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.