Music Monday: Pearl Jam – Once


Music Monday was started by Drew over at The Tattooed Book Geek. You select a song and/or video and post about it on Mondays.

Most of us once we’ve reached a certain age can point to at least one historical event and be able to relate where we were and what we were doing that day. Something about the event, often something shared in the collective psyche of a nation or people around the world had such an impact that the memory is sharp and focused and seared into our minds. For my grandparents that event was Pearl Harbor. For my parents it was the JFK assassination. For me there are two, the first being the space shuttle Challenger explosion —  the second was 9/11.

Like I said, we all probably have similar memories of similar events. But do you have a song you can point to where you can say “I remember where I was and what I was doing the first time I ever heard it?” Do you have a song that you can point to and say “I knew right in that moment that everything had changed?”

For me everything changed one late summer day in 1991 driving down Page Bacon Road in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. I was a high school freshman out with a group of friends and we were driving by the Santa Rosa Mall on our way to play baseball on one of the city little league fields a couple neighborhoods away. We were in my friend’s older brother’s car, and I was in the right passenger backseat. My friend’s brother pops in a new cassette tape and I hear this subtle sound, faint at first, but rising in volume from the speakers behind my head. A few instruments at first, strings and percussion, then some low gravelly vocal words and hums. The music was building to something…then that guitar….then those drums…my head and upper body starting to move with the music…and then the vocalist punching through the sound with, “I admit it,” the music and the vocals continuing to build, something about a lover on the side of the road, bombs and .16 gauges, and the chorus, “Once upon a time I could control myself.” It was then in that moment I knew everything had changed. Nothing would be the same. I asked my friends who this was and they laughed at me. “Pearl Jam dude” they said. Then they made fun of me more for not having heard of them yet.

“Once” wasn’t the first song Pearl Jam released on the Ten album. That was “Alive.” It had come out a month or two before but I’d missed it somehow. My friend putting the Ten cassette in the tape deck that day and starting at track one meant my first experience with this band and this new music started with the very beginning of the album — one of the greatest rock albums ever. And wow, what a way to start.

Up to this point I was pretty much a top 40 radio kind of guy. These were still the days of groups like Boyz II Men, Deee-Lite, UB40, and C + C Music Factory. It was the days of singers like Whitney Houston, Bryan Adams, Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul. It was still a time of holdovers from the glam rock days like Poison, Scorpions, Winger, and Warrant. Oh yeah…it was also the year of Gerardo and Vanilla Ice. So to say this was something new…well that’s an understatement.

I didn’t know what to call this new music. I don’t think New Rock had been coined yet. We were about to discover what Grunge was, but at this point Nirvana hadn’t made it big. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released about two months after Pearl Jam released “Alive.” In the great Nirvana or Pearl Jam debate the winner for me is always hands down Pearl Jam.

For me this was the start of it all. This was the beginning of a whole new chapter in my life. Once upon a time this song launched what would become the music of a whole generation, and I would never be the same.

I admit it, what’s to say
I’ll relive it, without pain
Backstreet lover on the side
Of the road
I got a bomb in my temple that is gonna explode
I got a .16 gauge buried under my clothes, I play

Once upon a time I could control myself
Once upon a time I could lose myself
Oh try and mimic, what’s insane
I am in it, where do I stand?

Indian summer I hate the heat
I got a backstreet lover on the passenger seat
I got my hand in my pocket so determined discreet, I pray.

Once upon a time I could control myself
Once upon a time I could lose myself
Once upon a time I could control myself
Once upon a time I could lose myself
Once upon a time I could love myself
Once upon a time I could love you
Yeah yeah yeah yeah

lyrics by Eddie Vedder / Stone Gossard


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s