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Zurich 6.18.92
The 'Mamasan' Trilogy

Live from 6/18/92

"It's about incest; and it's about murder; and you know all those good things. And if you can picture it in your mind, the third song takes place in a jail cell. So this is our own little mini-opera here." --EV, 6/18/92

I remember when I first traded for a live Pearl Jam tape. It was the (famous) "Easter 94 show," (aka "Atlanta") which was broadcast via radio. Fans taped it and shared it with those who either didn't tape or didn't receive the broadcast. This was like gold to me ... I'd only heard studio recordings previously. I wanted more.

A "hot topic" on the now long-defunct Garden of Stone mailing list was the Zurich '92 show ... that "the trilogy" (a sort of mini-opera) was played and explained there. I wanted to hear that, so that was my next trade (acquired in exchange for blank tapes and return postage). Upon arrival, I hurriedly unwrapped the little packet, slid it into the tape deck and settled in front of the speakers to listen with great anticipation. From the beautiful opening ("Oceans") to the powerful "State of Love and Trust" (wow, this is great live!) to "Brass in Pocket" (they do Pretenders!?!) This was VERY exciting!!!

But the real treasure in this show is the first appearance of "the trilogy" (and titled by Ed, reason unknown, as 'Mamasan'): the consecutive progression of "Alive," "Once" and "Footsteps." At this show, June 18, 1992 at the Volkshaus in Zurich, Switzerland, Ed explains to the crowd the story behind the songs, and how these three songs come together to form "our own little mini-opera." (This is discussed at length in last month's Song X.)

The trilogy is also explained in Cameron Crowe's 10/28/93 Rolling Stone article "Five Against the World" article as a tale of ...

one who is wronged and does wrong

live from 6/18/92
[mp3 - 9,016K]


  "The story of the song is that a mother is with a father and the father dies. It's an intense thing because the son looks just like the father. The son grows up to be the father, the person that she lost. His father's dead, and now this confusion, his mother, his love, how does he love her, how does she love him? In fact, the mother, even though she marries somebody else, there's no one she's ever loved more than the father. You know how it is, first loves and stuff. And the guy dies. How could you ever get him back? But the son. He looks exactly like him. It's uncanny. So she wants him. The son is oblivious to it all. He doesn't know what the fuck is going on. He's still dealing, he's still growing up. He's still dealing with love, he's still dealing with the death of his father. All he knows is 'I'm still alive' -- those three words, that's totally out of burden."

   "Now the second verse is 'Oh she walks slowly into a young man's room... I can remember to this very day... the look... the look.' And I don't say anything else. And because I'm saying, 'The look, the look' everyone thinks it goes with 'on her face.' It's not on her face. The look is between her legs. Where do you go with that? That's where you came from."

   "But I'm still alive. I'm the lover that's still alive. And the whole conversation about 'You're still alive, she said' And his doubts: 'Do I deserve to be? Is that the question?' Because he's fucked up forever!"1


becomes a criminal

live from 6/18/92
[mp3 - 3,861K]


     "So now he doesn't know how to deal with it. So what does he do, he goes out killing people -- that was [the song] 'Once.' He becomes a serial killer." 1

and ends up in jail

live from 6/18/92
[mp3 - 5,035K]


  "And 'Footsteps,' [the final song of the trilogy], that's when he gets executed. That's what happens. The Green River killer... and in San Diego, there was another prostitute killer down there. Somehow I related to that. I think that happens more than we know. It's a modern way of dealing with a bad life." 1


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Listening to these three songs in sequence, now that we're privy to this knowledge, puts a whole new spin on them. The collective members of Pearl Jam, as songwriters, generally don't like to over-explain (or even explain at all!) the meanings behind songs. (Eddie even comments at the Zurich show: "I asked what language they speak here in Zurich and I guess there's many of them. Do you understand English when I talk to you? Cuz I was gonna tell you a little story that the next three songs -- we've never really played them together, but they go together. It's all one story, um...Do you want to hear about it? I haven't told anybody about this before. I don't want to ruin any interpretations of the songs that you have, you know?")

I would not have logically correlated these three songs without this insight. Pearl Jam song lyrics so frequently are filled with double entendres and meanings that are personal to different people in different ways. The intentional lack of videos for songs help preserve personal interpretations of PJ compositions; the members of Pearl Jam may hint at where songs were written or present a tiny snippet of knowledge, but Ed's deliberate exposition of the connection and meaning of these three songs is a gift.

Additionally, the background behind the individual musical compositions is also notable. The music for "Alive" was written by Stone and was originally titled "Dollar Short;" "Once" was an instrumental demo originally titled "Agytian Crave." "Times of Trouble" followed a forked road ... one dark version having lyrics put to the music by Chris Cornell and being released on Temple of the Dog. The other version became "Footsteps."

Additional irony in this whole saga is the fact that Matt Cameron played drums on the majority of the songs on the tape that Vedder eventually received (via Jack Irons, Ed's friend). We all know the story now: Ed listened to the tape, went surfing (with the music playing repeatedly through his mind) and wrote the lyrics, recording them over the tracks laid down by Stone, Jeff and Matt. He created artwork for the tape, labeling it "Mamasan," and mailed the tape back to Seattle.

Stone and Jeff loved Ed's lyrics and vocals. Ed traveled to Seattle in October '90 to meet the guys, jam and record. Dubbing themselves "Mookie Blaylock," the fledgling Pearl Jam made its live debut October 22 at the Off Ramp; the rest is history.

We, as fans, are lucky that Pearl Jam not only perform wonderful live music, changing setlists nightly (unlike so many bands who tour, running through the same playlist from night to night), but they throw in covers, improvs and jams that heighten the uniqueness of each show. They also allow their performances to be taped and for us to trade those performances. This, too, is a gift, as it allows us as fans to 'study' Pearl Jam's history as a live band and have the fun of putting the pieces together.

Fortunately, FM radio recorded and broadcast the Zurich 92 show, although we understand the full show may not have been broadcast. The entire show -- beyond the Mamasan trilogy -- is wonderful and worth seeking. "Porch" and "Rockin' in the Free World" are also standouts.


For those who are interested, the Mamasan trilogy has been played sequentially elsewhere a handful of times:

  • 6/19/92 Vienna, Austria
  • 6/22/92 Paris, France
  • 12/8/93 Seattle
  • 4/2/94 Atlanta (in reverse order)
If you haven't heard it, be sure to check out "Footsteps" as performed at this year's Bridge School Benefit show and see how it has evolved: To learn more about the early history of Pearl Jam, check out:

© 1999 Jean Bruns
in collaboration with Caryn Rose
special thanks to Olivier