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 Post subject: A Guided Tour of Ten
PostPosted: Fri December 28, 2012 12:15 pm 
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A Guided Tour of Ten


Preliminary remarks on Ten

Ten is truly an epic album—the scale of it may turn some people off who prefer the more narrow and private feel of some of the later albums but I think it is hard to deny that this is a grand record in the best sense of the word—one that has a lot to say, and wants to say it loud to make sure that the message doesn’t get lost. You can hear the influence of The Who in that regard here more than any other record. Yet at the same time there is an intimacy to the songs—while they are about other people, and the music is larger than life, there is a very personal connection made. Much of this is through Eddie's voice, but you are asked to inhabit the people in the stories, to feel what they feel. They are stories, but the stories are about you. It is really a remarkable feat, and one of the things that makes Eddie one of the best vocalists of all time.

It is also worth saying a bit about what Pearl Jam means as a band, and what separates them from their peers (and what made that clear right off the bat). All of the grunge standard bearers wrote for disaffected people, but it was a type of disaffection that differed from the punk movement ten years prior. That was music written by outsiders. What made grunge different was that it was written for people on the inside who still felt disaffected. In a lot of ways it was rap/punk for white middle class kids who technically had what they wanted but still felt like something was missing. The music was a search to find out what that missing thing was. And it was the effort put into the search that really made Pearl Jam stand out. The other bands tended to look only inside themselves to find what was missing. From the beginning there was a social/political dimension to pearl jam's music—a desire and a need to confront the outside world, so as to figure out what went wrong, why we aren’t living what was promised (to paraphrase Angel), and above all else what we can do about it.

If you were going to sum up the lyrical theme of Ten in one word that word would be betrayal. The music of the early 90's was written for the children of the children of the 60's. The first great wave of rock music from that period was music that at its heart wanted to be transformative. It wanted to right the wrongs of the world and serve as a source of inspiration and emotional strength for the people who were going to do it. Then they grew up and gave the country 12 years of Regan and Bush. Instead of idealism you had a vacuous hedonism and a glorification of greed. The next generation of children, growing up in that aftermath, came of age in the shadow of the failure of their parents' revolution. They felt cheated somehow. There was a sense that a great promise had been lost, and people had no idea where it went or what could and should come next. This was the mindset that animated at least the more thoughtful members of ‘generation x'. All the great grunge bands spoke to that experience—all were in some way attempting to deal with that feeling of betrayal and aimlessness. The problem is that most of the music was nihilistic and either wallowed in or celebrated its pain. Pearl Jam was really the only band of that period to try and rise above it, and what made the early records so magnificent was not just that they expressed so powerfully the rage, anger, fear, and insecurity of the time, but that almost all the songs had a moment of light, a way out.

Later records (really starting with No Code) begin to crystallize what that way out might look like. In the early records it is there more as a promise—a shadowy hope for future redemption. What was clear was that it was going come about through the community created through music. If we can come together, we might somehow find it. But again, on Ten there are no answers yet (it is Breath that articulates this most clearly among the early songs)—just the hope that the answer is out there, manifested as much through Eddie's voice and the music as through the lyrics. The catharsis isn’t intellectual—it is emotional, and experienced with a powerful immediacy. This is really the source of Eddie's charisma, especially in those early years. He is not particularly well spoken, especially in real time, and is shy and retiring. But when he sang you KNEW, in a way that few other singers could capture and convey, that he felt what you felt, was looking for answers with you, and that if we just stuck with him, and with each other, we would find them.

Anyway, onto the record…


Once

The album begins with the master/slave dreamscape, deep, warm, and foggy, with a voice moaning behind the murky veil. The music is searching and meditative, until inside the opening buzzing riff of Once cuts through it, heavy, angry, and violent. It is a really powerful contrast

Once serves as a warning—it is a song of self-destruction, a song for the frantically lost. At this point it isn’t clear there is a way back, so the key becomes figuring out how to stop ourselves before we reach this point. Something is terribly wrong with the singer, who is in the midst of a profound existential crisis that finds him utterly cut off from the rest of humanity. We are never quite sure what happened to this guy, and it is not clear that he knows either—the buzzing of the guitars do a great job mirroring the distractions in his head, and in his life. You might find answers in the depths of master/slave, but they will not be found here. Now it is too late—he makes the claim that the past holds no pain, that whatever has happened to him is gone and in the past, but the chorus exposes the lie—full of hurt, anger, and regret. Once upon a time the world made sense, but that time is gone, he doesn’t know how to go back, and the consequences are severe. He can no longer understand himself, love himself, or worst of all, love others. He is disaffected, cut off, and suffering. Most of the characters we meet in Ten are alone, but never really alone in peaceful quiet where one can reflect and begin again. The isolation is rife with anger, fear, and the intimation of violence (somewhat overdone in this song but the sentiment is important)—the anger of a generation ready to inflict harm if it cannot figure out what to do next (harm to itself, harm to others, or both. Once upon a time he had a place. Now he belongs nowhere, and to no one, which segues nicely into Even Flow


Even Flow

I realized as I sat down to write this that I haven’t heard the Ten version of Even Flow in years (I prefer the rerecorded version but this one is still really good). Anyway, Even Flow musically reminds me a bit of World Wide Suicide, in that you would expect a song dealing with subject matter of this sort to be slower—something more in the singer-songwriter vein. Instead the song has a compelling, almost danceable grove to it that at first seems at odds with the message of the song. It is certainly one of the warmest pieces on Ten, much more inviting than a song like Once, which appropriately enough tries to push the listener away (while simultaneously drawing the listener back in through the immediacy of Eddie's voice. This tension is one of the strengths of the record). Even Flow, like Jeremy, tries to bring the listener in. In that respect it reflects the yearning that is at the heart of the song—the search for a home, and (implicitly) someone to share it with, and creates a nice juxtaposition with the darker lyrics.

Even Flow has always had a special place in my heart since there is probably no social issue that bothers me more than homelessness. Our willingness to leave people alone and isolated (exacerbated by the 12 years of Reagan/Bush that Ten is coming out of), deprived of the most basic element of security that there is, marks a real failure—both of our democracy and even our basic humanity, and that is what Even Flow is about—trying to rehumanize the people we normally work so hard at forgetting (remember the outro to the rerecorded version ‘I died/I died and you stood there/I died and you walked by…’so that we can’t forget them. Only by denying another person’s fundamental humanity can we create the mental distance necessary to abandon our most vulnerable people to their own suffering, and when we do so we kill off an important part of ourselves—the part of us that is fundamentally social, that needs people to love and to be loved by them. Once shows us what happens when that gets lost. The songs on Ten all address this theme in some capacity, although they normally do so at an individual level. Here (and in Jeremy) the message just exists on a larger scale—a condemnation of larger social practices that make this possible.

The song starts out with one of my favorite images in the entire catalogue—the man lying on the hard ground (I like the juxtaposition of the pillow and its sense of softness with the concrete), freezing from lack of warmth (this could and probably should be read both literally and figuratively—lacking the warmth that comes from security—knowing that you have a space that is yours and someone to share it with). All he has to sustain him is the vague hope that things will better as the rest of his life passes by him in a blur. Every now and then people give him money or something to help him find another meal or a place to sleep for the night, but the act is devoid of any real warmth. We don’t find out the person’s name, and more often than not the act of charity is defensive—a way to ward off our own guilt rather than actually help (and especially to rehumanize) the person we give to. There is a hint that the person is mentally ill (many homeless people in this country suffer from some form of mental illness, and many were thrown out of hospitals in the 80's due to funding cuts)—again a black mark against us as a nation for abandoning the most vulnerable among us to their own devices. Or perhaps he lacks no classifiable disorder. Perhaps he's just been driven slightly mad due to his own experiences—his own painful isolation, even in the midst of the thousands of people who pass him by every day. The second verse continues these themes—the sense of helplessness (trying to find a job though he can’t read, fear of the upcoming freezing winter, shame felt over his condition (whatever scant help is available is meant to be painful—to remind him that his condition reflects a failure at his end, rather than our failure to make sure that its members are taken care of) and above all else the most intimate form of isolation that there is—praying to a God to alleviate his suffering and never having those prayers answered and finding yourself utterly alone.

I'm not sure exactly what an Even Flow is. But even with that lyrical ambiguity the chorus is still powerful—focusing on the vague promise of future redemption. The hopes and possibilities (and as usual Eddie's voice does a wonderful job of conveying this, as does the music) flutter around him—beautiful but impossible to pin down and make sense of. It isn’t clear from the song if the whispering hands represent some kind of future aid, or perhaps a cop or social worker taking him to another temporary shelter. But what is striking is that he feels the hands, and hears the voices, but cannot connect the two. The interaction is faceless, stripped of any human connection (even the voices are muted), and regardless of where he is going, he is still being led there—passive, alone, and hoping that someday the faces appear in focus.

Alive

Alive and Release are the two most critical tracks on the record, as they are the two moments that really offer up the hope of redemption, although in both cases it is a shadowy hope—a hint that things might be better in the future because they can’t be much worse now. It is not a coincidence that both of these songs deal with same event, one of the most intimate forms of betrayal possible. While Why Go is also about getting messed up by your parents, it is much easier to digest because of the anger. There is a break. In Alive there is no break and because there is no break there is no chance to start over. The need for finding a clean space has always been a major theme in Eddie's lyrics (getting in a car and driving away, climbing a tree, finding water). In all these cases there is no time for healing until you've removed yourself from the harm). In Alive the singer finds that everything he took for granted about his world is a lie, but that the people involved in the lie expect him to go on like everything is okay—the words have been spoken and now it is time to suck it up and move on, even though we remain stuck in the same wounded and poisoned space.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. As a caveat I want to say that I think Alive is only superficially a song about incest, and not a very good one at that. The song succeeds in spite of that story, rather than because of it. Personally I suspect Eddie wrote the song about himself and added that story to it later to create some distance between it and him—to make it a little less intimate and revealing. Even if he had that incest frame in mind when he was writing it it was always secondary.

The opening guitar riff to Once is dirty and distracting—it is meant to convey the mad pounding in the singer's brain, the inability to focus. Alive is exactly the opposite. It is crisp, clear, and defiant. It is a statement of purpose, of solidarity and strength (and is probably my favorite riff of all time). And the music and the vocal delivery (this song is one of Eddie's real masterpieces in terms of the vocals—every line is given exactly the right inflection—his confusion, the off handed diffidence of his mother filtered through his own shock and anger, the strength and possibilities of the chorus) together are what anchor Alive. It is what gives the song its hope. The lyrics are dark and lifeless and offer little in terms of salvation. The riff is redemptive. If Alive was sung by Conner Oberest (bright eyes) the entire song would be spent wallowing in self-pity and existential crisis—and he wouldn’t necessarily be wrong for doing so. It's a legitimate choice given the subject matter. But the clarity of the music and the strength in Eddie's voice offer a crucial juxtaposition to the story being told. We don’t know based on the story being told if the singer will make it out okay (in fact we have reason to bet that he wouldn’t), but the music and delivery tell us otherwise

I love the casual, off handed way the song begins. “Son, have I got a little story for you”. And with that little story the mother demolishes the foundations of the singer’s universe—the fact that this happens to him when he is just beginning his teenage years makes it worse, as he is at the time when we are just beginning to construct adult identities for ourselves and nothing in life is solid. At that moment the one thing he thought he could rely on, the truth of his family, is taken away from him. And moving beyond just finding out that he was adopted, he knows too that one of the people who created him is lost to him forever. But, as his mother reminds him, shit happens. Try not to worry about it. And she is relieved. It is like finishing your first conversation with your child about sex. It is as much for your benefit (if not moreso) than theirs. One thing you can cross off your parental to-do list.

The second verse is a little troubling since I don’t really like the incest interpretation. I picture this as his mother crossing the room to attempt to comfort him, while he remains dumbfounded by the revelation. It's not enough. A few quick words of comfort can’t make this go away. Yeah, he's alive, life goes on, but in some meaningful way it is now all a lie. His life needs to be rebuilt, and he doesn’t know how to do it or who to go to for answers (the who answers question is especially poignant given the way the album ends, with Eddie in the dark talking to his dead father, waiting for answers that will never come—at least not from his father)

And that is what is going on with the insistent declaration in the chorus. Everything else is a lie, but at least he is still alive. He never comes out and tells us what to make of this (he rarely did in the early records—if Indifference was written today he would tell us that it makes a difference instead of leaving it to the listener). He could be alive and have nothing. He could be alive and paralyzed, trapped and uncertain where to go from here. Once points to another possibility. But it is clear both from the music and from the power in his vocals that he is alive and defiant. That this is something he will rise above. He is alive, and ready to begin again.

And with that declaration Mike's solo kicks in, which I still think is the most emotionally striking guitar solo of all time, and arguably the most powerful piece of music I've ever heard. Through it he lets out all the anger, frustration, trepidation and fear that the singer feels and through it he finds the strength needed to continue. It conveys so much without ever saying a word beyond some of Eddie's wordless vocal coloring (something I wish he would go back to). It reminds us that he is alive, and that he is going to be okay.

Alive is an extremely personal song, and one that few of us can (hopefully) relate to in any direct sense. But we don’t have to relate directly. Alive is for anyone who has ever been violated (emotionally or physically) by those closest to us and reminds us that we can and will survive it, that as long as we're alive we’ll survive to love and trust again.


Why Go

I probably have less to say about Why Go than the rest of the songs on the record as it is easily the least nuanced of all the tracks on Ten. It is pure anger, but unlike the straight ahead furious shrieking of a later song like Lukin there are some extra layers coloring its frustration, indignation, and especially confusion (this may just be my tastes but I definitely prefer these vocals, as there is more texture to them).

Lyrically Why Go is perhaps a little more straightforward than I would prefer. Eddie usually tells his stories sideways, coming at them somewhat obliquely or with a degree of subtly not present here. But, like Alive, the lyrics are not doing the heavy lifting here. Why Go is once again about the vocals and the music.

Musically this is one of my favorite tracks on a record full of terrific instrumental work. This is dangerous, foreboding music, starting out with the hostile bass line exploding into the wall of angry guitars. You can hear the music pounding in the subject's head as she carves her thoughts into the stone walls of her cell, giving her the strength to pierce the rock, and it only grows in intensity as she continues to ponder her fate—not only trapped, but violated by the people who are supposed to unconditionally love and accept her

Eddies vocals are angry throughout, but I love how there are moments where he mutes it slightly, when the anger is soften by her own confusion about how she got here and what, if anything, she can do to get herself out--especially during the first chorus, where the anger is secondary to her bewilderment at the start, with the rage building throughout the chorus until it reaches the fever pitch that it occupies during the rest of the song, giving the woman (and the listener) an outlet for their anger. The lyrics to Why Go are meant to be claustrophobic, but the song is explosive enough to destroy the walls of the cell.

Many of the choruses in Ten are simple (Release me, I'm still alive, Why go home) but the simplicity works in their favor—these are basic questions or declarations but delivered with so much weight, passion, and sympathy that they transport you right into the experiences of the character (in the same way that the word love is often trite unless you're using it to describe your own feelings). I also love the ambiguity in the way that the chorus is delivered. The lyric is why go home (what is left for her there?), but it also sounds like they are singing why go on—after a violation and betrayal this personal, what is left for her anywhere?


Black

Black is a great example of everyone in the band knowing when to play restrained and who to give focus to at exactly the right time. It is also one of those rare songs that understands precisely what is happening when you're left behind at the end of a powerful relationship. There isn’t anger, or clarity—just a searing, painful desire to have the person back and a fear of spending the rest of your life alone. There isn’t redemption in this song like there is at the end of Alive, nor is there release to be found in anger like in Why Go or Once. But Eddie's voice channels so much empathy that even while things are falling apart you know that you aren’t alone. There is someone with you in the black.

The song starts out with the muted introduction—it is meant to evoke a sense of age and distance, like someone putting a record on an old player and preparing to sit down and reminisce about times gone by and lost loves. There is a sense of peaceful detachment to it, which makes the moment when the music really kicks in (with Jeff's little bass riff) all the more striking. The music is rich, warm, and enveloping (and non-distinct the band does a wonderful job in this song creating soundscapes and evoking moods without ever taking center stage. I've heard Black hundreds of times and yet I would have a really difficult time humming the music), as is Eddie's voice. He certainly doesn’t sound like someone pining for a lost love, at least not yet. The first verse is wistful, and if there is a subtle undercurrent of sadness it is harmless and painless, the hurt long gone and the memories just bittersweet enough to make them interesting

The opening lyrics speak of promise and possibilities, of stories yet to be told and lives waiting to be lived—only the subtle hint of the past tense (as her body once did) gives any indication that this may never come to pass, at least until the pre-chorus, when the music gets distorted and Eddie lets a small growl enter his voice. There is a touch of bitterness, but the vocals still ring strong and confident, assessing where things stand. Even in the chorus, where the lyrics speak of total collapse (hands shaking uncontrollably, all the color and distinction in life washed out) he still sounds like he is holding everything together. There is a strength and confidence in the voice that make it clear that he is still in control. There are moments of hurt peeking through, but he has mastered them

The tension continues in the second verse—the lyrics paint a picture of a life that's lost its flavor—the bitterness and pain that he feels at seeing people around him happy when he has nothing. And the song gradually begins its descent into total breakdown. The vocals lose a great deal of their confidence, if not their power. The growl is much more prominent and there is a ragged edge to it that wasn’t there before, and the music picks up its urgency to match it. He is still in control, but he's losing it, and he lets us know. It isn’t just the pictures and the memories lost to the darkness—that darkness is growing, encapsulating not only the past but his present and future possibilities. Everything is gone—all he has left is the void.

The final declaration is heart breaking—his love has moved on to other things. She is somewhere else, living her life and lighting someone else's sky while he is trapped here, howling in the darkness for her to come back, begging for someone to tell him what he did wrong, knowing he isn’t going to get an answer and that without any light he will never find a way out. The vocals here are absolutely perfect—in particular the way he sings ‘why’ the first two times—the slight quaver, the way he probes around the edges, and the way it is drenched in both weary sadness and intensity, quiet and powerful. Next time you listen to the song really focus on what he does with that word. It is amazing.

And the song ends with his exhausted, wordless howls, indistinct screaming guitars and the bitterly sad melody. No one moment is given center stage (neither the solo nor eddie's vocals nor the backing music) since there is no light to give anything perspective or clarity. It is the sound of a life utterly collapsing, chronicling his descent into the black.

Jeremy

Like Alive, Jeremy starts out with what has become an iconic riff—rich, full, and laden with expectation. You listen to those first few notes and you know you're going to hear an important story, but unlike a song like Alive, the music quickly takes a backseat. It grabs your attention and then recedes to the background so the story can be told

As per just about every other song on the record, Jeremy is a song of betrayal and intimate isolation—of being abandoned by the people who are supposed to look out and care for you. And Jeremy is utterly alone, shunned by his peers and ignored by his family. The song is a juxtaposition between the powerlessness he feels in the real world and the fantasy he has to create for himself in order to feel like he matters, like he has some agency and control over his world. And as the images that begin the song make clear, the isolation is taking a toll on him. His fantasy is a fantasy of dominance—of revenge and a need to harm others before they can harm him. There is no love to be found here, but there is power, the coiled and unhinged power of prey about to lash out at what it fears

There is some wonderful ambiguity in the lyrics, which can be easy to miss in what is otherwise a fairly straightforward story. In particular I love the King Jeremy the wicked ruled his world lyric. Since eddie doesn’t write with punctuation (ellipses don’t count) we never know quite how to read it. Is King Jeremy wicked, tormenting the people in his (imaginary) world, or does Jeremy have no way out—even in his fantasies where he ostensibly rules it is the wicked, the people who shun and isolate him, who are still in command (King Jeremy, the wicked ruled his world). My take is that it is both, although the later dominates, which sets up the resolution of the song (or at least its famous video)

Like Black and a number of other songs on the record, Jeremy has an extended outro meant to be a musical accompaniment to the complete breakdown of a person, the shattering of a life—the music is urgent and pounding, but featureless and unfocused. The narrator is trying to both get his mind around Jeremy's final actions and figure out what could have driven him to say what he did. Unlike the clarity of the storytelling in the verses the vocals are pure emotion, the moaning of someone lost trying so hard to find his way home and the desperate attempt to understand, all leading up to the ominous outro and, thanks to the video, the moment we all know is coming


Jeremy's chorus is brilliant, for all its seeming simplicity, and one that is far too often ignored. We already have the picture of Jeremy as the quiet, brooding outsider—cut off from everyone else. One day he finally decides to speak, and it is obviously an event, or it would not be worth commenting on. But what did he say? The video makes it tragically clear, although there is enough ambiguity in the lyrics for there to be competing answers here. The only way he could express the trauma of his isolation was to take his life, and to do so in public, in a place of safety and innocence, to sear it into people's minds. In a sense, his final act, what was said, was a sacrifice of sorts, and a warning. Isolation is amongst the cruelest things you can do to another human being, and there are consequences to denying them warmth and love. Jeremy's was a warning because the next time the bullets might not be turned inward, as we see in Once and in the real life school violence we've seen since.

The blackboard is the iconic image of school and education—but what is ironic about this is that while knowledge is supposed to be permanent, a blackboard is completely disposable. Something is written, discussed for a time, and then erased to move on to something else—and as we all know, once the knowledge is erased it is rarely remembered. We move on to the next disposable moment, and the blackboard becomes a symbol of impermanence, the words written on them in some way diminished by their disposable presentation.

Jeremy understood that and sought to leave a message, written in his blood, that try as we might, we will be unable to remove, or forget.

Oceans

At first Oceans feels a bit out of place on Ten, given the general darkness that surrounds most of the other tracks, but it is still addressing the same themes, albeit from a slightly different angle. Most of the album is about betrayal, but Oceans is about trust, the opposite side of the same coin. Its placement is also perfect as Porch will address a number of these themes, but in the midst of crisis, so the two play off each other nicely.

Oceans is a love song, dealing with the fear and uncertainty that surrounds love, the need for trust and the way it makes you vulnerable. Eddie is one of the few writers out there who really understands that any love wants to survive must be grounded in trust, and that it needs to be strong enough to resist the ways life is constantly trying to undermine it. In Oceans the threat comes from distance, but the distance is a metaphor—any kind of stress and uncertainty will do. Oceans is a promise, assuring us that love is worth enduring what needs to be endured, that it will be worth it in the end. It's a reminder of how precious and fragile love is, and how important it is that we remember that. The song is a plea for faithfulness, and there is an urgent fragility to Eddie's vocals here, especially on the ohhhhhs after each verse. Eddie's vocals are extremely powerful to the point of overwhelming the song on many of the tracks on Ten, but that isn’t the case here. There is doubt and insecurity softening it. He knows exactly what he wants and asks for it with force, but he is also all too aware of how difficult it will be to hold onto, and how lost he will be without it (as the previous songs have all made very clear), and it makes him nervous and tenuous while he is trying to be assertive. It creates the tension that propels the song along

As usual the music does a terrific job conveying the mood (I'm not sure any of the records do this as well as Ten). It is warm and gentle, but with a sense of motion and instability to it, moments of calm battered about by currents that are largely beyond the control of the people adrift. It is supposed to sound like rolling waves, and it does. Close your eyes and you can picture two people standing on distant shores, looking out over the water towards where they know the other one is, reminding themselves that even though separation is a trial, it is one that needs to be endured because what will be otherwise lost is far too precious to abandon.

Porch

There is a breathless, frantic intensity to Porch. Two scenes play out in my mind, and I'm not sure which one I like more. One has a person running through their apartment in a bit of a daze, by themselves and coping with the end of a relationship. The other sees a person storming out of a house, trailed by the song's narrator, begging for the person to stay as they throw their car into reverse and head off into the distance. In both situations the key to the image is movement—because if the narrator stops they will collapse. Either way it begs the question, what happened here?

And that's how the song starts—the riff only plays for a second before Eddie belts out ‘what the fuck is this world running to?’ There isn’t a whole lot of profanity on this record, so it has extra emphasis here, and I like that he says running to instead of coming to. There is a sense of deliberation in the later—as if the world is playing out some scripted event, whereas here there is a crashing immediacy to the question. And whatever happened seems shocking—there is no message, no warning or time to prepare. It reminds me of a moment in college when my girlfriend at the time told me, seemingly out of the blue, that she wanted to break up. We had had some problems but I was hopelessly in love and had really pushed all this to the side because I didn’t want to confront it, and when that suddenly came up (I think I asked her what was wrong because she seemed upset and that just burst out) there was a pause (it felt like an eternity even though I know it only lasted a few seconds) and then the world suddenly seemed to speed up, with me racing to keep up with the blur. Some of the little moments Eddie captures in the song are great too, like the ‘you didn’t leave a message lyric’—the request for something tangible to hold onto as a relationship reaches a violent end

I've always thought Porch was about a woman pleading with a man to stay, but it works with either gender. The ‘would you hit me?' lyric works either way here, with the singer hoping that perhaps some kind of physical act will offer some kind of outlet for the problems that are dragging the relationship down. In either case it is a request borne of desperation, and has particularly sinister overtones if the voice of the song is supposed to be female.

So what is driving the collapse of the relationship? The second verse makes me think that the issue is pregnancy. It is hard to tell if this is something I'm reading back into the song due to the pro choice message Eddie scrawls on his arm during the Unplugged performance, plus all the comments made at early shows about choice. If the singer is a woman I imagine her discovering she was pregnant and the guy just absolutely freaking out, tearing out of there rather than staying to confront this new reality—the woman offers to abort the child for him (perhaps he thinks she won’t—‘ the cross I'm bearing home ain’t indicative of my place’) but he won’t stay still long enough to listen. But the cross she’s bearing could also just be a more traditional metaphor for the suffering she’s enduring—perhaps this is a woman declaring an end to an abusive relationship, demanding change from the partner. The way Eddie positively seethes when he sings ‘there ain’t gonna be any middle anymore’ makes it clear that regardless of what is going on a line is being drawn, that she wants an end to the daily minefield of complications that is fast ruining their shared lives.

Porch is about weathering a storm, and the title is key to that. A porch brings to mind warm and cozy images of home, of tranquility and safety—and Porch is about the destruction of that safety. The first half of the song sets up the collapse, the back half deals with it from inside. The music has a galloping energy to it—it sounds like running, as if the person is trying so hard to stay ahead of the events that threaten to overwhelm them. The chorus is both a declaration of need and independence. The singer fears being alone and wants so powerfully for the person leaving to stay (she's running to catch up with him) and there is certainly a sharp edge of desperation to the final minute of the song (which I think is only matched by the end of Alive in terms of its power in their entire catalogue)— she is pleading for things to go back the way they were, but at the same time she is also forcing herself to come to grips with it (you can hear her arguing with herself under the music in the bridge). The cries are not only cries of despair, but strength, fortifying her for the struggles that she will have to face alone. This isn’t the breakdown at the end of Black where the comfort and release for the listener comes from the fact that you aren’t alone in your suffering. In Black there isn’t strength as much as there is solidarity in pain. There is something empowering about the finish of Porch—from the closing of the bridge to the end of the song we have the incredible rolling drums, the great bass line, the soaring andempowering riff (so much fantastic music is buried in the mix—next time you listen to Porch try and block eddie out and just listen to the music-from about 2:04 to the end), and Eddie's primal screams—ragged but determined. It is an emancipatory moment in the midst of a destructive whirlwind, an act of creation just as everything else around you falls apart. Porch finishes with the righteousness of a last stand against seemingly overwhelming odds, with nothing to offer but yourself and the determination that it will be enough, because it has to be.

‘Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me”—Martin Luther


Garden

Garden is a quiet moment for meditation, taking stock of what has come before. There is a strong contrast between the clarity of the main guitar melody and the moody atmosphere that surrounds it, at attempt to make sense of a seemingly senseless world, an effort to pierce the veil that obscures what he hopes is reality, a truer world than the one he lives in (in a lot of ways Garden is a very Platonic song)

The dissatisfaction that is driving the singer is a mixture of the personal and something much larger—the ways in which the sensory overload of the lives that we live interfere with our ability to create meaningful personal relationships, our ability to create and sustain the attachments that create real value, rather than the illusions that we force ourselves to accept.

In that respect Garden is about resisting temptation, learning to look past the bright lights, the sales pitch, the shiny object. Truth and meaning (and love) is found when you try to peer into the shadowy depths that do not offer any easy way out, but do offer the possibility (only the possibility) of something more meaningful.

Eddie does a pretty nice job applying this theme to our relationship with society and our relationship to each other (which is filtered through the superficiality of our external world). We can’t separate the two—the type of personal connections we have will be forever bound up with the contexts we situate them in. An impermanent world of smoke and mirrors will never allow us to grasp something tangible. Privileging love will require letting go of the familiar comfort that we are accustomed to, and this is not an easy choice to make, since the temptations to go back are so strong. Opening ourselves up to something more meaningful requires a surrender of sorts, a threatening vulnerability. Love requires the death of old attachments and the walls that we've built around ourselves so that we can be reborn into something new

As such, underneath the questioning and uncertainty of the verses we find the tone of the chorus and the outro, a complicated mix of determination and fear. He is willing to reject what he has to reject, to make himself vulnerable. He has to if he wants to live (a life without love, without humanity, is not a life worth living) but the necessity of his surrender does not make it any less painful, and the song ends with that painful rejection of what he knows and the possibility (always a possibility, never a guarantee) of rebirth.

Deep

Before I really dive into Deep I wanted to something about its placement on the record. For the most part I think Ten is a well tracked record, but I've never been quite comfortable with the location of Deep. Deep belongs earlier, amongst the stories like Once, Even Flow, Why Go, Black, and Jeremy, where there is no way out, and no resolution beyond anger and shared outrage and grief. Like Oceans and Porch, Garden begins to offer the promise of a way out, and the segue from Garden into Release is much stronger (thematically and musically) than Deep into Release. I'm not sure how I’d retrack the album, but I’d definitely switch Garden and Deep at a minimum.


Deep is one of the more violent songs on Ten, and the explosive opening music reflects that. It has always reminded me of someone in free fall painfully crashing through barriers that fail to stop them, or even slow them down. The rise and fall of Eddie's voice does a nice job moving the song along. Whereas the music gives each little vignette an appropriately sinister tone he starts each verse calmly, even casually, which makes the panic in each chorus hit more powerfully.

The verses themselves are quick mini-portraits (as is every song on Ten) of a life falling apart. The first has a person contemplating suicide. He feels small, insignificant, and decides to put the question off, settling for the slow suicide of drug abuse instead. In the second story the subject is similarly feeling trapped not only by the fact that the larger world offers him no sources of meaning and stability, but also by the lack of understanding from the rest of society. Like the first character, he's an outcast, although where the first person was lost in a cold, uncaring crowd the second person feels trapped in a smaller world of faked intimacy and artificial community. In both cases the isolation is especially bitter since they both find themselves surrounded by people (a city with all its possibilities, and a small town where people are supposed to know and care about one another).

The final story is easily the most moving and chilling of the three—the story of a young, fairly innocent girl in the process of being raped. Either way, what should be the most intimate and joyous act that two people can engage in becomes violent and distant. Rather than intimacy what connects her to the man above her is her objectification. She isn’t a human being, but a means to an end, to someone else's gratification. The violation is both physical and mental, a taking of her body and a taking of her humanity. Eddie gives extra weight to this verse the way he snarls the ‘she just ain’t nothing’ lyric, as most of the other verses don’t have any of the lyrics receiving extra emphasis until the chorus.

In all three cases the person is too far along to find a way out. The constant falling, the constant feeling of insignificance, the destruction of humanity has left them trapped and alone, and not sure where to turn to next. Like most of Ten, the catharsis in Ten comes from Eddie's voice, sharing his outrage that we allow people to feel this alone and this violated (existentially or physically). There is no resolution. It's a dark song, although angry enough to not be altogether hopeless. As long as there is anger the spark of resistance is still there, which means that there is always the possibility of a way out, even if we are in too deep to see it.


Release

The fact that Release is the only song on Ten to not have the lyrics included in the booklet is significant. It is the most directly personal song on the record, the only one not mediated through a character, or even any kind of narrative. Instead it conveys a sense of intimacy not bound by any particular time, place of events. The whole record, up to this point, has been a back and forth mixture of betrayal and violence against the self alongside attempts to rise above it. The stories are exhausting and Release is an exhausted song, a final weary plea that conveys not only the need for release, but the determination to hold on until it finally comes—the song climaxing with that final act of strength and gently fading out and back into the murk of master/slave, staring the whole process over again. Ten never offers the way out—only the faith that it exists and that one day the closed loop will open.

Like Garden the music has a meditative feel to it—a hypnotic guitar melody accented by the swirling soundscapes and anchored by Eddie's voice, striking that incredible balance between deep richness and the vulnerability of a higher register. This is arguably Eddie's finest vocal performance, the subtle accents on the important lines: the slight quavers at just the right movement, knowing exactly how far down in his register to drop and when to bring it back up, and especially the way he sings the chorus and the redemptive, cleansing notes he holds after it

Release is best listened to at night, when you have quiet and stillness—it is easiest to search for something missing when there are no external distractions. And Eddie is clearly searching: for peace, for love, for meaning. He is tired of a world that seems unable to soften its violence and isolation with understanding, trust, and intimacy, but he does not know what he can do about it. And he is asking for help. Release is a prayer—calling out in the silent dark for deliverance. But he isn’t calling out to a God. Instead he looks to the father he never knew—to the person who should have taught him how to make sense of the world, he should have offered him guidance and prepared him for what was to come. He isn’t looking to God, as God must shoulder some responsibility for the mess we've made of things. His unknown father's love is unconditional, its promise never tainted by reality. He is the purest form of hope and deliverance Eddie can call out to. Whatever is best in Eddie he feels he owes to him (or to the promise his father embodies).

And the song culminates with his powerful, weary, desperate, defiant, hopeful plea to his father (or whatever we wish to substitute) for rescue. He refuses to surrender. He will hold the pain the world inflicts on him, he’ll deal with the isolation waiting for his answer, and finally (and this is the most difficult step), he’ll make himself vulnerable---he’ll allow himself to continue to trust again and to love again, and to keep doing so no matter how often he is hurt and violated—as long as it takes until he finds his release. It is a simple chorus (release me) but it says so much, and encapsulates the hope and need that runs through the entire record. No matter how violent and hard the world becomes, no matter how alone we may find ourselves, we cannot surrender. We have to hold on to the possibility of a deeper love that will eventually release us from our bondage.

Thanks for reading!

_________________
*Led Zeppelin Mega Tournament: Click here*


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