Single from the album Ten
Single release date: August 1992
Billboard Modern Rock Chart Peak Position: 5
Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart Peak Position: 5
Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Pop Songs Since The Beatles: 48
Even though I was two years old when Pearl Jam’s Ten was released and grunge was taking over the world, “Jeremy” was still a song that followed me through my childhood and my ever-changing musical lens. Like for many others, my first exposure to “Jeremy” was the very moving and highly controversial music video, back when MTV still lived up to its name. The song and the music video are almost inseparable, as the video illustrates the shocking story of quiet 15-year-old Jeremy Wade Delle, who shot himself in front of his English class in 1975. Lead singer Eddie Vedder read a small paragraph in the newspaper about the tragedy, and felt that he needed to give this incident more importance. Vedder elaborates: “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.” The result is “Jeremy”, one of Pearl Jam’s most powerful songs and certainly the song that has kept me a Pearl Jam fan for years.
The song and music video both begin eerily, foreshadowing the inevitable. Vedder describes the boy in the verses, mentioning that “Daddy didn’t give attention” and “Mommy didn’t care”. The narrator recounts that he clearly remembers picking on Jeremy, and the one day he retaliated by punching him in the jaw, “dropped wide open / Just like the day / Oh, like the day I heard.” The narrative is telling enough, but the chorus is utterly chilling, with the simple repetition of “Jeremy spoke in class today,” resonating deeply with any listener as an otherwise innocuous statement that tells the whole story. The song becomes a bit of an epic, gradually propelling towards the end until all the “Whoa”s, “Uh huh”s and “Ai ai ai”s overwhelm, as if personifying the maddening of Jeremy leading to his tragic suicide. “Jeremy” is always a tough listen because the song, unlike the inspiring newspaper article, does the incident plenty of justice and it is difficult not to empathize and perhaps relate. Many have experienced or witnessed taunting and bullying in school, but very few realize the profound impact it could have on an individual. Vedder drives home the takeaway message of the song: “The best revenge is to live on and prove yourself. Be stronger than those people. And then you can come back.” All of this combined to lift Pearl Jam out of the Seattle grunge scene and among the rock elite…and more microcosmically, among my favorite bands.