before” (ie vs and ten). And StBC shows the anger and driection in the band perfectly, it pushed just hard enough to make rom for corduroy.

    Also i cannot believe they won a grammy for this song, its not there best or most radio friendly at all; there is however plenty more songs on that record and the previous that could do it. weird. but they deserved it, even if they didn’t want it, for just being the talented bunch that they are.

  6. i really think i would have never gotten around to listening to anything grittier than, say, PJ singles, in my life, if not for “Spin the Black…”. gonna go pop that fugazi record in.

    i realized the other day that pavement’s “grounded” is a major-key version of corduroy. check it out.

    anyways, i’m doing the songs of the magnetic fields, which has nothing to do with PJ other than that i’m doing all the songs, so maybe consider me for your blogroll? all my little words

  7. I adore Pavement, and “Grounded” in particular. Really? A major key version of “Corduroy”? I really will have to check that out. Pearl Jam was also a branching out point for me, but instead of heading to Fugazi, I took the “Crazy Mary” — Sweet Relief — Jayhawks — Wilco — 16 Horsepower… and on and on road. Will definitely add the Magnetic Fields blog to the roll. Saw them in Chicago on the “i” tour. Good luck!

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