With “Insignificance”, a protest song in part about the futility of protest songs, did Pearl Jam stop trying to make a difference? No way. What it did, along with its compatriot “Grievance”, was attempt to reignite and reinvigorate the band’s political nature in the wake of the WTO protests, and the public awakening to the realities of global economic and governmental superstructures. It’s not enough to just play C3 in the jukebox, and let the song protest, when there’s a ginormous military-industrial lobby in bed with the government that needs war in order to remain profitable.
Vedder may have had writer’s block during the creation of Binaural, but he still managed to eke out a pair of forceful political songs that took a bit of piss out of the rapid-growth ’90s. Sounding as dark and huge as the nebulae adorning the album’s artwork, “Insignificance” introduced stuttering drum-shifts into trademark Vedder guitar progressions and riffs, while the lyrics imagined a town getting obliterated by bombs. “Please forgive our hometown,” he sings on the chorus, in reference to Seattle’s Boeing being a major manufacturer of war planes.
“Insignificance” is a showcase not only for Vedder’s renewed and refocused political awareness, but for new old drummer Matt Cameron, who bashes the hell out of his kit on every performance (and it should be noted that as with many Pearl Jam songs, the live version of “Insignificance” benefits from an added jolt of energy). The sheer force and vigor that Cameron brought to the band adds an even deeper sense of urgency to lines like “It’s instilled to wanna live,” which hopefully gives American listeners pause to reflect on the fact that words like “civilian casualities” that we rarely even hear on network news regarding our involvement in other countries, is just news-speak for towns like the one in the song getting crushed and blown up, tens of thousands of people who lived to love and loved to live dying horrific deaths that somehow raise the stock value for people on the other side of the world. And even more hopefully, it inspired at least a few folks to do more than let the song protest, but to become involved in local and wider communities to work for change.