Not having any idea where to look for my old cassette single of “Immortality”, I made an impulse buy at an online store for a download of the Frogs’ version of “Rearviewmirror”. It’s downloading right now. Enough time has passed, my musical palette expanded, that I should be able to handle their warped, psych-folkish rendition more than I did at the time of its release. Let’s have a listen and find out!
Well, I’m definitely more open to it than I was at 16, no longer quite as freaked out by weird, overdriven vocals, droning feedback, or a classic song by my favorite band getting stretched out and mangled to the point of being barely recognizable. It’s almost a completely different song, and in being so, illuminates what makes the original what it is. “Rearviewmirror” marked one of the first times Vedder played guitar on stage, being the author of that distinctive, primary riff, which he described as having led to the driving-themed lyrics because of its propulsive sound. For that reason, “Rearviewmirror” is probably the singular most important Vedder composition toward shaping not only his own musical contributions, but in turn all of Pearl Jam’s.
“Rearviewmirror” is heavy to be sure, but it’s also nimble, or at least more so than the band had previously shown. Still an extremely young band by the time of Vs., they’d already proven themselves worthy of many descriptors: powerful, tough, bruising, energetic, momentous. But “Rearviewmirror” was the first in a long string of songs from “Corduroy” to “MFC” to “Green Disease” that displayed a litheness uncommon for a rock band. The Frogs’ version is notable because without Vedder’s guitar figuring mimicking a revving engine, the song barely crawls. It’s an alligator compared to Pearl Jam’s gazelle. Fitting as the b-side to the dark, lonely “Immortality” though.
The song has over the years been used as a platform for extensive soloing, much as “Daughter”, “Even Flow”, and “Porch”, a way perhaps to further cement or articulate the song’s status as a benchmark/pillar (naming their greatest hits double-disc after the song didn’t hurt the cause either). But the song doesn’t need expansion or titling duty to resonate with fans. The internal engine of the song coupled with its memorable lines (“I gather speed from you fucking with me”, “Wounds in the mirror waved”) more than do the job. There have been times when I’ve grown tired of the exhaustive live renditions, but going back to the song, or, ahem, looking in the rear view mirror at it (couldn’t resist), it’s hard to deny the solidity of its construction or the universality of its simple theme of driving to escape, to move past, to gain distance en route to perspective.