Perhaps the most famous songs in Pearl Jam's catalogue, "Jeremy" continues to receive enormous airplay despite being a part of PJ's oldest album, Ten. Undoubtedly, the persistent video play on MTV sparked some of the recognition, but "Jeremy" has a history beyond the saga portrayed by the often aired (and perhaps over-played) videos.
The news media seem to like to scribble about how PJ's "Jeremy" is an influence in the ongoing unfortunate spree of school shootings. Actually, Vedder's lyrics were motivated by an incident that occurred in a high school in Richardson, TX, when a troubled 16-year-old sophomore fatally shot himself in front of a classroom. Upon being told to obtain an admittance slip from the school office after missing class, he returned and walked to the front of the classroom, telling the teacher he "... got what I really want," pulling out the gun and firing it into his mouth to the horror of everyone. (The original newspaper story from the January 9, 1991 Dallas Morning News is here.)
The press is fond of modifying their telling of the "Jeremy" song and video story, twisting it such that Jeremy shoots his classmates perhaps thus ferreting out a more solid hook for paralleling the song to the school shootings.
"Jeremy" has a distinctive melody that was penned by Jeff. It has always claimed a fervent crowd appeal, since nearly everyone recognizes it and gets enthused at a show when the first few notes of "Jeremy" are heard. The lyrics are easily understandable, even to a casual fan (more so than many other PJ songs) and an attentive crowd most always will raise their arms in a V appropriately and sing along, really letting loose on the "ooh, ooh, ohh" parts, when Ed will often let the audience take over, holding the microphone out to the crowd in full audience participation mode.
An amusing tale surrounds PJ's live performance of "Jeremy" at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. Apparently the band wanted to play "Sonic Reducer." However, the "Jeremy" video was in current heavy rotation and that was what MTV demanded. The band relented, but not before playing the song off-camera as a soundcheck to the in-studio audience. Additionally, at the close of their compelling performance, Ed sings, "I don't need no ... I don't need no mom and dad ..." a sly and obscure reference to the "Sonic Reducer" lyrics.
"Jeremy" has seen a few modifications and alterations since the classic, originally recorded version. The song was probably first performed acoustically at the now-legendary February 19, 1992 show at Switzerland's Albani Bar of Music, when PJ found themselves in a situation with a miniscule stage and rented acoustic instruments. [This is one of the great "lost" Pearl Jam shows, for which a tape has never surfaced. If you were there, write us!] PJ's best known acoustic version of "Jeremy" is probably the 1992 MTV Unplugged show. Later that year, they performed the song at their first appearance at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit November 1, 1992.
In 1995, what had become a crowd-pleasing and fairly standard element of Pearl Jam's live show suddenly became perhaps the most anticipated song of a live concert, when the "new Jeremy" surfaced as the second song of Pearl Jam's wondrous Red Rocks show. This was their second night at that beautiful venue and magical things often transpire when the band plays more than one show in the same setting. They began the show seated, maintaining their energy due to the altitude illness some of them were suffering. (Stone continually popped up out of his seat, eventually declaring, "All right ... fuck the seats!" as the chairs are dragged away and they jump into "Last Exit.") (200k)
But this version of "Jeremy" was a huge surprise, with a few, pensive guitar notes opening the song. The crowd was hushed, not sure what to think. This variation was almost totally rearranged with Ed filling in on rhythm guitar, a sweet bluesy riff infusing after the first verse and Jeff's pervasive bass line seems to cement it all together. Ed nearly totally abandons singing the chorus; musically, the song becomes more familiar during the chorus and toward the end. Ed notes, "... we're just making this up as we go along tonight." The written setlist seems to maintain otherwise.
What became known to PJ fans as "the new Jeremy" was played a few more times during the 1995 tour, to the delight of many fans and to the bemusement of others, most of whom were not aware that this new version existed. Often people didn't recognize it, or at least not at first. Sometimes the band would toy with the crowd about playing it. Ed teased at the second Milwaukee show, "We're having a band argument," presumedly about which version to play. They eventually played the entire new version later that evening.
The "new" version disappeared after the '95 tour, until making a surprising reappearance at the amazing 9/29/96 Randall's Island show (note: another second night at the same venue!), only to vanish again. A short improv, based on the "new" Jeremy was brought into play at the 8/17/98 Deer Creek show when Ed sang the lyrics, "President spoke in court today" to the tune of "Jeremy spoke in class today," over the non-traditional arrangement. (This was meant as a commentary about the then current press regarding the presidential hearings and testimony.) (1,229k)
As much as Pearl Jam seem to be haunted by "Jeremy," and the ensuing success and exposure the song brought them, they don't seem ready to give it up and genuinely seem to enjoy playing it. Perhaps the point of "the new Jeremy" was to allow them to continue playing this song and to re-explore it musically, without the hype that surrounded the video. One of the band's strengths is their ability to renew their acquaintances with old songs. Here, for your listening pleasure:
- Jeremy, from 6/20/95 at Red Rocks at Morrison, Colorado [mp3 - 6,670K]
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© 1999 Jean Bruns & Caryn Rose