It’s 1990, guitarist Stone Gossard is sending out demo tapes in hope to find a drummer and lead singer for his new band. Gossard’s last project, Mother Love Bone, tragically ended when lead singer Andrew Wood died. Former Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons is one of the first to receive a tape and Gossard invites Irons to join his new band. Due to other projects Irons declines the invitation, but promises Stone to share the tape with a ‘surfer dude’ friend of his named Eddie. The tape includes lyric-less demo songs like ‘Dollar Short’ and ‘E-Ballad’. Eddie turns ‘Dollar Short’ into ‘Alive’, ‘E-Ballad’ into ‘Black’, and the rest is history!
THE MEANING BEHIND BLACK
Black is a raw and emotional song about the pain of lost love. With references to the sun, earth, and five horizons Eddie explains how essential the loved one is to the character of Black. The character has to deal with the fact his loved one is gone and struggles to do so.
In the book Pearl Jam Twenty Eddie Vedder said: “It’s about first relationships. The song is about letting go. It’s very rare for a relationship to withstand the Earth’s gravitational pull and where it’s going to take people and how they’re going to grow.”
The song famously ends with the heart-wrenching lines:
“I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life
I know you’ll be a star
In somebody else’s sky
Why can’t it be
Why can’t it be mine”
Eddie Vedder initially wrote lyrics over the demo songs ‘Dollar Short’ (Alive), ‘Agytian Crave'(Once) and ‘Times of Trouble’ (Footsteps). Eddie titled the tape ‘momma-son’ and sent it to Stone and Jeff (Pearl Jam’s bassist). They were blown away by the tape and directly invited Eddie to fly over to Seattle. It is rumored Eddie wrote the lyrics for ‘E Ballad’ during the flight and titled it Black.
THE SUCCESS OF BLACK
Black appears on Pearl Jam’s debut album Ten. Despite pressure from their record label, the band refused to release Black as a single, citing it as too personal and fragile. Although Black was never released as a single, it’s a cornerstone piece in Pearl Jam’s rich history.
Black is also a staple in Pearl Jam live shows, having it played over 600 times! The raw version during MTV unplugged is regarded as the best and most famous performance of the song. Vedder often adds the lyric ‘we belong together’ at the end of the song during live performances.
THE SONG’S LEGACY
Black remains one of Pearl Jam’s best songs and is considered one of the saddest songs of all time. Due to the emotional baggage of the song it doesn’t tend to appear in soundtracks and popular culture often. Very few dare to cover the song but Staind’s lead singer Aaron Lewis had some success with it.
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