Ten is the debut album by Pearl Jam, released on August 27, 1991. Most of the songs began as instrumental jams, to which the band’s lead singer, Eddie Vedder, added lyrics about topics such as depression, homelessness, and abuse.
Ten did not obtain immediate success, but by late 1992 it reached number two on the Billboard 200. It was released in the pinnacle of the Seattle grunge/alternative rock era with pioneers such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains. It is consistently listed in various “greatest 100 albums” type of lists.
The album produced three hit singles: Alive, Even Flow, and Jeremy. Each song on Ten was written with a certain topic in mind. Many listeners interpreted Alive as an inspirational anthem due to its decidedly uplifting instrumentals and chorus. Vedder has since revealed that the song tells the semi-autobiographical tale of a son discovering that his father is actually his stepfather (his real father having died long ago), while his mother’s grief turns her to sexually embrace her son, who strongly resembles the biological father.
“The story of the song is that a mother is with a father and the father dies. It’s an intense thing because the son looks just like the father. The son grows up to be the father, the person that she lost. His father’s dead, and now this confusion, his mother, his love, how does he love her, how does she love him? In fact, the mother, even though she marries somebody else, there’s no one she’s ever loved more than the father. You know how it is, first loves and stuff. And the guy dies. How could you ever get him back? But the son. He looks exactly like him. It’s uncanny. So she wants him. The son is oblivious to it all. He doesn’t know what the fuck is going on. He’s still dealing, he’s still growing up. He’s still dealing with love, he’s still dealing with the death of his father. All he knows is ‘I’m still alive’ — those three words, that’s totally out of burden,” Vedder says. (Crowe, 1993)
The song was written as part of a trilogy called Mamasan. It starts with Alive, then goes into Once, where the “son” from Alive becomes a killer, and ends with Footsteps (released in U.K. as a B-side to Jeremy) where the “son” is captured and put to death.
Other topics of songs include homelessness (Even Flow), psychiatric hospitals, (Why Go), and suicide (Jeremy). Jeremy was highly contrversial when the music video was filmed.
Jeremy is based on two different true stories. The song takes its main inspiration from a newspaper article about a 15-year-old boy named Jeremy Wade Delle from Richardson, Texas who shot himself in front of his English classmates on the morning of January 8, 1991. Delle was described by schoolmates as “real quiet” and known for “acting sad.” After coming in to class late that morning, Delle was told to get an admittance slip from the school office. He left the classroom, and returned with a .357 Magnum revolver. Delle walked to the front of the classroom, announced “Miss, I got what I really went for”, put the barrel of the firearm in his mouth, and pulled the trigger before his teacher or classmates could react. Lisa Moore, a schoolmate, knew Jeremy from the in-school suspension program: “He and I would pass notes back and forth and he would talk about life and stuff,” she said. “He signed all of his notes, ‘Write back.’ But on Monday he wrote, ‘Later days.’ I didn’t know what to make of it. But I never thought this would happen.”(Miller , 1991)
When asked about the song, Vedder explained:
“It came from a small paragraph in a paper which means you kill yourself and you make a big old sacrifice and try to get your revenge. That all you’re gonna end up with is a paragraph in a newspaper. Sixty-three degrees and cloudy in a suburban neighborhood. That’s the beginning of the video and that’s the same thing is that in the end, it does nothing … nothing changes. The world goes on and you’re gone. The best revenge is to live on and prove yourself. Be stronger than those people. And then you can come back.” (Vedder, 1993)
“I actually knew somebody in junior high school, in San Diego, California, that did the same thing, just about, didn’t take his life but ended up shooting up an oceanography room. I remember being in the halls and hearing it and I had actually had altercations with this kid in the past. I was kind of a rebellious fifth-grader and I think we got in fights and stuff. So it’s a bit about this kid named Jeremy and it’s also a bit about a kid named Brian that I knew and I don’t know…the song, I think it says a lot. I think it goes somewhere…and a lot of people interpret it different ways and it’s just been recently that I’ve been talking about the true meaning behind it and I hope no one’s offended and believe me, I think of Jeremy when I sing it.” (Vedder, 1991)
Ten was instrumental in popularizing alternative rock in the mainstream. Its popularity stems from the dark topics that kids can related to and the deep growl of Eddie Vedder’s voice. It has paved the way for artists like Candlebox and Bush to make a mark in the music scene. Eddie’s voice has influenced the vocal style of Creed, Staind, and others with the deep, dark growl that is a staple in much of alt rock. The album will forever linger on as one of the greatest debut albums of all time and as well as one of the greatest albums ever.
Until Next Time.