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.

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~ by Michael on August 30, 2007.

10 Responses to “Given To Fly”

  1. All of Yield is “safe, too neat, vanilla”. It was maybe the grunge/alternative/PJ imitators influence on PJ themselves…at its best, Yield sounds like an imitation of Pearl Jam, and at its worst it sounds like Pearl Jam trying hard to make popular songs for radio listners. It wasn’t a return to form, of course, because, besides maybe “Betterman”, they never sounded so radio-friendly. I’m not surprised that C13’s review of “GTF” led to comments about the live version, because just about every song on Yield sounds better live…the always excellent lyrics seem more meaningful, the music is uncanned…I’m not sure what it is, really, but there’s just something missing on the studio versions and, C13, I’ve always wondered what and where it was, too, and I had some HOLY SHIT THAT SOUNDS LIKE BON JOVI moments with Yield. I remember watching “Single Video Theory” thinking, this is it, they`ve lost it, they know it, and Yield is the last album…Ed talking about “yield” meaning “giving in”, and not sounding happy about it. Maybe I’m being harder on Yield than I mean to be…it’s not like I don’t like it…it just really stands out from the others…the last post was about “Blood”, the raw power and intensity…words that don’t come anywhere near “Given to Fly” or anything on Yield, even the harder tracks, where the “intesity” feels contrived…Speaking of contrived, just remembered the version of GTF on the Touring Band 2000 DVD when he pulls the sign-language dancing girl up on stage…my mom liked that part.

  2. Ole, I keep re-reading your post. I’m trying to determine if you’re deliberately trying to get a rise out of people by comparing Yield-era Pearl Jam to Bon Jovi. Haha. But I can see where you’re coming from, even if I don’t necessarily agree.

    Like C-13, I remember where and when I was when I first heard “GTF.” And I remember the feelings of weightlessness and freedom. It took a few listens to sink in completely, but once it did, I coudln’t listen to this song enough.

    For me, there really hasn’t been a live version that I’ve heard that sounds as good as the album version. I don’t know how to explain it, but there is a fullness is Mike’s album-version intro that is missing in the live setting. That said, any time they play this song, I’m all over the place, completely unable to stand still. The choruses are always anthemic and if you can stay on two feet while listening to this song, …well, I don’t know.

    I understand that some people would be disappointed that the band released this song in order to “woo back” classic rock fans. But can’t we let by-gones be by-gones after they go out and release “Nothing As It Seems” as the first single on the next album? To what section of the fanbase was that song meant to appeal? I still don’t know the answer to that…and I like NAIS!

  3. I never had a Bon Jovi moment like oleyever, but I feel a lot of the same things. Ten and Vs. were powerful rock records. Vitalogy and No Code were practically life-changing. Yield was…entertaining. Since then, I’ve come to embrace being entertained, and I really enjoy Yield. Interestingly the one song on Yield that struck me as having the creativity I so associated with the band that I knew upon first listen was MFC.

    Unlike NoCoder, for me, GIVEN TO FLY, is a song that really only soars live. Eddie’s voice is mixed too low in the album version or something. There are times when this is the highlight of the show. At the Gorge, when Eddie climbed onto the roof, and his voice just filled the night air. It was spine-tingling.

    As for the GOIN’ TO CALIFORNIA comparison. It’s funny but the first album the I ever bought with my own money was Led Zeppelin IV. After a while, the disk disintegrated. The opening riff doesn’t sound that similar although the verse melody does a bit. And correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the guitar tunings even different? The two go to such different places and create such different moods that it’s hard for me to worry about the similarities.

  4. I honestly don’t think anyone would of compared ‘Given to Fly’ to ‘Going to California’ if that one music critic didn’t write an article that somehow went straight to MTV. You guys know how things can be put in your heard. Led Zeppelin never commented on it. All Mike said was that ‘Going to California’ might have subconsciously been in his head when writing the song.

  5. Live, this song is probably the biggest PJ staple I can do without.

    The lyrics are pretty powerful but they don’t move me as much as other lyrics ie. ‘Off He Goes’, ‘In My Tree’, ‘Of the Girl’, ‘Satellite’, ‘Last Soldier’.

    I never made up my mind on the religious connotations people find in “Given to Fly’.

  6. Religious conotations? I’ve never heard that before. I’ve always heard that the lyrics refer to the Allegory of the Cave from Plato’s Republic. I love that interpretation. Does Eddie see being “given to fly” as the ascension toward enlightenment? I wonder if he spoke to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan about his own personal philosophical struggles? Even if this isn’t my favorite Pearl Jam song, it’s my favorite Pearl Jam song title.

  7. Yeah, they think it’s about Jesus.

  8. i wonder how different your reaction would have been had “wishlist” been the first single, c13

  9. Huh. Yield is my favorite album of all time. I guess I should also check out Slippery When Wet.

  10. Slippery When Wet is also excellent – y’know, in a different way.

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