With the recent, more accessible leak of a slew of unreleased Pearl Jam tracks, more and more fans have at least become aware of “Puzzles & Games” (“Puzzle & Game” on the promo CD), which has provided an insightful glimpse at aspects of the band’s songwriting process. I feel that this post should be primarily about the song the band actually wanted us to hear, rather than the one they (at least as of today) clearly didn’t. But it’s hard to resist, especially as writing processes are of much interest to me. So I’ll just say two things, one based on public comments made by the band regarding “Puzzles & Games”, and one pithy observation about that early version of “Light Years”.
1. Ed was initially concerned that “Puzzles & Games” sounded too much like “Given To Fly”, and was “too nice, too right there.” He’s got something there. At first, I didn’t think the GTF comparison was right, but listening to it again right now, it is; and it’s understandable that the similarities made the band reconsider. It is also a lot lighter and “nice” than the rest of the songs the band was writing. So again, it’s hard to fault Ed and Mike for further editing and rewriting.
2. I have a strong suspicion that the leftover parts of the demo were used by Ed, consciously or not, for “Thumbing My Way”.
Okay, onto “Light Years”, second single from Binaural, and either a beacon of hope and light or a whipping post, depending on what segment of fandom you ask. Oddly enough, I find that “Light Years”, like “Given To Fly” before it, is a song that has irritated me less and less over the years, though never endearing itself to me fully.
“Light Years” is a bit stodgy, it’s medium tempo feels rigidly enforced and robotic, with Vedder’s vocals too similar between the verses and choruses. The song is haunting and beautiful in its opening moments, but soon wears out its welcome. Also, for all the care and consideration, the rewrites and revisions, some sections of the lyrics are also much, much stronger than others. The second verse is exceptional, a standout in all of Vedder’s writing as it skips over enjambments: “With heavy breath, awakened regrets / Back pages and days alone that could have been spent / Together but we were miles apart…” This is a touching, original way of expressing sadness after a loved one’s passing, but the choruses are more conventionally sentimental, ending on the couplet “We were but stones / Your light made us stars.” The play on “stars” as both an astronomical phenomenon and euphemism for famous people is both interesting and affecting as the song has been dedicated to former Sony Music employee Diane Muus, whom one must assume played an influential role in both the success of the band, and the lives of its members.
I do feel fortunate to have witnessed one of the few performances of “Light Years” after the 2000 tour, when it was played with regularity. Although it initially underwhelmed me, and I still haven’t yet fully warmed to it, I remain open to the possibility that it will grow with me over time, through experiences I haven’t (thankfully) yet had.