The doom of full-length compact discs may already be nigh upon the format’s 25-year anniversary. The life-span of popularity for CD-singles was even shorter: those high-priced, slim-cased imports that gnawed at your sense of fandom with guilty-shopper’s teeth. “Footsteps” was one of the hardest songs for me to track down in the early days, but also the most rewarding when I ultimately found it. Of course, I’d already heard half of it on the Temple of the Dog album via “Times of Trouble”, the second CD purchase I ever made (packaged in a long box, no less). But though Gossard’s music is identical to both songs, “Footsteps” and “Times of Trouble” have always felt completely distinct and separate from one another.
The third and final chapter of the Mamasan Trilogy, which also includes “Once” and “Alive”, “Footsteps” finds Vedder’s character awaiting execution for his crimes, and reflecting on them. Without the knowledge that the song is part of a larger story however, which to my knowledge could only be gleaned from reading articles and interviews related to the band, it would be difficult to decipher the exact scenario. With or without explanation, “Footsteps” still contains the same pathos, expressed by the moody chords and Vedder’s tremulous voice (and much later, harmonica), but the song makes the most literal sense in context. At the time that the song meant the most to me, however, it wasn’t because of what the song was about. First and foremost, the song was attractive to me at the age of 14 for the simple fact that it was recorded with an acoustic guitar.
Being young around the height of the MTV Unplugged phenomenon made this a bigger deal than it might seem today. But at the time, Stone might as well have been playing samisan on the song, for how exotic it sounded to me. Recorded not at London Bridge or some other studio but for a Rockline radio performance, “Footsteps” was immediate, lonely, despairing. Without paying attention to the words, these qualities added yet another dimension to the band in its infancy, a wholly different atmosphere of which they were capable. At that point, it was the band’s most stripped down, “quiet” songs (the emotion in the song was anything but quiet), but it was nonetheless extremely exciting.