Off He Goes

In the early to mid-’90s, you couldn’t read a word about Neil Young without his being called the “godfather of grunge”.  There are so many things wrong with that assessment that it’s difficult to know where to begin.  I will concede however, that Young Neil is the godfather of No Code, with particular affection for Vedder’s “Off He Goes”, which owes almost its entire existence to one of my all-time favorite songs, “Campaigner”.  But while Neil’s song rested on the provocative political/cultural line “Even Richard Nixon has got soul”, Vedder’s tune is a thinly veiled self-portrait written in the third person, a pointed, albeit humorous confession of sorts.  It’s wry and self-deprecating (“his perfectly unkept clothes”), but ultimately hopeful, the light at the end of the long dark tunnel Vedder went through while adjusting as best he could to fame.

To be able to look honestly and sometimes harshly at one’s self, especially in the context of a rock song, is no small feat.  Mainstream rock, like hip-hop, is often full of bluster and machismo, or else the self-deprecation is so overwrought and grandiose that it’s worn as a badge of honor, not a real admittance of mistakes.  Or else it’s absolutely stupid (ask me some time about how Matchbox 20’s “3 am” contains some of the dumbest lyrics ever put to music).  But “Off He Goes” maintains an earthy, genuine feel, and the song was given one of the warmest, most natural acoustic arrangements in the band’s catalog.  To call it rustic might be just a tad bit of a stretch, but not by much. McCready’s solo is perfectly executed, one of my favorite; the band’s whole performance is neither over- or under-cooked.  An odd choice for a second single (always with the odd single choices), radio of course couldn’t make heads or tails of it (though it charted in the 30’s (?)), just taking it a as further proof that Pearl Jam was drifting further out to sea.  But great rock bands don’t tailor their writing or restrain their muses for ever-tightening radio formats, no matter how many units stand to remain unmoved.  They take cues from Uncle Neil instead.  Some campaign all their lives toward that goal.


~ by Michael on August 22, 2007.

9 Responses to “Off He Goes”

  1. I’ve never been a rock star, at least not in this life, but I completely relate to this song.

    In a nutshell, it’s one of those famous Ed “trappings of fame” songs from the mid-90s. Because he’s become so famous, he’s lost all ability to relate to the people he used to know. And, what’s more, they’ve lost all ability to relate to him. This guy you went to high school with (or whatever) is now on the cover of every magazine on Earth, up to and including Time.

    That’s the specific story, I think.

    But more generally, I think this story is just about the passage of time, and how our relationships seldom survive it.

    No Code came out in the middle of my sophomore year in college. I was growing up and branching out, and at the same time growing apart from all the friends I used to know. I’d still see them on the weekends, maybe a couple of times a month, but it wasn’t quite the same. And as time went by, the less frequent the visits became and the less “the same” they became.

    I can vividly remember coming home for a weekend, going over to a friend’s house to watch Sunday afternoon football. Just like we did practically every fall Sunday in high school. And we made the same old jokes. We enjoyed the same old chatter. We talked about the same old people we used to know.

    I was home, and we were laughing, like we always did.

    Then, about the 3rd quarter (at a quarter to 10, perhaps?), I found myself thinking about school. I wanted to get back, meet up with some folks there. I had laundry to do, a paper to get a head start on. Physically, I was still there, watching the game. But mentally, I was 100 miles away.

    And before my first step, I was off again.

    Anyway, I could talk about this song all damn day. I think it’s my favorite song. Ever. By anyone.

  2. This is one of my favorite Pj songs.

  3. Great story jeff…if an “off he goes” video were ever made, i think it would look like what you describe. favorite song ever by anyone is really saying something…
    the uncle neil influence can not be understated, but i also remember a radio station in Boulder playing a small piece of this song as a sneak preview just before No Code was released. I was in the passenger seat of a fiancé’s car in a parking lot. And I remember saying to her when it was over (the song, not the engagement)…that it sounded like Bruce Springsteen. I’m surprising myself with the number of Bruce references that keep popping up in my comments. I would have never thought of myself as a Bruce fan or even interested in his music besides…someone gave me the Tunnel of Love cassette as a xmas or bday gift, but i don’t remember listening to it, and I did see him in concert, but because someone else wanted to go. Anyway, i’m wondering if there’s something to this Ed/Bruce comparison. One of the first songs I ever downloaded was a demo of Ed with what sounds like a kereoke machine singing “One Step Up and Two Steps Back”…I suppose the voice can sound similar…but I think there’s more there…the storytelling, the weary hopefullness, hopeful weariness. I saw Bruce in concert when he did the Ghost of Tom Joad tour, just him and his guitar, small venue. I have a feeling that Ed’s Into the Wild songs will sound like that, like “Off He Goes”. Lucky jeff…a whole album of “off he goes”‘s.

  4. First time I heard OHG, in the car on the way back from the Blockbuster Music where we had just bought No Code at midnight … I turned to my friend and said: “Holy shit, Pearl Jam just made a country song.”


  5. I have trouble summing this song up into a few words. I was a sophomore in high school and while I don’t think I related with the song the way it was meant to be related to, I still felt a connection with both the narrator and the subject of OHG.

    Years later, I still come back to this song often. It makes me think of every friend (as someone else alluded to in a previous post) that I have known only to see drift away. And in some cases, I realize that I am the one who has been the drifter. This song hits that feeling directly on the head.

    I think this is the “prettiest” song Pearl Jam has ever written (close second might be Man of the Hour). I only use that phrase because I remember C-13 quoting someone as having said Pearl Jam had never written a pretty song. Of the slower songs in the band’s catalogue, this would be my favorite: a tender, heart-breaking ode to growing up and, sometimes, apart.

  6. The lyrics are great in this song.

  7. I love this song, too. I love the arrangement. Like everyone else has mentioned, it’s almost country, but not quite. And Ed’s voice is so free and unstrained. I think that this is my favorite song on No Code. As with the best Ed songs, it may pertain to the specifics of his life but feels like it could be about your life.

  8. While others look may look at this song with sadness about their friends that they no longer keep in touch with, I look at it as my warning: make sure that those minutes when the friend comes home are treasured, because as we get older other things always seem to get in the way: work, family, etc. And know that for a few hours it is alright to just be happy that you and your buddy are hanging out again.

    Probably my favorite Pearl Jam song.

    And C13, great blog. I’ve read each passage and comment in the last week and just about eery entry has caused me to stop and listen again to the song you’re talking about.

  9. Thanks Dracwn! Glad to have your comments here.

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