’90s Song of the Week: Pearl Jam’s “Porch”

Hear my name. Take a good look. This could be the day. Hold my hand, walk beside me. I just need to say… What can I take? I just want to be. I know that I would not ever touch you, hold you, feel you in my arms ever again. Eddie Vedder, “Porch”

I think I had the album on cassette. Eesh.

I think I had the album on cassette. Eesh.

Pearl Jam’s debut album Ten was released in August of 1991. By that time, a series of events – my discovery of non-KSSK radio stations, the relentlessness of MTV, and puberty – conspired to push me away from pop music toward rock and “alternative music.” Less than a year later, Geno would enter my life and bring Metallica and Megadeth with him. This is the period in my life that directed me toward guitar-driven music. “Porch” was not one of the album’s singles, but I owe my affinity to the song to its performance on MTV Unplugged in 1992, as captured in the video above.

I remember watching Pearl Jam’s Unplugged appearance the first time it aired. I recall an urgency, telling my father earlier in the day that I would like to watch something on television that night. We only had the one TV with cable. He agreed, and sat through the set with me. He didn’t say much. It wasn’t until Pearl Jam closed out the set with “Porch” that my dad was stirred from his silence. When bassist Jeff Ament climbed onto Dave Abbruzzese’s drum kit, my father said “What is he doing?” It soon became clear. Ament was playing bass atop the bass drum and intermittently striking cymbals at the appropriate times. In the video, Jeff is caught doing this for the first time at 2:27. At 2:29, you can see Dave direct Jeff to the correct cymbal moments before it is meant to be hit. Then and now, it appeared spontaneous. I was 12. It was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. This is what a band is supposed to look like. I thought to myself, despite never having seen a live band to that point in my life.

Unlike the two of us, this photo NEVER gets old.

Unlike the two of us, this photo NEVER gets old.

As Eddie’s wrote on himself with a marker and pretended to surf his stool, then jump off of it, my father repeated his question. “What is he doing?” I didn’t answer him, but I remember feeling dismissive. Of course you don’t know what he’s doing. I thought. He was too old. The irony, of course, is that I didn’t know, either. I was too young. The craziest detail of the story is this: my father was 31 at the time. He was younger than I am now. It is in this way that time has had its way with me. Whenever I hear the music which passes for popular at my place of employment, I find myself asking variations of my father’s questions: Why would you say thatWhat the hell are they talking aboutHow is this popular? In this way, and so many others, I have become my father.

According to the Wikipedia page written about “Porch,” Eddie Vedder supposedly introduced the song by saying “This song is about if you love someone, tell him.” This is said to have taken place in August of 1991, less than a week after Ten‘s release. I would never be able to confirm such a story, but the description of the song seems to fit, particularly with regards to the lyrics at the top of this page. Based on the overall context of the song, I assume Vedder’s describing some kind of romantic relationship, but that doesn’t make the song’s message any less true. Recently, my father has been afflicted with a bad back. Because he is who he is, he will never specifically tell me or my brothers exactly how much pain he’s in. He’ll rely on cliches like “some days are better than others,” and “not too bad today” to quantify his condition. Because he is who is his, however, I know that he’s suffering because the injury has caused him to miss work. That never happens.

I am often so caught up in the particulars of my own life that everything else fades into the periphery. But today, I will take Eddie’s advice. I love you, dad. Get better quickly. There are still plenty pitches to be thrown to your grand-daughter, still tons of fish out there, dying to avoid our hooks.

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