By now, "Footsteps" has become a semi-annual tradition at the Bridge School Benefit shows; in fact, that was one of the few places the song was ever played live! However, this all changed in 1998 (as it also did for "Nothingman," another BSB favorite).
But that doesn't stop PJ; the version of "Footsteps" debuted at Bridge this year was different yet again, another twist. We are presenting this as "Part I" of a two-month combined Song of the Month; part two will be presented in time for Christmas.
For now, let's revisit what PJ have shared with us about this song in the past:
Caller: My question I got was on Temple of the Dog, 'Times of Trouble.' I noticed it was just about the same exact music as 'Footsteps.' And I wanted to know which one you guys writ first and you know...RIP, 12/91
Eddie: Writ or wrote?
Caller: Wrote, excuse me.
Eddie: Is your teacher listening tonight?
Host: (laughing) If she is she's rolling over!
Eddie: Aw, he's just nervous. Which did we do first?
Jeff: Actually, the 'Footsteps' version was first. The tape that Eddie got of Stone's songs that me and Mike and Stone had recorded on there … just the music. At the very same time, we were putting together the Temple of the Dog thing and Chris heard that song and really, really liked it and semi-rearranged it to fit some words that he had and consequently there were two versions that were being worked on at the very same time. So, 'Footsteps' was first but we didn't really follow through with it cause it ended up on the Temple record.
Eddie: Hey, Mike. You ever put those three songs together? You probably read about it -- 'Alive' and 'Once' and 'Footsteps?' Did you ever put it together?
"Jack [Irons, drummer in Eleven and formerly of the Red Hot Chili Peppers] sent me three of their songs," Eddie explains. "I had them in my head from the night before at work, and I went surfing and had this amazing day. The whole time I was out there surfing, I had this stuff going through my head -- the music -- and the words going at the same time. I put them down on tape and sent it off.LA Times, 5/1/94
"I didn't really know what Stone [Gossard, Pearl Jam's guitarist] and Jeff [Ament, bassist] wanted. The music just felt really open to me. Then I thought, 'Wow, the music is really good; maybe I should have paid more attention. Maybe I should have written it down. Maybe I should have really listened to it before I sent it off.'
"It was three songs, like rambling weird stuff. One of them is called 'Alive,' and one of them is called 'Once,' and then one of them was called 'Times of Trouble,' which, actually, Chris [Cornell, Soundgarden] did a version of on the Temple [Of The Dog] record. Mine was called 'Footsteps.' It was the same music, but different words. There are two versions of that floating around. Actually, the whole thing was a three-song mini-opera. Using Stone's music, I set it to this three-act play 'Alive' was the first act, and that has incest and violence. You have to read all this into it. Actually, the violent one was 'Once' -- he goes out and kills people. Then 'Times of Trouble,' or my version, 'Footsteps.' That song sounded like sitting in a jail cell. It's about a guy who was tortured as a child, which is the reason behind him turning into a mass murderer."
Trapped in a car traveling about 55 miles per hour with someone I don't know, in a city I don't know, talking about mass murderers! I hesitatingly ask, "Where did you come up with this idea?"
"Personal experience," Eddie says, laughing. "It's all coming in from all these other sources... stuff that you see. Real life is so much more intense than any movie, any song, any book -- if you join up and see the right performance. It's not something you could buy tickets for. Two nights ago I'm staying in the basement of this art gallery where we rehearse, and I was using the restroom at about three in the morning. I heard these drunks in the back alley. I went to listen through the crack in the door, because I thought I could hear them better. I could actually see through the half-inch clearing. It was more intense than any movie. It was all so real. There was a beginning, middle and end. It was like drugs, violence, all within less than 20 minutes. It was fascinating."
For Eddie, who has worked with the homeless and wrote the song "Even Flow" about the homeless life, the experience was even more intense. "If I could have actually sat in that alcove of the alley with them and had these three beers with them, I would have loved to. But then I wouldn't have seen what I saw."
"It was a kind of a sick, disturbed rock opera -- if Nietzsche were to write a rock opera," Jeff says about Eddie's first three songs. "I mean, lyrically, I think he's amazing. I think he's really visual. I think just the fact that he's coming from a completely different place than Andy was coming from, that really appeals to us.
After listening to the tape, Vedder went surfing and the music played over and over in his head. In the company of the waves, he began framing lyrics to go with the music. He raced back home to his recorder, and with the sand still on his feet he sang the words to the song that eventually became "Alive," one of the centerpieces on the first Pearl Jam album.Rolling Stone, 10/28/93
Though the song, with its screaming chorus of "I'm still alive," has been widely viewed as a statement of youthful self-affirmation, Vedder designed it as the story of a mother being drawn sexually to her teenage son because she sees traces of her late husband in him.
The experience -- which Vedder insists is not autobiographical -- damages the son psychologically, turning him into a serial killer (detailed in "Once") who is executed in prison ("Footsteps"). It's not hard to see the story as a sort of Gen X update of the confused youth in The Who's "Tommy."
"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! 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. And 'Footsteps,' the final song of the trilogy [it was released as a U.K. B side to 'Jeremy'], 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."Mountain View, CA, 10/30/99
Then he smiles as he says, "I'm just glad I became a songwriter."
"It's the now semi-traditional Bridge "Footsteps," augmented by dark, haunting harmonica solos from Ed and an equally evocative solo from McCready; my notes say "hollowy, sparse, spacey". Very much creating a mood. Some more harp from Ed closes the song."
This version of "Footsteps" is so memorable and so very different than previous acoustic versions and from 1998's frequent electric versions that we elected to archive it here as the Five Horizons Song X for November.
Revision: Since this version of "Footsteps" has been released on some versions of the "Nothing As It Seems" single, and Five Horizons has a policy about not hosting official releases, we've removed this soundfile. You may still download the version of "Footsteps" that is featured as as a part of the Mamasan trilogy.
Copyright © 2004 Five Horizons