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In just over a month Ed Vedder’s heretofor specter of a Ukulele album will be released. The eponymously titled “Ukulele Songs” consists of sixteen tracks: some we know, others we don’t. But just what are these songs about? gremmie.net has the scoop. Hit the jump for Part I for the track-by-track background of “Ukuelele Songs”.
1. Can’t Keep
Different than the Riot Act version musically and lyrically. In fact, it’s a completely different song. The inaugural track on “Ukulele Songs” is about the departure of Dave Abbruzzese from Pearl Jam. Though the story has been told before, the tale is far from the truth. Most Pearl Jam fans think that as Ed began to take control of the band, he wanted to fire Abbruzzese for his clichéd rock-star sensibilities and garish tastes. And that instead of firing Dave A. himself, he made Stone Gossard do it. Lame? Yes. But untrue. The real story is that in 1994 Ed made a huge bet on the now defunct Seattle Supersonics beating the then-powerhouse Chicago Bulls. Vedder had received a tip from basketball super fan Jeff Ament that Jordan would be out with a sore big toe. Vedder bet the farm on Seattle and lost. The Jordan-less Bulls outpaced the Sonics 105-96. However, Vedder balked when his bookie called in his sizable debt. The bookie, a Seattle-area low-life named Ricky Sticks, was an avid Pearl Jam fan and D-List grunge rocker. Instead of resorting to threats, Sticks told Vedder that his band – the Dead Titties – needed a drummer. You can see where the story goes.
Fearing retribution from the bookie’s legbreakers, Vedder reluctantly offered up Dave Abbruzzese in lieu of cash. Though Abbruzzese was a great drummer (see “WMA“), Vedder realized that to get out of the hole he’d dug for himself, he couldn’t keep him. Abbruzzese refused to go initially, but agreed only after Vedder promised him 25% of the band’s future royalties through the year 2011 (the band’s 20th anniversary). The only caveat was that in order to maintain the band’s image, Vedder would be able to tell the media Dave was fired was being too much of a “rock-star”. In the end all parties were satisfied, Vedder paid his debt to Ricky Sticks and maintained Pearl Jam’s “reluctant warrior” image, Ricky Sticks had a drummer for the Dead Titties, and Dave Abbruzzese was rich.
2. Sleeping by Myself
Narcolepsy is a serious condition. In a nutshell, it’s a disease in which the affected person is chronically tired, sometimes even falling asleep unexpectedly. This sudden slumber can occur at the most inopportune times. Click here for an example. What most Pearl Jam fans don’t know about Eddie Vedder is that he suffers from this condition. More than that, it’s a very sensitive topic (see “Longing to Belong” below). The development of effective anti-narcoleptic pharmaceuticals since 1993 (when Pfizer released Wake-zapraxin) has allowed Ed to avoid embarrassing episodes while performing with the band. However prior to 1993, episodes occurred with some frequency. For example, the purported “cancelled” show on 5/20/92 wasn’t, in fact, cancelled at all.
According to fivehorizons.com, and subsequently twofeetthick.com, this Rock The Vote show was cancelled due to permit issues. The true story is that Pearl Jam performed an abbreviated 9-song set. The performance was cut short after Eddie Vedder had a narcoleptic episode during “Brother“. During the song’s opening riff, Ed’s condition kicked in and he dropped to the stage like a cement brick, hitting his head a monitor. 20,000 screaming fans collectively gasped. Jeff Ament thought Stone Gossard had put him up to it as a way to get out of playing the song. It is a widely know fact that Jeff nearly quit the band during the Ten sessions because Stone didn’t want to include the track on the album. A fist fight broke out onstage between Jeff and Stone. There were two hits, Jeff hitting Stone and Stone hitting the floor. He landed right next to a snoring Vedder.
But wait there’s more. The Ten Club, in an effort to conceal Ed’s condition and the embarrassing fight, demanded that fivehorizons.com and twofeetthick.com cover-up the affair by feeding them a brief story about local officials revoking the permit for the event, even going as far as to say Ed showed up, “partying with the crowd who’d gathered despite the lack of a show.” To their collective chagrin, both sites obliged.
“Sleeping by Myself” is the moniker Ed had given his once and former narcolepsy. The song recounts these events.
3. Without You
Typo on the packaging. More recently printed copies of the album have the correct title, which is “(With Or) Without You”; a cover of the hit U2 song. Structurally the song is a spitting image of the original, however on the ukulele it’s markedly upbeat which resonates ironically given the ambivalent subject matter.
4. More Than You Know
“More Than You Know” is an homage to misheard lyrics. The song’s title is a send-up of Mike McCready, who famously mistook the lyrics to Kiss’ anthemic rock song as “I wanna rock and bowl all night, and part of every day”. Track four on “Ukulele Songs” is actually called (per the liner notes) “More Rizutto”, which is a reference to baseball great and de facto Money Store spokesman Phil Rizutto.
“Ukulele Songs” was conceived as a 5-track EP. Originally, “Goodbye” was the closer. Initially released on “A Brokedown Melody“, a surf film released in 2004, this song tells a wistful story of a love lost, while the heartache still burns inside. The subject is Ed’s ex-wife, Beth Liebling.
6. Broken Heart
Who doesn’t love Valentine’s day heart candies? A perennial saccharine favorite, these colorful, quarter-inch cuts of heart shaped happiness sit on the shelves of corner stores waiting to be scooped up by two camps: young folks in love and fathers buying for their daughters. Ed began buying a small box each Valentine’s Day, beginning with the birth of his first daughter. Occasionally she’d find cracked candies inside and would start to cry. When Papa Ed would ask, “What’s wrong?” Believing the candies came from real live people she’d tearfully reply, “Daddy, this one came from a person with broken heart!” Finding this to be both adorably innocent and whimsically sorrowful, Ed wrote this song which lyrically explains to his daughter that “Only love can fix a broken heart.”
Ed’s belated answer to the Dave Matthews song of the same name. Though their feud has been kept relatively quiet for years, with only minor details leaking out to the press, the ongoing friction between Dave Matthews and Eddie Vedder has been vicious. It began with track 3 from DMB’s first commercial release, Under the Table and Dreaming.
Dave Matthews’ “Satellite” was written as a slight against the burgeoning grunge scene of the early 1990’s, with Ed as its prime target. The line, “Satellite/ strung from the moon/ and your world a balloon/ peeping Tom for the mother station” has been deciphered by Rock journalists to mean – and I’m paraphrasing here – “Ed Vedder is peeping Tom who uses balloons to levitate himself high enough to see into the windows of teenage girls”. The insult is juvenile, but veiled enough as to not arouse suspicion from most casual listeners.
Ed’s version of “Satellite” takes the high road, avoiding direct retaliation – instead dropping a single, solitary a-bomb. The lyric goes, “must be tough/ when you’re high/ all the time/ little guy”. Ouch.
8. Longing to Belong
Eddie Vedder (then Mueller) was born in 1964. By 1970, at the ripe age of 6, Ed longed to join the Cub Scouts. The local troop, Evanston 517, had capacity for only 25 boys due to budget constraints. By the time Ed’s dad (not his REAL father) got around to submitting the paperwork there was only one spot left. One spot, and two applicants. The two were Ed Vedder, and arch-rival Seamus McKenzie.
The two boys lived across the street from one another in Evanston, Illinois. Seamus, the larger boy, picked on the diminutive Vedder and gave him frequent noogies. Since Vedder’s dad was not well liked in the community (see here as to why), and that Ed suffered from acute Narcolepsy (see “Sleeping by Myself” above), the Troop leader chose McKenzie instead of the young Vedder. The snub deeply stirred an otherwise affable child (the line from Jeremy, “The serpent was subtil.” is a direct reference to this). Historical Rock-Psychologists pinpoint this moment when Eddie Vedder began internalizing his frustrations. The silver lining is that 15 years later he let them out and Pearl Jam was born.
Click here for Part II.