Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 266
Tues. Dec. 3, 2013
Just like his hero Pete Townshend, Eddie Vedder has always longed to craft more than just hard songs for more than the egoistic exuberance of cocking sounds just for rock sake. Vedder’s goal has always been to put heavy lyrical soul back into his own classic ideal of rock and roll. Vedder wanted to match Townshend’s genius that he did with The Who’s more memorable classics like “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Baba O’Riley;” in a 1992 interview with Raw Power, Eddie explained the method to his rock ‘n’ roll credo, when Pearl Jam’s front man said, “People listen to music for different reasons. Some people, its background music—but other people need it to survive. Other people need music to get things out and maybe that’s just where I’m coming from, you know, when things weren’t easy for me, growing up. You know, music, I felt, saved my life. Pete Townshend, wherever you are, Pete, you saved my life. You know, whether he knows it or not. I wouldn’t be here. And I had absolutely nothing else besides music. And so that’s still, you know, that’s in me, and so if we’re gonna play, if we’re gonna get up and play, or write a song, you know, write about something that means something. You know, why write about, you know, “Oh, pretty day,” or, “Pretty girl,” or “Pretty people,” there’s nothing… people have different reasons for listening and playing. I need to—for me, it’s much more…religious.” This was the lyrical foundation that Vedder used for matching the guitar sound intensity that Stone Gossard and Mike McCready brought to such Pearl Jam’s timeless cuts like “Garden.”
Speaking of religion, there’s a lot of vivid imagery in the Ten cult classic that is “Garden.” Those vibrant images from this cult classic has rarely, if ever been explained by Vedder. So what exactly is Garden about? When attempting to decipher the meaning of “Garden,” I tried imagining the method in which Vedder writes his lyrics which Eddie shared this process when talking to Australian surfer Mark Richards, in 2013, about how he writes songs for Pearl Jam, when he explained “In the old days, when I just started to write [in] complete isolation, you’d be like, ”Oh I’m gonna work on this song for a few days. I’m just gonna procrastinate me a few lyrics, or … a new bridge […] [Sometimes I use] one line to kind of germinate [an idea] … almost like stem-cell research. I’ve got these little bits of stem-cell lyrics scattered about. I like to keep typewriters around, maybe even three or four going at once, and I can … add to [them]. By the end, I can read things and I don’t even recognize who wrote it.”
Every time I hear one of my favorite songs from Ten, I wonder what Eddie sees when he looks at the lyrics for “Garden?” I remember first discovering Pearl Jam when I worked at Hastings Records in the early nineties. Those sounds coming from the cassette promo were awe-inspiring reflection of the confused soul I was and a yearning from Vedder’s lyrical voices of the immortal poet I longed to be. But I wasn’t alone as author Paul Williams can attest in his book, Back to the Miracle Factory: Rock Etc. 1990’s, when he wrote “Ten is the sort of record young people rock and roll—and, to a certain extent, themselves—through. “I will walk with my shadow flag into your garden, garden of stone.” Yes. This is the sound that first awakened me, and it’s lost none of its power a generation later. I’m glad I know where to find it when I need it.” Garden’s lyrical magic came back to me in my sleep. I woke up with this 1991 treasure from Ten in my head and I don’t even remember listening to “Garden” in almost twenty years. When I get a song like this in my head it’s a sign that I need to discover why;
You may think with hit songs like “Jeremy,” “Even Flow” and “Alive” those songs would be the most important to the band from their debut album Ten, but you would be wrong as guitarist Stone Gossard explained when sharing his memories of “Garden” when he said, “That’s probably my favorite song on the album, because of its simplicity and it’s arrangement. The way that song came together was really cool. I had the verse and the chorus, and the bridge evolved from a jam with Jeff.” Gossard’s guitar partner Mike McCready also a fan of “Garden” remembered the day Stone wanted to update the sound of this gem from Pearl Jam’s Ten when he recalled in a 2010 interview with Kathy Davis, “That one was really hard. Stone came in, and we’re all kind of tired, and he’s like, ‘I’ve got this idea. I want to re-work ‘Garden.’ ‘And we’re like, ‘Mmm.’ (Laughs.) ‘Aw, man. Let’s just go home, you know? We already have ‘Garden.’ ‘And it was a tough thing, because I think Ed was kind of at the end of his rope, and we were getting ready to go on tour. But after we did it about 10 or 20 times it came out OK. (Stone arranged a new intro) Yeah. He arranged that whole idea. I think he just woke up one morning and started messing around. I was skeptical at first. But it’s fun to bring that thing back.”
But fortunately this new version of “Garden” was short lived as Jeff Ament explained in Cameron Crowe’s book Pearl Jam Twenty, “We went through a phase during our second, third, forth records, where we tried to rework those popular songs and do different things to them. And, you know, every single time, you’d go through a phase where you’d fall in love with a new version, and then, all of a sudden, you’d listen back to it at some point. You’d be like, “Man, the old version is way better.” We were playing a different version of “Garden,” and we ended up going back to the old version.”
Regardless of the old and new versions, what exactly is “Garden” about, anyway? When Eddie explained why some songs like “Black” and “Garden” don’t deserved to be decoded, the Pearl Jam singer said, “Some songs, just aren’t meant to be played between Hit No. 2 and Hit No. 3. You start doing those things, you’ll crush it. That’s not why we wrote songs. We didn’t write to make hits. But those fragile songs get crushed by the business. I don’t want to be a part of it. I don’t think the band wants to be part of it.” From the man who first started writing songs because music was his religion sometimes gets agitated when critics and fans ask him to interpret the meaning to his lyrics, to those Pearl Jam supporters Vedder has this to say, in Spin Magazine circa 1998, about his songs, “If I want to make a song based on sound effects from the movie Mars Attacks, I can do that. That’s our legacy. That’s the good stuff. Fuck lyrics. I’m working on singing more without saying anything. It really takes the pressure off. I’m not a scholar. Don’t follow me. A lot of the songs are about escape, about letting go.”
But still no matter what Eddie Vedder doesn’t say about this Pearl Jam song, fans and critics’ alike still hypothesize about “Garden’s” mysterious meaning. It is rumored that the ‘garden of stone’ image is a cemetery, others believe it could be a metaphor for a cold lover’s privatest shadow parts and it is believed that before a performance of “Garden” during a 2009 show in Sydney Vedder described this Ten cut as inspired by the first Iraqi war in 1990s. I believe the best interpretation of ‘Garden” comes from author Kim Neely in her controversial Pearl Jam biographical tome Five Against One, who unknowingly gave an explanation of this Ten treasure when she wrote, “In some ways, Eddie was no different than thousands of others his age, people who were expressing disenchantment with the soulless consumer culture they’d grown up in. An entire generation, shell-shocked by information overload, repulsed by the greed and hypocrisy they’d been force-fed for years by corporate America, seemed to be yearning for something tangible, something real. […] They wanted to get back to the garden, just like their hippie parents had. But what do you do if your parents have swiped their tie-dye for suits and ties and destroyed the garden?” I love the image of our generation being seeds grown from a garden of hope from our parent’s and we’re trying to find the soil to replant our own patch of optimism during this age of droughting expectation and rotten greed and excess lusting for commercial success.
Eddie Vedder himself expanding on this image in Neely’s book when he said, “Look what we’ve done to this place at these weird fucking buildings, and the freeways, and look at a place like New York. It’s a freak out. Why is that the American dream? It’s perverse. I mean, your goals should be so much more connected to the earth and the sky and family, yet this is the way we live. All I really believe in is this fucking moment, like right now. It’s all I believe in.” I like to believe this emotions living in an emotional cold and culturally bankrupt society is what sparked Eddie to pen “Garden” in 1991.
Just like his hero Pete Townshend, Eddie Vedder wanted to put some heavy soul into his band’s personal band of rock and roll. We may love this glorious songs with their very deep evocative and their obscure meanings may haunt us to no end, but maybe we’ll never know the truth about the genesis of “Garden” and that’s not really a bad thing. Keep digging up new meanings of this Ten treasure who’s seeds was planted in 1991 has now grown to cult status, as you continue unearthing the mystery behind Vedder’s shadowy poetic brilliance, don’t be discouraged just keep spinning “Garden” and I guarantee this beauty will bloom brighter, landing deeper inside your lyrical light again.