Hail, Hail

My list of mistakes lesser bands have made in attempting to imitate Pearl Jam could grow ever more longer, but perhaps its time to put fitting closure to it with “Hail, Hail”, as that’s certainly not a song the grunge peanut gallery has taken up as a blueprint. As another fan wrote here, Pearl Jam songs have always been about something, even the most obscure (by way of writing and by way of diction). But they’ve still got a reputation for just being “deep”, whatever the hell that means. And though the band is credited for writing strong politically and socially-themed songs, not enough attention has been paid to the fact that, like any rock band worth their salt, they’ve got a strong clutch of relationship songs as well. “Hail, Hail” is something of a landmark song for Pearl Jam in that the way it deals with issues of love displays rapid maturation from earlier work, and because the brisk, rapid-fire chord changes and construction effectively bridged the gap between the punk and classic rock sides of the band. It’s not just that it’s about something, but how.

Recently, More Than Ten looked at “Alone” and “Porch”, one a classic b-side, another a classic album track, but both concerning relationship anguish from unrequited love to dissolution.  Both songs are explosive, and are heavy with emotion both in the writing and performance, but they deal almost exclusively with the aftermath of traumatic romantic experiences.  While I enjoy and appreciate both songs for that, I’ve found as I’ve grown older than I can no longer relate to them for that reason.  It’s not that I haven’t experienced similar feelings; quite the contrary, as I’ve had many more years of relationships. It’s that what I’m looking for in music isn’t just to appreciate someone else’s feelings, but to understand them better and experience similar feelings myself.  “Hail, Hail” is remarkable in its use of language to really delve into the reasons why relationships fail, rather than just a tormented lament at the simple fact that they do.

Nowhere is this idea more obvious than in the line “I can be new / You underestimate me”, which has to be one of the most desperate lines in all of rock and roll.  Seven words painfully sum up one of love’s greatest challenges: to continue to stay fresh and remain interested over the years.  But how possible is it to “be new” when one partner is already far down the path of wanting out? That question is at the heart of the pain and desperation of the line, wanting so badly to start over, see and be seen with new eyes/hearts/thoughts even though the love is fading away. Ouch.

“Is there room for both of us? / Both of us apart? / Are we bound out of obligation / Is that all we’ve got?” The lyrics themselves aren’t full of emotional language; rather they are questioning, thoughtful.  But they are without a doubt capable of inspiring emotion, both in the listener, and one can imagine for the object of the song. Anyone asking themselves these types of questions, or asking them of someone else, is taking a damn hard look at their relationship, in a mature but nonetheless driven manner.

And then of course, “I sometimes realize / That I can only be as good as you’ll let me / Are you woman enough to be my man?”  Susan has already pointed out the gender play of this line as being indicative of Vedder’s knack for both writing female characters and understanding them in his songs.  Here, the singer delivers a line that none of his aggressively, stereotypically “masculine” followers would dare. I’ll leave it up to comments for interpretation, as I haven’t mustered a definitive one, but it does efficiently represent an idea of gender as something more fluid and less defined than mainstream notions.

Musically, the song is brutal, particularly with it breathless crashing-in following “Sometimes” on No Code.  However, it still manages to move quickly and with some grace.  In that way it mirrors the seemingly contradictory line mentioned above.  Punkish yet melodic, aggressive yet thoughtful, swift yet complex.  There is perhaps more than can be said about “Hail, Hail” (certainly more than I touched on here) than a lot of the band’s other work, right down to its single’s haunting artwork, or its mantra “Hail hail to the lucky ones / I refer to those in love”.  A true egg rolling, thick and heavy.


~ by Michael on July 27, 2007.

10 Responses to “Hail, Hail”

  1. Jesus, that is one great write-up to come start back up on, C-13! Well played! I don’t really know where to start with this song. I think as time goes along, I think of “Hail Hail” as one of this band’s best songs, and as you referenced, one of EV’s better lyrical performances.

    “I can be new/You underestimate me”. I guess I don’t need to dive into my personal take on this line, and the emotional pain it instills in me, having once said something very similar. But as C-13 so eloquently said, these seven words capture everything inherently difficult about a love that is dying. Ed’s delivery of this line has become a special moment in each performance for me.

    Speaking of performance, this is a song that I DO NOT EVER TIRE of hearing. At all. Along with DTE, “Hail, Hail” is a song I could listen to everyday from here on out. I’m glad that it has stayed prominent in the live shows over the years. I still remember seeing the guys do this on Letterman in 96. I was in 10th grade at the time and it was that performance that turned me from a casual fan into a hardcore fan.

    Glad to have you back, C-13!

  2. Thanks NoCoder! I had that first paragraph since about Monday, but being on a quasi-vacation, hadn’t been able to finish it. Also some paid writing work I’d been neglecting that was nearing deadline. Hopefully I’ll be able to be consistent from here on out.

  3. C13, this is another great write-up that puts into words, in one concise package, what is special about this song. A lot of people concede that Pearl Jam spawned a sort of sensitive dude band assembly line. This is one of the songs that I play when people ask me what sets PJ apart from the ones who came after.

    “Brutal” is truly an appropriate word, both lyrically and musically. I’ve always thought of this song as written from the perspective of an individual who is still in love and wants to continue a relationship with a partner who is pulling away. It seems that relationships often end this way. At the end there is a period in which the partners spend a good deal of time justifying to eachother why the relationship should either end or continue. This phase is not pleasant for either party, and I relate strongly to these lines,

    “Get the words, and then I get to thinkin’
    I don’t wanna think, I wanna feel
    How do I feel?
    How do I?…”

    There is often a longing to go back to the period of time in which one was just falling in love and “feeling” was all that mattered.

    The way that the lyrics question the many facets of a long relationship that is coming to an end and even delve into the perspective of the partner as so characteristic of Eddie. Love is usually treated in such a simple-minded fashion in rock. It’s this kind of thoughtful treatment of a subject that is so often sung about that makes Pearl Jam special.

    C13, our lives are just a little emptier when you aren’t paying attention to us. We miss you when you are away or busy with other things.

  4. Lyrically, one of my favorite PJ songs (I know, I say that a lot on here).

    To me, this is song is about the hopelessness of being in love … or, perhaps, the hopelessness of being in love with the wrong person.

    “If you’re the only one will I ever be enough?”

    THAT, actually, might be the most desperate lines in all of rock and roll.

    Although the one you mentioned, C13, is certainly in the running. That line also played a role in one of my favorite live lyric changes of all time (I forget which show).

    “I can be new/If you’d fucking let me.”

    Gives that line a little twist.

    It’s a similar thought to the line “I can only be as good as you let me,” which come to think of it might be my favorite line in the whole song (talk about burying the lead of my post here).

    To me, that line sums up love in a nutshell: “I can only be as happy or as fulfilled as you are.”

    The love you take is equal to the love you make. And in this case, the protagonist of “Hail, Hail,” wasn’t happy or fulfilled.

    This is probably the most sarcastic love song (or anti-love song?) ever. And yet, it doesn’t seem like the protagonist here has completely given up on love, or on this relationship.

    I think that comes two albums later, with the release of “Parting Ways.”

    ps — if anyone can explain the “woman enough to be my man” bit to me I’d be much obliged. I’ve always struggled with that line, and how it pertains to the song’s theme.

  5. You guys are great!

    Okay, my best attempt at “woman enough to be my man”: If this line is from the male character to the female, which it almost has to be, then perhaps he’s saying “Are you as strong as I need you to be for me right now.” But the way that he says it is, of course, great, because his comment on gender then becomes: woman enough = man enough. His character feels lost and uncertain and wants to rely on the strength of the woman, the way STEREOTYPICALLY, female characters often rely on men. If she’s woman enough, she can do this, belying a belief that the strength of both genders in this respect is equal.

  6. “Hail Hail the lucky ones, I refer to those in ‘More Than Ten’.”

    I’ll use this song, which I love, to thank C13 and everyone else for making this my favorite PJ site on the web.

  7. This is a great sentence.

    C13 wrote: “Hail, Hail” is something of a landmark song for Pearl Jam in that the way it deals with issues of love displays rapid maturation from earlier work, and because the brisk, rapid-fire chord changes and construction effectively bridged the gap between the punk and classic rock sides of the band.

  8. That is a huge honor; thank you very much Believe You Me.

  9. Nothing to say here, except that “Hail, Hail” is probably my favorite PJ song of all time, and that’s for all the reasons listed above: it’s a mature exploration of the trials and tribulations of a long term relationship, and it kicks a lot of lyrical and musical a**.

    “I hear the words and then I get to thinkin’
    But I don’t wanna think, I wanna feel
    How do I feel?
    How do I….”

    I like that bit.

  10. Amazing write-up. This song is one of my all time favorites. I can relate all too well with those lyrics.

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