I Am Mine
I’ve already made it known that of the two songs debuted at the 2001 Bridge Benefit Concert, I much preferred “Last Soldier” to “I Am Mine”. In fact, I loved “Last Soldier” so much that the studio version of “I Am Mine” had no chance but to suffer by comparison, and by its inclusion bear the wrath of my deep regret. But the leadoff single to Riot Act is another example of a Pearl Jam song that has grown on me over time, like “Given To Fly”, “Why Go”, and to a lesser extent, “Light Years”. One review I read at the time of Riot Act‘s release, likened “I Am Mine” to a sea-shanty, and I’ve always enjoyed that comparison. It seems frivolous at first, justified only by the waltzy 6/8 time signature and reference to the ocean. But what percentage of Vedder’s songs don’t mention the sea? Still, even if Ed hasn’t been devouring Smithsonian Folkways recordings of “Paddy Doyle’s “All For Me Grog” and “Haul on the Bowline” (and he might yet), there’s at least a strong resemblance to Neil Young’s “Song X”, and we all know whose baritone was backing that one up.
The statement “I am mine” recalls George Harrison’s “I Me Mine”, but is intrisincally different. “I Me Mine” was a song renouncing the ego, the selfishness inherent in those personal pronouns. “I Am Mine”, while not selfish, is all about possession and claiming one’s self, rather than giving it up. The “mine” is important only as the one thing human beings can own. This of course flies in the face of materialists, and generalized Western culture, which is built upon a foundation of procuring and “owning” goods, food, land, sometimes even people. “I Am Mine” challenges the idea that only through ownership can one attain freedom, by acknowledging that only by accepting the fact that “you can’t take it with you when you go”, as the saying goes, can one be truly free. But this truth is also a lonely truth. “I only own my mind”, Vedder sings, no one else’s, which may be why most of us feel a desire to comfort ourselves with as much stuff as possible.
“I Am Mine” manages to sound both melancholy and majestic, with a sorrowful verse melody alternating with a more uplifting chorus. Vedder’s intense repetition of the word “time” and the hard “i” sound in general, is a little grating at first, but over time reveals itself to be mantra-like, a constant reenforcement of the all important “I”. There’s also some beautifully subtle language: “The full moon is looking for friends at high tide” always struck me as childlike and goofy, but picking apart that image it starts to make more sense. The full moon is pulling on the earth, literally raising the height of the oceans. Imagining that the reason is because a lonesome moon is looking for friends is a clever, understated invention. It’s an example of the song’s deceptive simplicity. Big ideas couched in accessible lyrics again in a steady, even-keeled midtempo rock song.