September 29, 2013


A Tuesday in November, 1993, still the first listen of Vs.  After the initial assault of Go and Animal, we hear Pearl Jam for the first time sound as acoustic as they have ever sounded. Sure we had heard Black, Release and Oceans from Ten, but even in their tranquility, those songs swam in darker waters bereft of the clarity that blooms from strumming open G tuned chords.

Musically, Daughter opens as a promise, where so many times in the past Pearl Jam had offered us only accusations and threats. The irony of course being that lyrically the song is nothing but an indictment. It is worth nothing that even in its subversive vitriol, this is the gentlest, dare I say most feminine song, we have ever heard from the band up to this point. Daughter was a stark departure from the sound and tone we were accustomed to from Pearl Jam. 

With the opening verse Vedder drops his poetic pen with which he has so often scribed vague hints, and instead he firmly places us in a story. I have often thought that the girl in this story may have gone to the same school as Jeremy
Alone, listless, breakfast table in an otherwise empty room
Young girl, violence, center of her own attention
The mother reads aloud child tries to understand it
Tries to make her proud

The shades go down it's in her head
Painted room, can't deny there's something wrong
But the story for me becomes much more personal as this song will always remind me of my first serious girlfriend, let's call her Sarah. There is so much I can say about her and our story, but I won't at this time. What I will do instead is try to sum up three to five years of love and confusion and pain.

We met in high school when I was a senior and she was a sophomore. A friend of a friend of a friend introduced us.  Like so many high school romances, we were deeply in love one week and broken up the next. It was a complex web of emotions neither one of us was equipped to handle. The most hurtful and sad part was that this battle dragged on for years, even after high school. This roller coaster did two things: firstly it damaged Sarah in ways I could never have known at the time. Secondly, it made her parents blame and hate me. And in turn, like most nineteen year olds I turned their blame and hatred back on the them. Sarah was caught in the middle.

Back to Tuesday afternoon, 1993. I was a year out of school.  Sarah and I had broken up when I went to San Diego, but I had come back for her. That is what I told her and myself, but neither of us was sure that was the truth or what had really happened since my return. Things had suddenly become more complex. She was a junior now, and her parents were not too happy about me being back in the picture-- with my own apartment no less.

They were quite conservative in how they felt the world should be run and how their daughter should fit into it. Needless to say, their view was drastically different from mine. Looking back as an adult, I can see that I must have been the perfect tool for her against her parents, but at the time I only saw myself as the defender of all things alternative and free. Their family had inadvertently become my battleground, and Sarah once again had become caught in the middle. At one point I actually mailed her parents a scathing letter, full of expletives accusing them of psychological abuse.  I ended the letter with lyrics from, yup you guessed it--  Daughter. I always saw Sarah as the girl siting listlessly at the breakfast table.

Daughter is about a hurt and misunderstood girl. Because I knew and loved this girl, for me, the song will always be a journey back in time to her.  I can't help but close my eyes every time and scream along....
She holds the hand that holds her down
She will, rise above
The solo which ensues, in my opinion was a major turning point for Pearl Jam. This solo was the first time the music was really infused with a lighter sense of hopefulness that we would see years later in their work. But like any ray of light it quickly fades away as the shades literally go down on the song and we are left back in a place of darkness.

It is in this place of darkness that I realize now what I didn't realize then--  maybe the person being accused in the song was never her parents, but that song was actually about me.  I was the one holding her down and that maybe that being free from me was what she actually needed.

A few years ago, a mutual friend who was also friends with her sister, told me that Sarah was not doing so well. She suffered from depression and anxiety and was just not herself. I cannot put into words the guilt and pain her suffering caused me. I wrote her a letter and sent it to her sister. It might better explain the shame and guilt that can be born from when we trust such thing as love in the hands of children.
Dear Sarah,

For years the only reason I have been seeking your forgiveness for the way things ended between us, was to ease my own sense of guilt. I wanted to prove that we were both responsible for how we parted. I wanted everyone to see that it wasn’t just me who was accountable. When friends told me that I treated you badly, I was often caught saying, “I was young. What did I know? She should have protected herself. I was hurt too. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I loved her” I was full of excuses. My favorite people to blame were your parents. I was convinced that they were to blame and it couldn’t have been me who was blind. I took my battle versus conservatism and waged it on your household, holding you hostage. I used you in an attempt to prove your parents wrong. I wanted to show them that you were more like me and less like them. Believe it or not I am still fighting these battles, but I have learned not use other people in my fights. Words are not adequate tools to express sincerity, but they are all I have. So I have to assume you will feel the weight of these words: I am sorry for doing this to you.

Even now as I write these words, words I am not sure you will ever read, I am struggling to find out why I am writing them. Is it so that I can ease my guilt or is it to help you find peace? You met me at the beginning of a very long journey and although it has been years, I have continued to walk nonetheless. I am trying to move from anger toward peace. I feel I owe you so many apologies for having been me, when you knew me. I didn’t realize how innocent and pure and fragile and perfect you were, because I was busy dealing with my own demons. In a way I was breaking myself down and building myself back up again. Unintentionally I broke you down too and left you to re-build on your own. I thought you were strong enough, able to keep up, but I should have been more aware and helped you when you asked. I am sorry for not doing so. I was not mature enough to realize that we all need help.
I wanted to do it all by myself, although you were so sincerely offering to help me. You tried to give me support with love and now looking back I can see that. You put your trust in me and gave me your love and clarity and I used it up and dropped you when I needed more than you had to offer. I am sorry for doing this to you. I should have respected the time and love you put into our friendship, like a true friend does.

But again these apologies, like I said earlier, feel like they intended only for my peace of mind. I wish you could see how much I want to say I’m sorry, so that you can find peace, not for my own redemption. I’m sorry for not loving you more, and by love I don’t mean the way two teenagers fumble with love in confusion, but the way we should treat other beings with kindness. I have learned a lot about love over the years and your forgiveness means a lot to me. I am sorry for not being a better friend. I don’t want to be a dark presence in your life. I don’t want your first true love to be tarnished and ugly. You deserve more.

It’s strange most of my memories of us, are happy ones. I guess I was too far-gone to remember the early mornings I’d call you asking you back or the drunken nights I left you ignored. I mostly remember watching TV in the room downstairs at your house, water skiing on the lake, or driving, I remember driving with you a lot, as if a road would lead us to where we wanted to go.
And you smiling, every time I see your face you are smiling at me. It hurts me to know that I am responsible for weakening that smile in anyway.

I don’t want to water down responsibility or make excuses anymore. I want to say I’m sorry for letting you down and hurting you. It was my fault and I acted irresponsibly. I want nothing but the best for you because you were the first person to put me on a pedestal and show me that I can be anything I want to be. You showed me how to love myself, by loving me unconditionally and I got so caught up in it I guess, I forgot to love you back. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware enough at the time to give you the credit you deserved. I wasn’t strong enough, to be able to admit that your love gave me the confidence to become the person I was meant to be. I want to say thank you, now.

Sometimes when we are scarred and hurt, we feel that it might be best to never go back to the source of that pain, and I respect that and understand if you would rather just blot me out of your memories and live your life as if I never existed. But our scars and memories can become heavy if we carry them alone- forever. So please read these words and understand that I am only writing them to help ease your anger and to lighten your load. And finally to say thank you for loving me as honestly as you did and to say I am sorry for causing you any pain. I hope after reading these words you will smile and hold your head up and understand that it was me who was weak and you who were strong. I am just realizing that now myself. I hope you will find peace with our past and move on, and fully live your life as it is now.

I don’t expect to hear from you but just know that you will always be in my thoughts. Although I wasn’t capable of it showing it then, I hope that these words can express the tenderness and love I know you deserve. I have realized that we never finishing building the people we are, and it is never too late to find strength somewhere and help us continue. I hope these words can be the strength you need.

with love,

I was told that she read the letter and it made her smile. She and her sister felt that it was a good place for all of us to arrive at a place of closure. While I understand that they must be right, I still think of her often, and I can't help but think how amazing it would be to see her again someday.

The reconciliation of who we thought we were in the past and who we actual were blurs with the passing of time. Ferreting through old journals trying to find clues of how I ended up who I am has left me conflicted. Realizing that perhaps we often confuse fear for courage and doubt for strength. For so much of my life I have survived on the cusps of the many things most people choose sides. The scribbled notes and confessions trace a lonely soul desperate for the nameless things beyond his reach. Maybe years from now an older version of this self will see similar grasps at the desperate unnameable search in these posts, but for now, as back then, all I can do is map the journey.

End Note:

Over the years, Pearl Jam always ends Daughter with a cover song as a sort of live tradition. They have ended the song with American Pie, Hey Hey My My, Another Brick in the Wall and many more. My favorite, however, has got to be It's Okay by Dead Moon.

Seems like a fitting way to end this post. I suggest you plug in the head phones and get ready to shed some tears.
It's okay, we've all seen better days
It's okay, you don't have to run and hide away
It's okay
It's okay, yeah we love you anyway

Maybe in the end all we can do is admit our mistakes and forgive ourselves. Make promises to treat the next people we meet with more kindness and tenderness.
This is my chance, this is my life
And my opening hour
This is my choice, this is my voice
There may be no tomorrow
This is my plea, this is my need
This is my time for standing free
This is my step, this is my depth
In a world demanding of me
But it's okay.......
It's okay, you don't have to run and hide away
It's okay
It's okay, yeah we love you anyway

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