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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 333
Fri, Dec 14, 2012

“Thumbing My Way”
Pearl Jam

2002

“♫ I have
not been home
since you left
long ago/ I’m
thumbing my
way back to
heaven/ calm
steps walking
backwards on
the road
♫”

I loving my resurrected respect for Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready and Matt Cameron, that rediscovered during my recent Pearl Jam revival. It seems I’ve finally gone beyond Ten and Vs and have discovered a lot of gems in their electric song canon. I noticed something about my favorite cut from 2002’s Riot Act, the same song that The Guardian UK dubbed “the acoustic “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” “Thumbing My Way” in all actuality sounds like a song sequel to “Last Kiss.”

For those of you who don’t remember “Last Kiss,” was originally a Ten Club only Xmas single of the Wayne Cochran penned song that Frank J. Wilson and The Cavaliers made popular, cover from 1999’s No Boundaries: A Benefit For The Kosovar Refugees tribute album and single that hit #2 on the Billboard charts. Eddie Vedder found the old 7 inch vinyl in an antique mall in Seattle, Washington and convinced the rest of Pearl Jam to cover it. The original story behind “Last Kiss” is a song tale about a boys who ‘borrows’ his fathers car and goes out on a date with his gal only to get in a car accident. The boy wakes up dazed only to see his girl unconscious. Before she dies, his gal gives him a last kiss and he promises to wait for her in heaven.

The song that bassist Jeff Ament called “the most minimalist recording we’ve ever done, “Last Kiss” inspired one of the fastest songs written by Vedder as Eddie described to David Fricke in Rolling Stone, “Thumbing My Way” was written real quick. There’s something about writing real quickly that keeps the music in a nice pure state. You don’t think of it as homework. You think, “Wow, that was a good half hour spent.” There is a tangible joy about creating something that wasn’t there before.” One clue that “Thumbing” wasn’t about Eddie is that, he claims the songs was written in the perspective of another character as Vedder explained, “I’m pretty good at removing myself from most of the songs. One thing about writing songs is, they don’t always have to be about you. When they are always about someone, I lose interest after a while.”

It would makes sense that “Last Kiss,” one of the most successful songs Pearl Jam had ever recorded, and one that Stone Gossard described as “You can try album after album to write a hit and spend months getting drum sounds and rewriting lyrics, or you can go to a used record store and pick out a single and fall in love with it;” inspired one of the most sad yet tender songs ever penned by Eddie Vedder. I love the stripped nature of the music as Eddie mumbles his lyrics that echo the fateful drive from “Last Kiss.” I imagine the main character in “Thumbing My Way” is the boy from “Last Kiss,” grown up and trying to hitchhike his way to heaven and see his girlfriend that’s been now dead for years. Eddie has this masterful way of recapturing the desolate despair of the love lost boyfriend from “Last Kiss,” contemplating suicide as Vedder sings:

“♫ I let go of the rope thinking that’s what held me back
And in time I’ve realized it’s now wrapped around my neck
I can’t see what’s next from this lonely overpass
Hang my head and count my steps as another car goes past
♫”

Maybe it is just a coincidence but, to my ears, “Thumbing My Way” is Eddie Vedder’s penned song sequel to “Last Kiss.” It’s not just the driving theme but the main character in “Thumbing” would reflect the same sense of desolation if the protagonist from “Last Kiss” was alive, much older but still mourning his deceased girlfriend from the original cover. Another reason I believe that “Thumbing” is the continuation to the song story of “Last Kiss” is something Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard said, to Cameron Crowe in Pearl Jam Twenty, about Vedder’s songwriting, ““Thumbing My Way” is kind of Ed really getting into an acoustic singer-songwriter thing in a way that you knew that he could. He was just finally getting comfortable with the idea that maybe he’d bring a little of that into Pearl Jam. The sentiment of the song is amazing.

What better of a song to emulate that one that Eddie and Pearl Jam fell in love with after one spin from a vinyl that Vedder discovered in a bargain bin for only 99 cents? I like to believe that artists mirror songs that they truly love, “Last Kiss” was Pearl Jam’s sonic secret that became a top five hit. “Thumbing My Way” may not be the sequel to “Last Kiss,” but it remains a stunning triumph for Eddie Vedder. Because of this “Thumbing My Way” remains one of the most beautiful songs in the Pearl Jam canon. Go road trippin with the song Eddie Vedder called, “hitchiking your way through a broken heart.” “Thumbing Your Way” is the right road for you.

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