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.