Man of the Hour

I’ll begin with a sidenote: Mudhoney’s Steve Turner has released several worthy solo albums, the best among them called Steve Turner & His Bad Ideas, on which the riff of the closing track “Move Ahead” has always reminded me heavily of “Man of the Hour”. Or maybe that isn’t so much of a sidenote after all. One of the many reasons why “Man of the Hour” fascinates me is that it doesn’t sound like anything else Ed or the band has ever written. It sounds like a lot of other bands/writers, yet it remains fundamentally and thoroughly Pearl Jam. Of course, the central guitar figure is 100% Vedder; speed it up and you get “MFC”, “Sad”, “Rearviewmirror”, et al. But it’s where the song takes that bit of melody over the course of 4 minutes that I find profoundly moving, with or without Tim Burton’s Big Fish (mostly without, as I’ve only seen the movie once).

To contradict myself completely from my thoughts on “Thumbing My Way”, the mirroring between Vedder’s guitar and vocal melodies is one of the song’s greatest strengths*. Why? Well, it’s difficult to quantify what makes one melody “better” than another, as in all things it really comes down to taste.  But to my ears, “Man of the Hour” possesses a stronger link between the spirit of the lyrics and their musical setting.  If the song were simply a theme without words, it would convey similar notions on grief and loss.  As it stands, we get a perfectly subtle vocal performance from Vedder, as well as some of his most touching lyrics.

After an exquisite, simple and direct first verse, Mike McCready’s slide guitar starts to add a bit of color (and, as it were, dolor).  The slide, like its pedal and lap steel bretheren, and the whole violin family of instruments, is remarkable in its expressiveness because of all musical contraptions it can best imitate the range of inflections of the human voice.  Notice when any popular music song is described as “weepy”, it either features strings or a sliding instrument. “Man of the Hour” is decidedly weepy.  For a song that was written and recorded in a relatively short amount of time, the band is absolutely locked in, knowing just when to enter or fade, and how best to serve the song’s purpose. The second verse builds in intensity, with Matt Cameron’s judicious drumwork, a few rhythm chords, and the now ubiquitous harmonized vocals.  Listen closely for organ and cello, which also buttress the mood without drawing too much attention to themselves.

Live versions of “Man of the Hour” do hold a slight advantage, however, despite the fresh and perfectly seasoned work in the studio (neither over- or under-produced), namely the octave leap Vedder performs on the lines “He was guiding me / Love, his own way”, which never fails to give me chills.  As a tribute to father/son bonds, a subject to which Vedder is no stranger through both real and surrogate, it’s difficult to match.  And as a metaphor for dying, the gentle yet dramatic “As the man of the hour / Is taking his final bow / As the curtain comes down” (recalling the drawing of hospital curtains) is honest and crushing.  “I feel that this is just goodbye for now.”  For now. For now.

*Notice also the “rusted sign” connection between the two songs. Do it!


~ by Michael on July 30, 2007.

18 Responses to “Man of the Hour”

  1. Dear God, how I love this song! This just made my day.

    The first time I heard it was when I went to see “Big Fish.” The person I went with thought that Pearl Jam must be performing a cover tune. Of course, as C13 pointed out, if you’re a Pearl Jam fan you would know instantly that this was written by Eddie, both music and lyrics. And yet it really doesn’t sound like anything else they’ve done. Friends who aren’t fans sometimes tease me by bringing out a comment I’ve also frequently heard, kind of a counterpoint to the “Pearl Jam” is a return to their roots comment, that Pearl Jam are no longer relevant because they keep producing the same thing over and over. Which is it music critics? Are they repeating themselves time after time or are they moving in weird and inaccessible directions? Is it possible that some music critics can’t tell the difference between MOTH and EVENFLOW?

    I have always enjoyed interviews with the band members, but this tune got me to thinking about some of the comments that the others have been made over the years about Eddie and the fact that he’s a compulsive songwriter, and that he’s also an obsessive experimenter. It made me really wonder about what they have in their demo vault or their unreleased vault. Techno on ecstasy? The ukelele album? Songs accompanied only by whale song?

  2. I don’t really feel a connection with this song, but perhaps that is due to the fact i have been fortunate enough to not really have lost any loved ones in my life so far, and as such can’t identify with the lyrical content.

    And am i mistaken, or is this another ode to the late Johnny Ramone?

  3. I really enjoy this tune. When I was first starting to listen to it, I was immediately drawn to the bridge and the lines C-13 referenced above (He was guiding me…love his own way). But as time goes by, I find myself really loving the intro lines in both verses. “Tidal waves don’t beg forgiveness/Crash then on their way” and “Nature has its own religion/Gospel from the land”. If you listen carefully, it sounds to me as if EVs voice is just perfectly in place with the music, almost syncopated. It stuns me every time. I often rewind those lines several times during each listen.

    I wish the song would have been used during Big Fish, but if I remember correctly, it was only played during the credits. Oh well, I still enjoyed the movie, but had MOTH showed up in the last reel, that would have been extra special.

    As for the live version, I really like the placement of MOTH right after Wasted Reprise. Sounds great!

  4. Bigwaverider wrote – “And am i mistaken, or is this another ode to the late Johnny Ramone?”

    I think you are mistaken, it was written in 2002 or 2003, before Johnny died I believe. From what I’ve read, the band saw a screening of “Big Fish” and wrote the song within a week or two.

    Susan wrote – “It made me really wonder about what they have in their demo vault or their unreleased vault. Techno on ecstasy? The ukelele album? Songs accompanied only by whale sounds?”

    Yes. Yes. Attention Dimension. 😉

  5. C13’s use of the lyric ‘For Now’ twice at the end of his write-up made me ponder this song in a new light. Although it’s a sad tune about losing a loved one, the connotation of ‘For Now’ is indicitive of faith, hope, and existentialism. To me, that line is very uplifting.

  6. Yeah, it’s definitely an “upbeat” funeral song, if there is such a thing. It’s a song meant to offer comfort to those who have lost someone close to them. It’s just goodbye for now.

  7. This song is so beautiful it makes me wish my father would die so that I could truly appreciate it. In the lexicon of dead and dieing dad songs, I’d say this one has to be among the best. It certainly outdoes the Bono and Sting attempts that I’ve heard, though that’s not saying much, I guess. Or is it? Who else can you match Ed’s dead dad song up against? Stipe? Bruce? Who else might have attempted to capture such inexpressible emotion in song? Did Dylan have one? Didn’t Tupac write about the dad’s no longer in the hood? I mean, as long as we’re talking about Ed’s song writing, (we were weren’t we?), exactly how good is it, mr. music critic? How about a top five list? The best way to process these difficult moments in life, like listening to a song about a dad dieing, is to start quantifying it.

  8. oleyever, what are your top 5 dead Dad songs?

  9. C13 – Get in touch via e-mail and i can hok you up with the new demos that have surfaced.

  10. Oliver, lol.

  11. Hmmm… well, I knew my list was in a drawer somewhere Oleyever, but there’s so much clutter, it appears I’ve misplaced it.

  12. Only because you asked…(channel Casey Casem voice) (Hey wait, he did Shaggy’s voice!!! Nice one. Who better to bring us the top 5 Dead Dad songs than Shaggy?) O.K…coming in at number five…”sometimes you can’t make it on your own” by ubergroup, U2. Saw them in Hawaii with Pearl Jam opening…irrlelevant. At number 4, Sting’s “all this time” is tied with Sting’s “the wild, wild sea” and about three other songs from “Soul Cages” cd, which was entirely about his father’s death. This was the follow up to “nothing like the sun” which was mostly about his mother’s death. And he wonders why no one likes him. At number three, from out of nowhere, Green Day with “wake me up when september ends”. Our number 2 dead dad song comes from the Dead themselves, the classic “box of rain”, check the link if you don’t believe me, And number 1, of course, is “man of the hour”. Honorable mention to Tupac’s

  13. just remembered “papa was a rolling stone” by the Temptations…wow…that’s a hall of famer right there…now i have to rethink the whole list… jesus, and it’s getting late, too…that high voice “…and when he died” and then the low voice, “all he left us was alone…” Fuck me, I think that might be number 1, friends. Now I gotta find a Temptations blog.

  14. I wonder what song is next on the setlist.

  15. ole, maybe we need two dead Dad lists, one for the good Dads (MOTH) and one for the crappy Dads (PAPA WAS A ROLLING STONE).

    I like this verse,

    “Hey Mama, is it true what they say,
    that Papa never worked a day in his life?
    And Mama, some bad talk going around town
    saying that Papa had three outside children and another wife.
    And that ain’t right.
    Hey, talk about Papa doing some store front preaching.
    Talked about saving souls and all the time leeching.
    Dealing in debt and stealing in the name of the Lord.”

    It kind of fits in with

    “Nature as its own religion; gospel from the land
    Father ruled by long division,”

    except the Temptations Dad was more ruled by multiplication.

  16. BYM, since I rush to listen to everything C13 posts, this blog is kind of like a concert with every rarity being played. Pearl Jam is known for the length of their concerts, and this is one mother of a concert.

  17. I lost my Dad in ’86 when I was 16. When this song was first released, I cried as if his death was that day. Last Aug, my Grandfather passed…I fought my whole family and succeeded in having this played at his funeral. I’m crying now just thinking about it. One of my favorite Dad songs, along with Comeback, Footsteps, and Thumbing my Way. I LOVE this site ya’ll!!

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