October 20, 2013


If in 1994 someone would have asked me to define white privilege, I would have been in the dark. If they then told me that I was the recipient of such privileges, I would have incredulously denied it. After all, hadn't I just recently had my own bouts with race? At the time, I could not have fathomed that I was, just by the color of my skin, afforded certain freedoms denied others in my community.  After all, I saw myself as the underdog, dubious of authority, skirting the edges of society in my superficial anti-establishment ruse.

I was a bit shaken the first time I heard W.M.A by Pearl Jam. Sonically it was very different to anything the band had ever produced. Sure there were hints of the tribal drumming that bookends Ten, but now there was a snake like bassline slowly constricting the song as tension building guitars accentuate the drawling Vedder howls:

Police stop my brother again.......

It was hard to tell how this song fit into this album or any other album. There was no hint of a single here. Pearl Jam would later experiment with songs like W.M.A on No Code, but at the time it was eye-opening that they could experiment beyond the radio. A six-minute long tribal chant highlighting the hypocrisy and injustice of race and police brutality in the USA, was proof posotive that this was a serious band here to stay. This was a band writing their own rulebook.

I knew after hearing W.M.A that Pearl Jam were not a traditional band. This was my generation's art band. The song did not have any of the commercial rock trappings. No chorus or bridge or catchy melody. This was just pure experimentation. This was a glorified jam session nestled comfortably in the middle of their second album.

I love how over the years, the song has evolved and transformed into a live favorite as well--  complete with acoustic guitar intro.

As for white privilege, authority and the oppressed? As father of two living over seas, in a post 9-11 world and a brother-in-law who is a cop, I am not sure what I think. But if Trayvon Martin and the US justice system is any indication, I am pretty sure that not much has changed since Vedder penned this song.

original image by slattner

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