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.


~ by Michael on September 7, 2007.

5 Responses to “Footsteps”

  1. I can’t believe it was recorded on a radio program. Thats really incredible.

  2. My favorite version of this song can be found on the “Nothing as it Seems” single, live from a Bridge School Benefit show.

  3. I wasn’t going to post anything on this song because I really didn’t have much to say about it. I’ve always liked it but never formed any really strong impressions. But because I like to re-listen to the songs C13 writes about I decided to give this song a fresh listen. And I listened to both the original version and the one that is on the Live at the Gorge Boxset. C13 has spoken so eloquently about the choices that singers make, and I was really surprised by how differently he sings this song now. I love the harmonica. It’s a great addition. But the quality of his voice is so different now. There’s a world-weary quality that is so much more suited to the song than when he was young. The other thing he does is start the song out much more quietly. It just keeps building and building in intensity until the end, much more dramatic. Of course his choices on Live at the Gorge might have had something to do with the fact that he was halfway through a 30+ song show. But I really loved it.

  4. I agree Susan, this is a song that took 10 or so years to fully reach it’s potential.

  5. Along with ‘Hold On’, this is my favorite PJ song from the 90’s. It sounds a half step lower than Times of Trouble, and reflects its despair. Like Alive, this song has been transformed over time and seems to rise from despair to forgiveness. Maybe that is too strong of a word but I heard a version of this from a 2003 Mansfield, MA show and Ed drops the word ‘blame’, and turns it around to acceptance and questioning. “And if there’s something you’d like to do, just let me continue, I need to continue, and if there’s questions I need from you, let me to continue to ASK you”. As if he accepts what happened, is moving on, has to move on, but questions how someone could do that so reserves the right to try and understand why (ask you). Maybe it’s just me, but growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s I never heard of school shootings. Of course, we didn’t have access to the internet so it is was something that happened in rural Idaho, I may never have gotten the news. The point is (this is so off target), with all of these recent ‘go into a crowd and just shoot people’ events, I find myself questioning why people do that. Sure, they are lonely, desperate, perhaps mentally ill. I am always questioning the why and how of others. Clearly, Eddie questioned his mothers actions. As you get older, you realize you cannot change the past, you have to focus on the now and just move forwards.

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