The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #271: Jeremy by Pearl Jam (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #271: Jeremy by Pearl Jam.

“Jeremy” by “Pearl Jam” is a song that draws its’ inspiration from a true and tragic event. In this case, it is two similar events that both involve separate shootings that took place in schools. However, the crux of the story of “Jeremy” involves how artists portray real people; be it in music or on film or whatever media the artist is working in at the time. How responsible are artists when it comes to the accuracy of their portrayal? How much “creative license” is implied when someone becomes the subject of someone’s creative vision? Let’s find out, as we discuss one of “Pearl Jam’s” first and biggest hits, “Jeremy”.

“Jeremy” was one of three big hits that “Pearl Jam” had on their debut album, “Ten”. The other hits were “Alive” and “Even Flow”. Pearl Jam, who hail from Seattle, were part of the famous, “Seattle scene”, along with Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney and Soundgarden. They have had many other hits such as “Better Man”, “State of Love and Trust”, “Nothingman”, “Daughter”, “Black” “Yellow Ledbetter” and many more. They have sold millions of albums worldwide and were inducted into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2017. They have always maintained their artistic independence. That was evident right from their very first album when lead singer Eddie Vedder and bassist, Jeff Ament, teamed up to write a song about a young man who committed suicide in a classroom in front of his teacher and classmates.

The song, “Jeremy” is mostly drawn from a small newspaper article that concerned a boy named Jeremy Wade Delle. The article comprised one-quarter of one column and was tucked somewhere in the middle of the paper. As Vedder first read the article, he wondered what had pushed this young man to perform such an act but, at the same time, Vedder questioned the extent to which Delle’s act had the impact that he may had envisioned. So, Vedder wrote a song about the incident. That song and the famous video that helped launch Pearl Jam’s career, was “inspired” by the actual suicide but, it was never intended to be about the young man, in question, Jeremy Wade Delle. Thus, to most of us who watched the video and listened to the intense lyrics, our impression of “Jeremy” was that he was mentally-ill, that his parents never gave him enough attention and that his classmates thought he was a bit of a freak and treated him accordingly. In real life, Delle’s mother and several of his classmates have rallied to his defence and have gone public with their criticisms of the song and how he will be forever tainted by Vedder’s ill-conceived portrayal. They claim that Delle was artistic, quiet and that he actually had several good friends. Vedder has apologized for any harm caused to Delle’s family but, he is unapologetic about the nature of his creative license that allowed him to create a character and storyline based upon someone who actually lived and died.

But, the story doesn’t end there, either. The video that was made to accompany the song was censored by the record label and by the folks who worked at MTV. The original video ended with the character of “Jeremy” putting the gun barrel into his mouth. The next scene showed his classmates recoiling in shock, blood splattering their clothes and classroom. The implied violent death was deemed too graphic. This resulted in the scene with the gun barrel entering “Jeremy’s” mouth being cut. Instead, the revised video shows “Jeremy” standing up at the front of the classroom and then, the scene shifts to the blood-spattered classmates. This removed the graphic suicide but, it caused another issue to arise. Many who saw the new video mistakenly thought that “Jeremy” had shot his teacher and that it was his teacher’s blood that had splattered. The whole exercise in creating a dramatic representation of their song ended up frustrating the members of “Pearl jam” so much that they refused to make any more staged videos. From that point on, every “Pearl Jam” video was a concert video. Vedder maintained that the controversy over the video detracted from the point of the song which was, in his words, that the real “Jeremy” probably thought his act would be viewed as dramatic and impactful when, in fact, it warranted only one quarter of one column and would be forgotten as quickly as the story was first read. Vedder claims that living and improving and growing stronger, with help, is always better than suicide.

Regardless of the controversial nature of “Jeremy”, the song has become one of “Pearl Jam’s” signature songs. It is always sung with much intensity as Vedder sings of the difference between living and dying and of which path leads to a greater personal legacy in the end. In order for you to decide for yourselves as to the merits of this song, I will play the original, uncensored dramatic video, as well as, a live version of the song, too. Both videos are intensely paced and sung with great passion. The band is super tight and highly skilled; playing faster when the drama requires it and softly, when more nuanced scenes come along in the story. But, as I said, in the end, I will leave it for you to decide how you feel about how “Pearl Jam” portrayed “Jeremy”.

Is what they did justified because it resulted in a kick-ass song? Was the real “Jeremy” owed a better and more realistic portrayal or was he damaged goods and fair game to be portrayed as he was because his story lay in the public domain? Whatever the case, a young man died for real, by his own hand. Nothing about this discussion changes that fact.

Here is “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam.

The link to the “official” video for the song, “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam, can be found here.

The link to the video for the live version of the song, “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Pearl Jam can be found here.

The link to the website for radio station, KEXP, can be found here. Thanks, folks, for playing the best music every day.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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