There’s a lot of mystery/contradictory information out there regarding the song that has come to be known as “Falling Down”. An old issue of Rumor Pit claims that the music was written by Ed Vedder. However, part of the song was later recycled to become “Distress”, by Mike McCready side project The Rockfords, which is credited to the guitarist and his bandmates. Furthermore, in the packaging of Lost Dogs, the song title “Fallen” is clearly visible on one of the many master tapes in the central photograph, leading some to speculate that “Falling Down” and “Fallen” are one and the same.
The only live performance of “Falling Down” occurred on June 20, 1995, at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, during the sit-down, acoustic set that opened the show. It doesn’t appear on the written setlist, as it should between “Footsteps” and “Betterman”. But arrowed between those two songs, with a tentative question mark, is “This Boy”. Now, “This Boy” is a song by That Dog that the band tagged onto “Daughter” at the very same show, and would be covered by Ed on its own later that year. But the lyrics to “Falling Down” do include “You’re a boy / You’re a boy / You’re a boy”, so is this a connection or red herring?
Most Pearl Jam songs that are only played once, never to be heard from again, and which are titled by bootleggers, turn out to be improvisations: from “Seven Years Waiting” to “On the Moon”. But “Falling Down” sounds just put together enough to qualify as a fully-conceived composition. It’s not completely developed, particularly with regards to the lyric and vocal melody, but it’s not far off. The opening “Distress” guitar riff is ambling and pastoral with the same sort of wistful charm as “Untitled”, and the lyrics are also nostalgic: “Oh something to remember me by / Oh something to place in your hand.” Then the song shifts abruptly to a darker, minor-chord chorus for the hook, “I’m falling down.”
Ed’s performance is hesitant, as if the decision to play the song was spontaneous and gung-ho, but actually singing it revealed what was unfinished for him. The long instrumental section/McCready’s solo is as epic as you’d expect, and would be very interesting to hear from a studio version. The song also goes through an extended outro with Ed repeating “I cannot apologize”, which blurs the line a little bit between improv and finished work. Perhaps “Falling Down” is really half-and-half, an experiment blending a completed instrumental with Ed given free reign to test out some of his notebook ideas. Whatever it is, the song has sparked the imagination of fans the way all unreleased Pearl Jam songs have, and the hopes it will one day be explained.