Ten - Track #6 - 1991 - Written by Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, and Jeff Ament | Performed by Pearl Jam

On January 8, 1991, Jeremy Wade Delle, a student at Richardson High School in suburban Dallas, Texas, walked into his second period English class. When the teacher asked the tardy student to produce a late pass, he left, and then returned and approached the teacher's desk. He looked about, said, "Miss, I got what I really went for," produced a .357 Magnum, put the end of his barrel into his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

I was thirteen years old when the the video for Jeremy began to receive a good deal of play on MTV. I vividly remember the first time I saw that video. We didn't have cable at home then; I was at a friend's house where we were playing air hockey in the basement with MTV playing on a television in the corner of the room. Shawn, the boy I was playing air hockey with, stopped our game when he heard the opening notes of the song and informed me, "You gotta see this."

I can't say what I really thought about the video as I watched it. I wrote a paragraph about it in my journal that evening, in an entry dated March 15, 1992. Rather than reproducing the childish writing here, let's just say that I empathized with the Jeremy character a great deal, but basically felt that the desire to "get back" at the other students didn't justify killing yourself.

At home, drawing pictures
Of mountaintops
With him on top
Lemon yellow sun
Arms raised in a v
The dead lay in pools of maroon below

Let's step back for a minute; I've assumed that you've already seen the video, while many of you may not have. Suffice it to say that the video for the song Jeremy is one of the best constructed pieces of pop art I've ever seen, aided by the fact that the song itself is an inherently catchy and memorable rock song.

The video is shot in very bright colors, as insinuated by the first verse of the song above. Bright greens, reds, and yellows fill the video, at least in the portions focused on the titular boy, who we will call Jeremy for obvious reasons. The first two thirds of the video show Jeremy alone, often in the woods, making various rather dark paintings. At various points, he holds up signs with words hand painted on them (a la Bob Dylan in the rather famous Subterranean Homesick Blues promotional video): peer; genesis 3:6; ignored; 90210; erase; 3:30 in the afternoon; an affluent suburb; 64 degrees and cloudy. The boy runs about in the woods, often unclothed, and gives this general impression of being completely ignored by his parents, as the song lyrics imply.

Spliced in with this are shots of Pearl Jam's lead singer Eddie Vedder singing the lyrics of the song with an intense passion. The closeness of the shot on his face and the facial expressions of Vedder give off a vibe of a revivalist preacher, hell bent on casting the sinners into damnation.

Near the end of the video, Jeremy goes to school where all of the students are wearing bleached white dress clothes and, at the very end, the camera pans behind Jeremy as he faces the class and the students are drenched in crimson with looks of horror on their faces, making it quite clear that Jeremy has shot himself without directly showing it.

Daddy didn’t give attention
Oh, to the fact that mommy didn’t care
King Jeremy the Wicked
Oh, ruled his world
Jeremy spoke in class today
Jeremy spoke in class today

Flash forward five years. On February 2, 1996, in Moses Lake, Washington, a somewhat different incident occurred. Dressed up like a gunslinger with 2 concealed pistols, 78 rounds of ammunition and a high powered rifle, 14 year old Barry Loukaitis entered his algebra class and opened fire, killing students Manuel Vela and Arnie Fritz and teacher Leona Caires. During the Loukaitis trial, his legal team argued that he was unduly influenced by the music video for the Pearl Jam song Jeremy. Loukaitis was convicted of two counts of aggravated first degree murder and sentenced to two mandatory life terms without parole.

In the next ten years after the shooting, school shootings occurred in

A demagogue would try to create some sort of connection between this rash of school shootings and this song. A demagogue would demand that bands like Pearl Jam be banned from the airwaves and blame them directly for the deaths.

I am not a demagogue.

Clearly I remember pickin’ on the boy
Seemed a harmless little fuck
Ooh, but we unleashed a lion
Gnashed his teeth and bit the recess lady’s breast
How can I forget?
And he hit me with a surprise left
My jaw left hurtin’
Ooh, dropped wide open
Just like the day
Oh, like the day I heard

In a December 1991 interview with David Sadof on KLOL FM in Houston, Texas, Eddie Vedder had this to say about the song:

David Sadof: While Pearl Jam songs often deal with real-life occurrences, they manage to leave the songs open to the interpretation of their audience. Eddie Vedder explains this and talks about the song, Jeremy.

Eddie Vedder: Actually, you know, I've kept a lot of songs or some of the lyrical content shrouded in mystery because just like the name we were mentioning before, it's been really great to get other people's interpretations and even inject themselves into the songs. That, to me, has been really fulfilling and then it becomes something bigger than just five guys in a band and this is their song. It allows somebody who's listening to it or has the need to listen to something intensely... it allows them to be part of it... but I think, Jeremy, I decided I will start talking about what that song is about and actually, there's a place, a town called Richardson? There's a town called Richardson, is there?

David Sadof: In Texas? Yeah, not far from here.

Eddie Vedder: That's where it happened. It was in Richardson, Texas. I saw a small paragraph in the paper about a kid named, his first name was Jeremy and he took, he shot himself in the front of his English class. I think I'm going to have to go visit Richardson. I think we have some time... a day off in Dallas?

Stone Gossard: We have a couple days off.

Eddie Vedder: Yeah, it was Richardson High School, I think was the name.

David Sadof: That wasn't that long ago, was it?

Eddie Vedder: No, I wrote, I mean I literally wrote the song that night, I think... I don't know that much. I actually even thought about... I'm really divulging a lot here... and I should explain it... the fact that I thought of even calling up and finding out more, like I wonder why that happened? I wonder why he did it and it seemed like Richardson sounded to me like a decent suburb, middle if not upper class. The fact is, I didn't want to. I thought that was intruding completely and so... 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.

Art that is worthwhile demands an intellectual and/or emotional involvement from the observer of the art. It challenges the witness to become a part of the piece by adding his or her own interpretations, ideas, and thoughts to the medium, creating a new collaboration that could not have existed. The raw power of being able to distribute art on a wide scale, to have your music playing in millions of ears or your prints viewed by millions of eyes, is immense. It results in intellectual fermentations that would otherwise be impossible.

Art is power, even when it's a radio friendly unit shifter.

Daddy didn’t give affection, no
And the boy was something that mommy wouldn’t wear
King Jeremy the Wicked
Oh, ruled his world
Jeremy spoke in class today
Jeremy spoke in class today

The band was clearly in touch with some undercurrent of sentiment in youth culture when this video was made. The idea that the money driven bonfires of the 1980s with their perfect house in the suburbs with the perfect children, that these money-driven people would have to sacrifice some elements of their lives in order to build others higher, it was a truth that seems so obvious yet was missed by so many.

When something becomes the primary focus of your life, whether it be money or drugs or sex or anything else, other aspects of your life become less important. As I walked about the dormitories as a freshman in college and talked to people whose early childhood was part of the 1980s, many of them could scarcely remember spending any time with their parents at all. I was lucky in that regard, I guess; my parents were an ever present part of my childhood.

To blame an artist who has connected with the abandoned child, whether it be a musician or a video game designer, for the behavior of the abandoned child is entirely nonsensical. To make this statement, to even consider this statement, you must believe that the artist is a replacement for the parent, that by merely creating some piece of art, you've become a new mother to millions of children out there. It is nonsensical; the job of the artist is to challenge, not to build up a moral and ethical base for someone.

Try to forget this
Try to forget this
Try to erase this
Try to erase this
From the blackboard

I'm listening to Jeremy in a loop as I write this. My wife is sitting near me, curled up in a chair, half asleep. Her hands are on her stomach, which seems to be bulging out more all the time. It's a miracle that I have the privilege of watching each and every day.

As I wait for the birth of my first child, I close my eyes and envision his future, and I realize that I have no greater mission on this earth than to protect and support this child in whatever way I can. I am a human, and I am amazingly fallible. I will make mistakes along the way. I only know one thing, actually. It is far more important to spend an hour with my son than to spend an hour working to earn an extra dollar or two.

It's a realization that I would have found anyway, but it's a realization that I can also find in the lyrics to this song and in the images that pass before my eyes when I think of it, of a boy on a mountaintop.

Jeremy spoke in class today
Jeremy spoke in, spoke in
Jeremy spoke in, spoke in
Jeremy spoke in class today

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