Daughter

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”.

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~ by Michael on July 12, 2007.

7 Responses to “Daughter”

  1. Well said, C-13, in regards to Stone’s guitar tuning. It’s such a pivotal part of “Daughter.” Because if you’ve tried to play “Daughter” in standard tuning, you know that you can get close, but it’s not close enough. I LOVE Stone’s work on this.

    I was a little late to the PJ party back in 93, so I had Vs. before I had Ten. That said, I listened to Daughter on repeat for days on end before I realized there were 10 other equally-good tracks on Vs. that deserved my attention. I still don’t really tire of this song. It’s become a treat to hear it live and try to guess what tags Ed will pull out. The only disappointment (for me) comes on those rare nights when Ed decideds that the original version of the song (sans tags) will suffice for the evening.

    To me, it often seems like the Daughter/(insert tag here) always threatens to be the exact point when a live Pearl Jam show transitions from the “this show is just getting started” phase to the “Oh shit, I’ve got to get this bootleg immediately” phase.

    I hate referencing shows I was at, but during the State College 03 show, the opening of the show was very subdued. It was a quiet crowd and the band opened with a very standard Release-Save You-Animal-Cropduster-Corduroy set. It was really good, but missing something. I think Daughter was the 10th song they played and it totally turned the show around into something really special. It was great.

    Anyway, I’m blabbering on with little substance. This is a great, Pearl Jam classic.

  2. In regards to the violins(ence) thing … I believe that’s how it his written in the Vs. liner notes. It highlights another thing I love about ed’s writing, his subtle massaging of the language. Another example, from I Am Mine: The difference between all the “innocence” and “innocents” lost at one time. Means two different things, but the words sound the same when spoken (or sung). Only way to recognize the difference would be to read the liner notes.

    One of the most famous performances of Daughter — hell, probably THE most famous — features this subtlety. Go back and watch the SNL performance of Daughter from back in 1994, weeks after Cobain offed himself. Ed goes through great pains to emphasize violence. He emphasizes that hard “s” sounds at the end. Just to ensure that there’s no mistaking what lyric he means in that instance.

    great, great stuff.

    Another lyrical thing I love about Daughter is the difference between “not fit to” and “not fit to be.” It’s like the protagonist here is vacillating between blaming her parents and blaming herself, as is often the case with abuse victims. One the one hand it’s, “You’re not fit to call me daughter.” On the other it’s, “I’m not fit to be your daugther.” Again, Ed is subtly massaging the language to convey different ideas. I fucking love that.

  3. I agree NoCoder, this song should never be played without a tag.

    Anyone have any guesses on what this line means: “the picture kept will remind me”

    What is this picture of and what will it remind her?

  4. Pure classic…just absolute classic…more classic than even the classics. CLASSIC. I’ve done more than my share of lyric interpretation with Porch, but I can’t help myself from throwing in two cents about the picture…it’s got to be the parent(s), or a family picture, and it will remind her of the abuse and the fact that she’s their daughter, and that’s more than enough…she doesn’t need those people calling her daughter on top of it. And, hold on, now…i’m seeing a family portrait….I’m going to say it’s one of those cheesy photograph “studio” shots like the kind they used to do in the malls…with the cloudy borders and the sky blue backdrop.
    Now, associations with other songs, the picture on the chest in Footsteps and the shades being raised in Rearviewmirror…it just all fits into the classic Ed Vedder theme…with classic music, classic live tradition, and if you really think back and remember, like SoJ, when it first came out, the SNL performance, the radio play…it was a new side of the band hinted at in Crazy Mary, but now out there for all those new fans…C-L-A-S-S-I-C.

  5. Clearly this is one of my favorites and to me as to may fans, this has a very deep personal meaning.
    As far as I know, Ed never wanted to be a spokesperson for youth but with this and many other songs he became one.
    I liked your comments about “the shades go down”. At the Dusseldorf show last month, he actually changed the words to “the pain goes down” and “I will push the pain down”, there’s your advocate again, right?

  6. oleyever, that is kinda what I thought, that the picture is of her biological mother/father. Maybe Ed was thinking about his stepdad, “don’t call me (son), not fit to be, the picture kept (of my real father) will remind me”

  7. […] 3. Daughter […]

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