Light Years

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.

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~ by Michael on August 3, 2007.

6 Responses to “Light Years”

  1. This was my first favorite song on Binaural. Something about it just spoke to me.

    C13, you singled out the appropriate verse in your original post. That verse, in my opinion, features ed and his best.

    “Every inch between us becomes light years now …”

    Gives me chills just typing it.

    Anyway, not sure Light Years is still my favorite Binaural tune. But I won’t kick it out of bed.

  2. I’m not sure what to say about LIGHT YEARS because my responses differ between studio and live versions. I’ve warmed to the studio version over time. I love the lyrics, the bridge has that feel of alternating acceleration and decceleration that Pearl Jam does so well, and I really like its placement on Binaural, but the vocals sound muffled and lacking in dynamic variation, and they’re mixed too low. They sound almost like demo vocals.

    On the other hand, I love this song live. As sentimental as these lines are, I love them,

    “Your light’s reflected now,… reflected from afar…
    We were but stones,… your light made us stars.”

  3. C13, what leads you to think that about Thumbing My Way? Just curious.

  4. The early Puzzle & Game verses sound similar to the verses of TMW, at least to my ears. Not exactly, but close enough, just sped up and rock-ified.

  5. I agree with what C-13 said about this being a song that has irritated me less over the years but still has not won me over. I realize that I don’t make any friends by saying this, but one of the main problems I have with “Binaural” is the 3-4-5 slots. “Evacuation/Light Years/NAIS”. To me, it’s a dud trifecta. And it totally evacuates (pun intended) the listening joy from the first half of that album for me. That said, I don’t know if I’ve really been able to judge Light Years on its own, apart from the songs that sandwich it on the album.

    Lyrically it’s ok. Musically, I can enjoy it. But I feel like these good parts don’t compliment each other; the final product is just…askew. In the live setting…hmm, I don’t know. I usually get irritated when I hear Light Years live, because it means that Matt probably started with the same drum beat from Not For You and I’d always prefer NFY over Light Years at a show.

    I surely don’t hate the song and more recently, when it’s come on, I don’t skip over it. But I’ve never been able to fully connect with it either.

  6. I had a different take on the lyrics, “we were but stones, your light made us stars.” I remember listening to that after my mother died, and those lyrics really moved me to think about how important she was to everybody. I felt like it ment, from her love and care, they were able to “light up” or shine. I thought maybe Ed knew someone like that.

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