The opening barrage of chords leading into a squall of noise from the far reaches of Vedder’s throat on “Breakerfall” gave me exactly what I wanted from Pearl Jam the first time I heard it back in 2000. I was finishing up my junior year in college, and had neither the time nor the will to stay glued to the radio in hopes of hearing album tracks from the new record in the weeks preceding, and who knows if radio stations even did that sort of thing anymore, as radio stations continued to fall one by one under Clear Channel’s domain, ever more constricted by rigid formatting. So I came at “Breakerfall”, and Binaural, with fresh ears. The introduction to the album was the perfect “Hello, how have you been?” from a band that I still loved intensely, but had grown somewhat away from.

The pleasures of fandom are great but so too are the pitfalls. It’s been immense fun to follow setlists, buy way too many bootlegs, and get that unique sense of excitement when hearing about a new song for the first time, or a new record. And no band has inspired that feeling for me in quite the same way as Pearl Jam, since they were the first to give me that feeling. But it’s also been important to step away for a little while or a long while, and gain some different perspective. I think I was first able to do this between Yield and Binaural, mostly because through college I was exposed to so many different types of music, people, experiences, and ideas that I didn’t have access to before. So when I came at “Breakerfall” and everything that followed, it was a different kind of listening.

“Breakerfall” is usually described as sounding extremely Who-ish, and though I’m not very knowledgeable about that band, I would agree based on what I’ve heard. It shares the same driving urgency and confidence that propel “My Generation”, “I Can See For Miles” et al. It would seem strange that though Ed has always been a Who superfan, one of his most Who-inspired songs wouldn’t be written until his 6th record. But that’s the nature of influence just as it is of appreciation, you take time away from certain things you enjoy until it feels right and natural to return. Throughout Pearl Jam’s career thus far, certain threads weave in and out for every member of the band, with perceptible inspiration: Neil Young, the Ramones, the Who. Others are more obscure, unknown, or broad ; the band has always been attracted to funk and R&B, occasionally trying out certain elements and trying to make them their own.

“Breakerfall”, though it probably isn’t one of the most substantial songs Ed or the band has written, does show their ability to be inspired and influenced by their heroes without simply imitating them–a fact that sets them apart from the untold legions of dudes (most definitely deserving that special connotation of “dudes”) that still patrol the airwaves in Pearl Jam’s footsteps. Hearing the band go after the song with ferocity was comforting after I myself had taken so many detours: you can go back as much as you want to, and still find something new.

The song takes a theme that I think is pretty pervasive in Ed’s writing that I’ve just now realized, and might make a good discussion topic, that ideas can empower or erode a person. The unnamed girl of “Breakerfall” can only be saved by love, we are told with certainty. Love of what, however, is left unsaid. Where I would usually carp about a lack of specificity, here I think it’s important to the song that it’s the concept of love the character needs, not a specific romantic love or whatever. “She’s standing outside hating everyone here”: how often have you or I felt that way? I hate everyone most of the time. But to open one’s self to love, to look at the perpetually spinning ball of humanity with something resembling hope, is the path to change.  In this way, it’s likely that although the song is written in the third person, with a female protagonist, Vedder is singing about himself: the evolution from simply raging against the machine(s), to focusing and ultimately transforming it, whatever that machine might be, from something personal like a break-up, to something global like war.  “Breakerfall”, in a nutshell, is how to grow up and still remain true to one’s self.


~ by Michael on July 16, 2007.

8 Responses to “Breakerfall”

  1. Wow, you are good. Amazing write up C13. This song just hit me about 6 or 7 months ago. It is amazing. Plus I realized (in my opinion) this song is about a country and not a girl. Mr. Eddie Metaphor at work as usual.

  2. I can completely relate to the feeling of coming of age, musically speaking, between Yield and Binaural. In May of 2000, I was finishing my freshmen year of college and in that year, I was exposed to so much new music, my entire perspective changed. Pearl Jam was all I knew before that and when Binaural was released, it was the equivalent of meeting an old friend for dinner….we needed to first catch up. As C-13 said more eloquantly than I, “Breakerfall” was the perfect ice breaker. I LOVE this song.

    Of course, I could squabble on about how I believe the production values of a certain producer damn near ruined this song for me, but alas, I need to finally let that go. “Breakerfall,” both on the album and in the live setting, is a full-throttled blast. It is one of those straight-forward songs that I think the guys have a blast playing and I love hearing.

    Lyrically, BYM may be on to something, but I’m not yet convinced that that particularly metaphor is what EV was going for. But it will make for an interesting listen to picture this “girl” as a country on my next listen to the song.

  3. I LOVE this song, too. Initially, it was my favorite song on Binaural.

    One of the things that Eddie does so well that the dude-followers don’t really do is write convincingly and well about women and from a woman’s perspective. He does it so naturally that we aren’t even aware of it a lot of the time. I like BYM’s interpretation, but I think that this song can be interepreted in a more personal way as well.

    The lines from HAIL HAIL,

    “Are you woman enough to be my man?
    Bandaged hand in hand,”

    sum up, for me, the idea that all of us have aspects of both male and female in our psyche’s, and that we should strive to make contact with both.

    I also love these lines from BREAKERFALL,

    “It’s like she’s lost her invitation to the party on earth
    And she’s standing outside hating everyone here.”

    As C13, wrote, who hasn’t felt this way, and who felt this way more than Eddie at the height of his fame?

  4. firstofall, it sounds like i’m older and more male than most you. yield before my ancient wisdom girls. I’m about to make contact with my female psyche, up in here. So, secondofall, to get away from the debate of how good or not this song is, (it’s a good Binaural song), and to address the theme that c13 suggests might be a good discussion topic, the love that will breakerfall is like the love in “Given to Fly” – just gives it away, the love he receives is the love that is saved. She doesn’t need to fall in love…she needs to receive love to breakerfall. It’s learning to BE loved. Any idiot can be IN love, (even with this song)…but allowing yourself to receive and feel love…well, it broke my fall. Breakerfall is wicked similar in sound and theme to the Who’s “Let my love open the door”. (Polemic comments for discussion purposes only and do not reflect true character.)

  5. Wow oleyever! I need to get more in touch with my male half.

    The idea of learning how to be loved is an interesting one. I think that Eddie dwells more on actually giving out love. As if the more love given out, the more that is returned, but he also talks about love as a general thing. Like a blanket that we all should wrap around ourselves.

    If this song is autobiographical, it’s a pretty harsh commentary. I know that Ed had significant writer’s block during the recording of Binaural and that the instrumental versions for some of his songs were recorded and finished before the lyrics were written. I wonder if this was one of them.

  6. Ed’s backing vocals are very cool.

  7. what i think its about is this look at the first verse:-

    There’s a girl on a ledge who’s got nowhere to turn.
    Cause all the love that she had was just wood that she burned.
    Now her life is on fire it’s no ones concern.
    She can blame the world or prey till dawn.
    But only love can break her fall.

    its about a bird that has been in a relationship! and really F*cked it all up, she has been a really nasty piece of work in her last relationshp wether its a sexual partner or just friends and family. basically she has just realised that she has been so selfish that nobody wants anything more to do with her !! and here she is at about to be banished from the party on earth .. she has nobody to stop her jumping thats why love would stop her doing it

  8. […] 1. Breakerfall […]

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