The new favorite catch-phrase for mainstream media to apply Pearl Jam supplanted “grunge” and even “alternative” a year or two ago. These days the band is widely regarded as “the Grateful Dead of their generation”. There are probably more reasons to argue with this description than to agree with it, but Pearl Jam’s propensity for widely varied setlists and extended improvisation, not to mention an extremely loyal (and willing to travel) fanbase, lends the comparison some credibility. One of the songs most responsible for bridging the gap between rock radio staple and live band heroes is “Daughter”.
Along with “Small Town”, “Daughter” is a kind of acoustic bookend on Vs. (2 songs precede the latter, 2 follow the former). But where “Elderly Woman” focuses on… umm… an elderly woman, the attentions of “Daughter” are turned to the other end of the birth-death continuum. At the time of its release, “Daughter” furthered Vedder’s reputation for youth advocacy, and also garnered the singer much-deserved attention for developing into a solid character-based songwriter. Though he would go on to build those skills in even more impressive fashion, “Daughter” displays an ingrained knack for the empathy and creativity fundamental to effective storytelling.
Although I know the lyrics by heart, I went to the official site just to see them in front of me, and was tickled by the transcription of “violins” as “violins(ence)”, a knowing nod to two valid interpretations of Vedder’s pronunciation. The titular character of the song is clearly having a rough go of adolescence, though much of the trauma inflicted on her by her family is implied rather than explicit. In keeping with recent posts, “Daughter” is another good choice to contrast with “Porch”, as its assigns important clues to its meaning to concrete imagery (“the shades go down”) rather than emotive language. Visualizing someone pulling down shades in a house lets us feel more deeply that something bad’s going down, and we’ve been steered so efficiently that what we imagine is likely close to what the author intended.
Musically, “Daughter” gets much of its distinct sound not just from the acoustic guitars, but from the fact that Stone’s guitar is not tuned to standard. His alternate tuning still produces chords that are somewhat familiar, but just different enough to make it unique, and frustrating to try and pull off at a campfire for your friends if you don’t know the trick. Unlike its thematic cousin “Jeremy”, which is outwardly darker and more difficult, the bulk of “Daughter” is warm and appropriately domestic, only to be turned on its head by the haunted outro, spun so faithfully over the years into everything from “American Pie” to “Noise of Carpet” to “Atomic Dog”.