After my recent post about whether people listen more to lyrics or music, I did an informal survey among my students. The overwhelming majority listen more to lyrics than the music, while a number of them listen to both. Those who listen only to the music were in the minority.
One of my favourite Pearl Jam songs is Black. Eddie Vedder always becomes really emotional and often cries when singing it live, and it was never made into a single because it was so intensely personal. [Here is my favourite live performance of Black, at Pink Pop 92 in the Netherlands]
Despite pressure from Epic Records, the band refused to make it [Black] into a single, feeling that it was too personal and the feeling of it would be lost by a video or a single release. Vedder stated that “fragile songs get crushed by the business. I don’t want to be a part of it. I don’t think the band wants to be part of it”…’There are certain songs that come from emotion,” he says. “It’s got nothing to do with melody or timing or even words; it has to do with the emotion behind the song. You can’t put out 50 percent. You have to sing them from a feeling. Like ‘Alive’ and ‘Jeremy’ to this day – and ‘Black.’ Those songs, they tear me up.
Despite how much the song moves me, I could not tell you what the lyrics are. Eddie’s voice and the music is what sweeps me up and sucks me in. I feel everything from just the music. Isn’t that strange? It shows that we experience music and emotion in different ways.
So many artists pour all their pain into their music and revisit that pain every time they perform the song. No wonder it gets difficult at times. Vedder is the only grunge icon still alive, probably because Pearl Jam went through their drug and alcohol phase before their fame really hit, and have avoided the PR mill that shreds so many newly famous artists into bits.