State of Love and Trust
If I had to guess at where I was the first time I heard “State of Love and Trust”, I’d have to guess it was in a high school gymnasium in Worcester, MA, early on a Saturday morning during an indoor track meet in the dead of winter. One of my older sister’s friends, who was also on the team, made me aware of the Singles soundtrack, letting me borrow the cassette for my walkman while he listened to Pantera or Iron Maiden or some such. “Breath” was great; Chris Cornell’s “Seasons” was revelatory; but “State of Love and Trust” beat them all. Along with “Wash”, the title “State” adorned my Pearl Jam stickman t-shirt, so finally that mystery was solved. Here was yet another amazing song by my favorite band that didn’t even make it onto their own record. And I was pretty damn sure it was good enough; it quickly became my favorite Pearl Jam song in the days before Vs., back when it was somewhat easier to choose.
Inspired by the movie, “State of Love and Trust” is another Vedder song about relationships and fidelity, though the most striking lyrics are of the protagonist aiming a gun at his head, which has subsumed the larger picture. They’re also the easiest lyrics to pick out, likely the only ones I could manage when I was 13. But to me, at that age, I took the images of potential suicide non-literally, the way I would “want to die” after getting rejected by a girl I had a crush on, and the way I would subsequently write a poem about it. The media made such huge assumptions and oversimplifications (as they always do) when reporting on the “alternative” music scene, that the music was overly dark, depressing, troubled. But it wasn’t to me.
The hyper-passionate bent of bands like Pearl Jam drew me in partly because everything else on the radio seemed devoid of feeling. Of course, there was plenty of passionate music being written at the time that was more difficult for a somewhat rural teenager to track down, but of what I was exposed to, Pearl Jam was it. “State of Love and Trust” made me think that other people in the world cared as much about… well, anything at all, as I did. Whatever it was that was working the character in “State” up so much that he had a gun to his own head, even if I didn’t know what it was, meant that there were things worth caring about. The gun was never the point. Fifteen years on, the lyrics in “State” are no longer that interesting to me. But they don’t need to be; how one relates or doesn’t relate to a song is always in flux. Now it’s Ament and McCready’s melancholy yet aggressive music that retains its impact, somber and quick, the same way Cameron Crowe’s Singles still manages to affect via tone despite what now feels like over-earnestness and naivete.