Given To Fly
I remember exactly where I was when I first heard “Given To Fly”, even the color of the sky. Home from college for the first time, on Christmas break, out shopping for presents with my sister. The song came on in the parking lot of the crappy little mall, and when I heard the DJ’s introduction I made frantic gestures to pause conversation while I listened intensely. It was cold, December, and the Massachusetts sky was appropriately slush gray. And the song? To be honest, I was disappointed. I wanted to love it, I wanted to feel the same exhilaration that I felt whenever a new Pearl Jam song hit the radio, from “Dissident” to “I Got Id” to “Spin the Black Circle” to “Who You Are”, but it just wasn’t there. Where was it? I was worried that I’d lost it.
It wasn’t that “Given To Fly” was a bad song, but it just seemed like a step backward. After the Vitalogy and then No Code found the band progressively pushing their sound outward, almost unhinged at times, “Given To Fly” felt altogether safe, too neat, vanilla, and famously, a whole hella of lot like Led Zeppelin’s “Going To California”. I would soon understand the song better in the context of Yield, but it would take years and the advent of live bootlegs for me to better appreciate its charms. What “Given To Fly” ultimately meant for the band’s sound at the time, was channeling the themes of becoming at peace with one’s situation that had started to creep in on No Code, into an uplifting, major-chord anthemic rock song. Prior to GTF, those lyrical conceits were either still in flux/struggle (“In My Tree”) or muted (“Sometimes”, “I’m Open”). Here they were writ large as the letters on Ten‘s cover art. More than any experimental track or new stylistic influence, it was the relative straightforwardness of “Given To Fly” that caught me off guard.
If I had to guess at the turning point for me regarding the song, it might be the band’s 2003 performance in Nagoya, Japan, when it was used as a set opener. McCready’s musical passages, again utilizing contrasting dynamics seamlessly, suddenly sounded to me as lovely as they were intended, as well as charged. Rather than follow every lyric to chew on, I’ve found it easier to experience “Given To Fly” more like the wave Ed sings about, following as it swells and breaks. That way I can forget about the allusions to Zeppelin, the perceived choice of “Given To Fly” as a single to woo back classic rock fans scared off by “Who You Are”, the bullshit notion of “return to form”, and whatever other weights the song has carried around its neck. I can just listen, and depending on where and who I am, change my mind over and over again.