Marker In The Sand

By the time “Marker In The Sand” shows up as the fifth track on Pearl Jam’s eighth studio album, listeners are already breathless by design, but the song does not relent. The McCready-penned track is full of nervous, twitchy energy and momentum while Vedder sounds appropriately exasperated, the song mirroring the perennially out-of-control relationship between seemingly opposing religious dogmas. “Marker In The Sand” also possesses what has become a trademark McCready fondness for stringing together several distinct yet complimentary musical sections. At this moment I will listen to the track again and count: verse, chorus, bridge 1, outro (extension of chorus). The verses of “Marker” are spiky and abrupt, which the chorus plays against with a sunny, almost triumphant chord progression, which is then again offset by a quirky, elastic bridge. But all the pieces fit, and the resulting song follows the recent trend of songs like “Evacuation” in seeking more complex or higher concepts in otherwise traditional 3-minute guitar rock songs.

“Marker” also opens up a big can of worms by “calling out” God on the issue of the supposed “war” between Christianity and Islam (though the two religions aren’t named as such, it should be abundantly clear). While an entire website could be devoted to parsing out religious references and ideas in Pearl Jam songs, I’ll try to keep my focus strictly on “Marker”. Again we’re presented with the special challenges that political songs always incur, since religion and politics are unfortunately, inextricably linked in this case. The challenge is that it’s tough to write a song where even the most ardent supporter of the artist’s politics doesn’t feel inclined toward devil’s advocacy, or at the very least frustration with a particular detail in the song.

My desire for “Marker” would be for it to more clearly acknowledge and represent how I feel about the whole mess, and exactly what I think the problem is. This is admittedly a stupid and selfish thing for me to wish, and perhaps “Marker” is ultimately successful as a political song because it opens up avenues of discussion and exploration and contention. It doesn’t pretend to have solutions, which is nice: “And the solution? / Well from me far would let it be,” but what I find tough to reconcile with “Marker” is that the song doesn’t well enough identify or articulate (what I find to be) the problem. Indulge me. The lyrics explain that “both sides” of a conflict are “killing in God’s name”. That’s the heart of the song, but what’s behind this? Is the song saying that the problem is too many religions? Religion in general? The real issue here is that politicians and interested parties on both sides use religion to explain their actions, which aren’t about religion at all. No war that has ever seemingly been fought over religion truly has. Historically, wars have always been waged over territorial expansion and resources. Again, it’s unfair to fault a song for what it isn’t instead of what it is, but such is the nature of such (wonderfully) contentious material, which, especially in the wrappings of a well-constructed rock song, are always more welcome than not.


~ by Michael on August 10, 2007.

6 Responses to “Marker In The Sand”

  1. I don’t agree that this is predominantly a political song although it certainly has political elements. It is a song about how we, as human beings, have elevated organized religion above the principles that orginally defined it. This the the “marker in the sand” that we can no longer find because it’s been buried by the artifice that is religion. And the only way to find these principles is to reconnect, in love, with our fellow man:

    “With the living, Let,….. What is living love
    So unforgiving, yet,…. Needing forgiveness first”

    All of the political allusions have to do with the delusion that the evil things we do such as “killing in God’s name” are justified by our religious affiliations, conveniently.

    God, is being called out as a rhetorical device. If God exists, what would He have to say about the things that are done in His name? It’s very effectively done.

    Oh, yeah, and the music is magnificent.

  2. I like how you’ve described this one, Susan. I can’t seem to separate the song from the politics that float through it, which might be my own hangup. Religion has always been a convenient excuse, but it’s never any less atrocious of a justification for killing people.

  3. My favorite, favorite, favorite part of this song (and maybe any on Avocado) is what Ed has done here with the chorus.

    Susan quoted it the way it is sung, and the way it is written in the liner notes. Upon first glance at this song, those don’t sound like full and complete sentences. Even though I am a lyrical genius (har!), I was thoroughly confused when I first heard this song.

    Then, it hit me:

    Please come down with the living
    Let what is living love

    And that, my friends, is pure fucking awesomeness.

    IMO, what Ed is saying here is that we’ve become so concerned with what happens to us in the afterlife, that we fail to consider what happens to us in THIS life.

    The image of “falling up” is a powerful one. To me, it recalls the Christian belief in the rapture — how one day all believers will be, literally, sucked up into heaven. Or, possibly, the Islamist belief that jihad leads to paradise.

    What ed is saying in this song is that we’ve become so preoccupied with heaven, that we’ve created hell on earth.

    The song is alternately a plea and a challenge to God to DO SOMETHING about people perverting his supposed will.

  4. I agree with Jeff’s statement about the confusing way the lyrics are written in the liner notes.

    The first verse of this song is very cool in the way the last word of each line is the beginning of the next phrase. Like one long run-on sentence in a way. Too bad Eddie didn’t use the same technique for the other two verses.

  5. Susan – “I don’t agree that this is predominantly a political song although it certainly has political elements. It is a song about how we, as human beings, have elevated organized religion above the principles that orginally defined it.”

    Nicely put. Thou shall not kill…. huh?

  6. wow, i just come back from a weekend at the beach to find this. heavy. i listened to No Code and Pearl Jam on the drive down. Inspired by this blog. So, this recent listen to “marker”, and reading these interpretations…wow… all I’ll add is the hopefulness in Ed’s voice, and in the guitar, at the end when he sings, “god what do you say? what do you say?” I also really like “falling up somehow”…this song, maybe more than most others on Pearl Jam really showed Ed’s evolution in writing…I think in the AOL Sessions, Stone or Jeff says that one reason the album was titled “Pearl Jam” was because there’s just so much in the lyrics, in the music, that to add something else on top seemed…unnecessary. This thread is a tribute to the density of Pearl Jam.

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