Not For You

If you have access to a guitar, you can learn how to play 90% of “Not For You” in less than a minute. But as easy it is to get close to the song with a handful of chords, it’s not been as easy for some fans to get close to the song thematically.  “Not For You” is one of the most, if not the most, overt declarations about Vedder’s relationship with fame in all of their catalog, which is not very relate-able for those of us who haven’t scored major-label contracts. For many fans or once-fans, songs like “Not For You”, which in some ways embodied the band’s decision not to create videos for MTV, to take on Ticketmaster, and other un-commercial considerations, threw up a huge wall, created miles of distance, or whatever your favorite metaphor for a divide between listener and band.  But besides just being a fierce, Neil Young-inspired lumbering rock song, “Not For You” is more about searching for understanding for both audience and Ed, and a little imagination and empathy go a long way in looking at this particular aspect of Pearl Jam’s history.

Imagine that the first record contract you’re ever signed to is to a major label. Within months of joining your band, you have all the tentacles of a major corporation working for you and you for them. You’re meeting daily it seems with all sorts of new people: lawyers, reps, admen, suits, and it’s a double-edged sword. All of this machinery is there to help you, and to help itself, but maybe you looked into an office as you walked past and glimpsed an executive rolling up an old Warrant poster from off his wall. You’re excited about the sudden ability to reach thousands (it will turn out to be millions) of listeners, a figure that is difficult to even comprehend, and you are dedicated to preserving your altruistic sense of what music can and should mean. But it’s hard; MTV wants videos, radio wants singles, Ticketmaster wants “service” fees, advertisers want to license your songs to sell commercial products, groupies want to shag the “next big thing”, Time magazine wants you to speak for a generation, stalkers want to hurt you.

If fame and fortune has been your end-all, be-all for your entire life, then maybe you’re prepared for this, maybe you’re excited about (most of) it. Maybe you’re willing to adjust, alter yourself and your music, sell it, move units, give in, play the game. Or maybe you just want to write and play songs that mean something to you. Maybe you wish you were Fugazi. Maybe you think rock-and-roll shouldn’t exist to sell pancakes and motor oil. And maybe that’s all unrealistic, or selfish, or naive, but it’s how you feel, and you write some songs about it. One of them is “Not For You”. Some fans might feel that they’re the object/target of the song, and that’s unfortunate. But you try to head them off at the pass: “All that’s sacred comes from youth / Dedications naive and true.” There’s a purity to the connection we feel to music when we’re young, before years heap baggage on us and our record collections. Before “Fortunate Son” gets picked up by Levi Jeans without John Fogerty’s say-so, to make some filthy lucre.

After Vitalogy, and throughout ’95, the issues churning inside “Not For You” would come to a boil, battles won, battles lost, completely new strategies devised. But the ethos behind the song was never abandoned, that music belongs to people and the connections they make with it, not for exploitation. And only if you consider yourself a purveyor of said exploitation should you consider yourself the “you” in “Not For You”. Otherwise, consider yourself sacred.


~ by Michael on August 6, 2007.

7 Responses to “Not For You”

  1. with no power…nothing to do…i still remember…why don’t you? The beauty of the song is that you never felt like the you ed was saying fuck you to. but you are, dude. even if you think ed was giving you a pass, a loophole, by believing you were part of the sacred, powerless youth, you were still there crowding his table that seats just two…you were the one buying the records that made the suits want to take what wasn’t theirs…it was you…there’s no denying it. Ed’s lament was directed more directly at the music biz, media machine, but you and you and me are part of it. like it or not…ed was pissed at them, and sad for us, maybe, but the overall anger comes through for everyone, and it comes through so brilliantly…he’s like, daring you to like the song, the first real show of punk in the grunge…pure rock song and rock artist brilliance…

  2. I’m not goin to take a side. I can see both points pretty clearly. I think arguments could surely be made that Ed was referring to EVERYBODY, an all-encompassing “fuck off.” Yet at the same time, there is lyrical evidence that says this song is aimed at the suits, and lawyers, and reps only. Tough call. I find myself somewhere in the middle on the lyrical interpretation.

    Words aside, NFY is just a great rock song. The song provides a palpable sense of frustration, anger, bitterness, regret, sadness…everything’s in there. The studio version is fantastic. The 94 SNL performance is unforgettable for me. More recently, the “Lukin/Not For You” combo, as well as the addition of Sleater-Kinney’s “Modern Girl” tag make Not For You almost a must-see for me. This song still oozes with passion.

  3. The fury is there, but other things that comes across are confusion and frustration…and hurt. When I listen to NOT FOR YOU, even though I don’t have enough talent to fill a thimble, I can sympathize completely. This song is packed to bursting with emotion. The lyrics are raw and personal. And we’ve discussed singing and the fact that just conjuring emotion is no substitute for making active choices about how a song is sung in order to evoke emotions. All of these elements combine masterfully to give this song one powerful punch.

    C13, thanks for the discussion of the ordeal that can accompany fame. It’s lucky for us that Pearl Jam were able to use their music as an outlet for all of the things that were happening around them. Other artists have self-destructed as their careers came to be about everything but their art.

  4. Funny that you mentioned the Neil Young influence because I always thought of this song as PJ’s answer to “This Note’s For You” by Young.

    I’d love to disagree with Oliver’s statement, but since everything I would say was already said in C13’s review, there’s really no point.

  5. I appreciate everyone’s kind words and the equally kind words challenging my own. The worth and nature of criticism is a very interesting topic, which surprisingly led in part to a great animated movie recently (Ratatouille). As someone who writes critically and creatively, I love to discover how many different ways there are to become better (hopefully) at each of them. Critical writing gets overlooked, obviously and rightfully to some degree, but that doesn’t mean that its history is any shorter, from Harold Bloom to Lester Bangs to centuries prior. It’s a treat and challenge to try and look at each song from different angles and figure out which approach is best, but even better that you all comment and contribute with your own differing perspectives on what the crux of each song has been for you. That being said, I’ve been working two jobs lately, so I might not have a new review until Wednesday at the earliest. I’m pondering writing about “Down” or possibly “Education”, as the latter has now been played live back to back PLUS has had a different mix leaked onto teh internetz. Be well.

  6. C13, I would enjoy reading your reviews even if I had never heard any of the songs. BYM wrote somewhere that you’re the best at what you do. I agree. What you do is look at music respectfully and from the perspective of another artist. Too many critics are only looking for a simple hook. And the Pearl Jam hook has worn out its welcome for me. I don’t need to read any more Pearl Jam reviews that spend half the text talking about Ticketmaster and what a blockbuster Ten was. You’ve brought a fresh and fun perspective to this band that we all love. And I believe that you do the same for other artists that you are reviewing.

  7. The best “experience” of this song, for me, will always be from the ’95 Soldier Field show.

    From Ed’s long intro about the radio station posting the lyric on the billboard — “the joke’s on them, because it’s not for them” — to the lyrical changes (“And you dare say … this is not for you.”) This song just rocked with power.

    A close second, or maybe 1b, would be its debut on SNL, mere days after Cobain’s suicide. Obviously, it was a conscious decision to debut this particular song against that particular backdrop. It’s like Ed was saying, “See? See what can happen?”

    I never thought of this song as an overt fuck you to the audience, though I do understand Oly’s point. Without the audience, there is no greedy record label.

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