The End

backspacer I was prompted to write another blog entry after OHMYGOD four years because of technology. I’m a slow and reluctant adopter. We recently bought our first new computer in eight or ten years, which I was really looking forward to. And then I realized that MacBooks no longer have USB ports (something I should have thought about first for what good it would’ve done) so without buying an adapter I couldn’t just load up an external hard drive and wing my music collection over. And I would need an external CD drive too so I could put any new music onto my iTunes as well. I don’t roll with streaming, you see, and it seems like the tech companies are dead set on making it increasingly difficult to carry my music collection with me as the devices crap out one by one. There are far greater concerns in the world of course, but damn do I hate planned obsolescence.

Anyhoo, the other precursor to logging back onto More Than Ten was that I finally realized after years of dreaming up my perfect Pearl Jam setlist, I could easily throw a playlist together in under a minute and hit shuffle, going from album to album and selecting my favorite three or four songs, which I don’t think have changed in a very, very long time. And just now, as I was trying to determine what song to write about, I thought about “The End,” and how if you asked me on any given day to hum a few bars, I just couldn’t do it. But here’s the thing: that’s no fault of the song. Far from it; the song is fucking beautiful, and I think one of the strongest of Ed’s acoustic songs of the past dozen years or so.

The problem is my own listening habits, at least when it comes to Pearl Jam. I know the first 6 or 7 albums by heart, and the way I listened to them was start to finish, and intensely. I knew every word, could rattle off the song titles in order start to finish and back again. I still recall arcane trivia from the liner notes to Ten from all the time I spent poring over them ON CASSETTE when I was in junior high. Technology lent itself to that kind of listening.  And while there’s nothing about the blazingly rapid new technologies that prevent that type of listen, the ease and speed and tap tappity tapness of it all facilitates a certain casualness, which, when combined with a full-time job, a wife, two kids, and a mortgage, well… Let’s just say the moments when I could lay down on the floor with headphones and absorb an album start to finish, new or old, are few and far between. So when was the last time I listened to Backspacer all the way through? Um.

“The End” always seemed like more of a solo composition to me than a Pearl Jam song. With “Can’t Keep,” the band took a ukelele ditty and made art rock out of it, but songs like “Just Breathe,” “The End,” and “Sleeping By Myself” and “Future Days” from Lightning Bolt feel more of a piece with the Into the Wild soundtrack material, which is not a bad thing by any means. They just feel, to me, like songs Ed had written for another purpose, and then they ended up on a Pearl Jam record. Or maybe they just reflect an overall evolution in Ed’s quieter songwriting style from “Elderly Woman” up through now. Nothing wrong with it.

What’s striking me now, in bullet-point style:

  • It’s one of Ed’s better recent “character” songs. It seems pretty clearly and unflinchingly written from the point of view of a young-ish person with a terminal illness, and from Ed’s impressive vocal performance, to the apt bluntness of the lyrics, he does the weight of the material justice.
  • It’s a sweet melody, on the sweet side of bittersweet, which is maybe why it works so well with the gut-wrenching lyrics because it doesn’t try to match them for pathos. It’s just a lovely progression that doesn’t feel maudlin, even with the strings.
  • Nice strings, too.
  • Backspacer was heralded as a “happier” album for the band because of Obama’s election and the hope that came with it after the horrors of the Bush administration, but hot diggity damn was this song a bummer way to end it.
  • I don’t know how old Ed’s kids are, but becoming a dad for the first time does tend to put one in both a reflective mood and also a slightly morbid one. I see echoes of this in “Sirens” as well. Loving someone/s so much, and not being able to fathom not being with them for eternity. It’s real, and I think this song captures that sentiment bravely, though from an assumed perspective. I don’t know the story behind the writing of the song, but whatever it was, I think it worked.

So there. Time passes. Things change. Trivial and not so trivial. We grow older. The world turns. Thank you for reading. The end.

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~ by Michael on March 11, 2018.

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