Skip to main content

Words seem out of place, or, where this blog got its name

1995 was a creatively fruitful year for Pearl Jam.
This blog has existed for over a year now and it occurred to me that I've never mentioned what inspired the name. Words Seem Out of Place comes from the lyrics to an improvised Pearl Jam song played exactly once, on March 17, 1995 in Melbourne, Australia.  After writing about Pearl Jam's No Code turning twenty last month, it seems only appropriate to follow up with the story of the blog's title now, which is really the story of the improv that inspired it.

"Better Man" has long been a concert highlight, when the band segues into a portion of the English Beat's "Save It For Later" or an improv at the end of the song. At this particular show in Melbourne, the band improvised a delicately beautiful three-plus minute song at the end of "Better Man" that's been dubbed "Words Seem Out of Place." Eddie Vedder's vocals are full of wistful longing, with the song building slowly towards a cathartic, yet still controlled, denouement. No official lyrics exist for it, and Vedder was likely making up some of them on the spot, so it can be hard to decipher all of it on bootlegs or YouTube. But it seems to be about struggling with something and finding it hard to put those feelings into words. He sings, "Falling out of my face / words just seem out of place." Those lyrics, tied to that absolutely sublime guitar interplay from the band, haunted me for years after I first heard the song on a bootleg album in the late 1990s. The fact that the song is a one-off, and not even a fully formed song, only enhances my affection for it. I never forgot that song or its lyrics about feeling inarticulate or shy or unsure. Over the years whenever I felt like words failed me, or that my words failed someone else, this is the song I'd hear in my head. When I started this blog, it was immediately apparent to me what I had to name it.

Melbourne '95 is one of several legendary Pearl Jam shows from that tour, including their epic sets at Chicago's Soldier Field and Milwaukee's Summerfest. That year was a turning point for the band, as well as their first full year with Jack Irons on drums. Vitalogy had just released in late '94 and the band really bloomed creatively with that album and the Self Pollution Radio broadcasts and tours of America, Japan, and Australia in '95. That era with Irons on drums ('94–'98) stands out as an utterly unique time in their history, thanks in large part to Irons himself. Not only his drumming, but his calming influence over the other band members, at a time when the walls seemed to be closing in on them. During the early years of this era, Pearl Jam had transitioned into being the single biggest band on the planet. Overwhelmed by all that came with that, Vedder and the band retreated a bit but stayed fierce—taking on Ticketmaster showed they had the same spirit they'd always had. On the music side of things, Irons' drumming style was far different from any drummer the band's had before or since. He brought a tribal and polyrhythmic style with him, allowing the band to stretch out more, to be looser and explore new sounds and emotions. "Words Seem Out of Place" is a good example of Pearl Jam's sound in the mid-'90s: experimental, unconventional, and beautiful. Most of their best songs from those years—"Who You Are," "Sometimes," "Off He Goes," "Present Tense," "Low Light," "Given to Fly," "All Those Yesterdays," and "Wishlist"—are achingly beautiful, full of intricate detail and subtle touches. Vedder was writing incredibly thoughtful and introspective lyrics during this stretch that were about seeking answers to how and where we fit in the world.

"Words Seem Out of Place" has always seemed like a another potentially great song that would have slotted in right next to those others on the list, had it been developed further. As it stands though, it's still powerfully moving and one of several intriguing improvs from their career ("Out of My Mind" being one that took on a life of its own among fans), each of which prove how spontaneous and unique each Pearl Jam concert can be.

Here are the lyrics, found in various places across the Interwebs. They seem pretty accurate to my ears. A fan-shot video of the performance, synced with what sounds like a soundboard recording, follows at the bottom of this post.

I seem so overcome, yeah...

Words seem so out of place
words they fall off my altar
How did I get to this place?

Seems so, sounds so familiar
Lost in my dying, cold cry...

All their dreams, there's a million, yeah...
So does it feel time to say a prayer?

Hey, yeah... (2x)

Words they seemed out of place
Words they seem out of place
Falling out on my face, yeah...

Words just seem out of place...


Popular posts from this blog

RIP Chris Cornell

He was Louder Than Love.
When we were younger and knew nothing, people like Chris Cornell were our mentors, leading us down some interesting paths. They didn't have answers and they made that clear; they just made incredible, invigorating, heartbreaking, and memorable music that helped us get through most anything. "My Wave" was like a mantra:  Don't come over here
Piss on my gate
Save it just keep it off my wave I used to scour liner notes back then and when I discovered Cornell's music publishing name was "You Make Me Sick I Make Music" I thought, that's perfect. Take your defiance, your anger, your disgust with how cruel the world can be and channel it into something. Music, art, your friends and family, anything productive.

His death is devastating. To me, my friends, the world. Every time someone of his stature dies, people ask "You didn't know him personally, why do you care?" And I feel anger and a fury inside well up because t…

Even walls fall down

Memories rushing in, like waves crashin' on the beach.
I'm a bad boy, 'cause I don't even miss her / I'm a bad boy, for breakin' her heart
Young and selfish, unhappy and escaping to a brighter, better place, self-preservation conquers regret, self-loathing replaced by a tentative confidence. A perfect song, this was on constant rotation during those years, both on MTV and inside my head.
I'll be the boy in the corduroy pants / you'll be the girl at the high school dance
Summer '95, outside, evening air, then-girlfriend, me, and 25,000 other voices, singing every word at the tops of our lungs, as if our very existence depended on it.
Sometimes you're happy / sometimes you cry / half of me is ocean / half of me is sky
'96, then-girlfriend is now ex-girlfriend, but hearing this then-new song helps me remember, and appreciate, a heart so big it could crush this town.
The waiting is the hardest part
Must've included this song on every mixtape I …

It Came From the '90s: The Shock and Awe of Divinyls

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

Peeling out of the church parking lot after Sunday night religious ed class, Divinyls' "I Touch Myself" blasting from the car stereo. This makes the passengers giggle like the immature dorks we are, while the friend behind the wheel is grinning out the window at the religious education teachers. The rest of us, shy and non-confrontational, smile sheepishly from the backseat.

The teachers look extremely displeased. I think one shakes her head in disgust. Each generation looks at their successors this way at one point or another, it's unavoidable. The old timers, shocked and appalled, plus a little envious, when confronted with the temerity of youth.

While I'm just an accomplice in the car—I didn't know the driver was going to do that when he turned the ignition key and the song started playing on the radio—each of us has at least a little fun in…

It Came From the '90s: Not For You

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

Generation X. Alternative Nation. Slackers. Kids in flannels.

In the early and mid 1990s, teens and young adults of a certain age were given all of those monikers, and several others too. Full disclosure, I was one of those kids. Every generation goes through a period like that—when they're the up-and-comers trying to break free of the previous generation, A period of endless media and societal fascination leading to unfair stereotyping and marginalization.

Pearl Jam's "Not For You," from 1994's seismic blast of an album Vitalogy, seemed to be directly addressing this divide between the members of Gen X and their elders. Vitalogy was the most anticipated album of the year. Kurt Cobain killed himself that spring, leaving Pearl Jam alone at the top of the rock mountain, whether they wanted to be there or not. They were the biggest band in the world d…

Michelle Pfeiffer: Frankie and Johnny

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

And then there was the time my two favorites starred in one of the most starkly honest and mature films about grownup relationships this viewer has ever seen. Frankie and Johnny (1991) is a beautifully melancholic tale, laced through with rich and sincere humor aimed at adults—people who've lived long enough to have loved and lost and felt real longing and despair.
Al Pacino is fantastic as Johnny, the new short-order cook at the diner where Michelle Pfeiffer's Frankie works. Johnny is a good man who truly believes that he and Frankie are meant to be together. Johnny is fully alive now to the realization that life is short, so he's resolved to cherish every minute of it moving forward. Frankie is the cynic, the beaten-down diner waitress who masks the pain of previous relationship failures with biting sarcasm and avoidance. She's the…

Michelle Pfeiffer at 60: Still White Gold, Still the Best

Hard to believe it, but Michelle Pfeiffer will turn sixty on April 29th.

Not as hard to believe, I'm an enormous Michelle Pfeiffer fan, or pfan, if you will. I've written extensively about her work, and I will likely continue to do so until someone pries the keyboard out of my cold, dead hands.

Pfeiffer turning sixty feels momentous. Obviously, we could go on for days about how she doesn't look sixty, about how she's managed to retain her stunning, otherworldly, jaw-dropping good looks all these years. Certainly, when I first discovered her in the mid- to late-1980s as an adolescent, it was her captivating eyes and pouty lips that first made me sit up and say, "Whoa!" After all this time, she's still solid White Gold. Always has been, always will be.

Reducing Michelle Pfeiffer to her looks, however, is never a wise decision. She's so much more than just quite possibly the world's most pretty face. She's a true artist, an extremely talented, o…

It Came From the '90s: For D’arcy (Sail on Silver Girl)

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

Search any dorm room across campus, circa 1995, and you'd likely find a copy of Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits. Many copies would've been acquired through BMG's or Columbia House's music clubs ("12 Hot Hits for a Cool Penny"). "Cecilia" was always a hallway jam favorite, especially in the girls' dorms, but "Bridge over Troubled Water" was deep, man.

Sail on silver girl Sail on by Your time has come to shine All your dreams are on their way See how they shine Oh, if you need a friend I'm sailing right behind Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
That image of "Silver Girl" was particularly evocative to me—of what, I wasn't quite sure, but it was all so lovely and damaged in its own twee way. Who was this Silver Girl? Was I s…

Michelle Pfeiffer: Wolf

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

Mike Nichols' Wolf (1994) utilizes classic werewolf tropes to segue into a smart and slyly funny exploration of the crisis of masculinity. Jack Nicholson's character Will, in the midst of a midlife crisis, begins to feel like a much younger man again after he's bitten by a wolf. Plus he meets a much younger woman played by Michelle Pfeiffer, who becomes the symbol of all that's missing from his life, and so of course he must have her. The film flummoxed audiences and critics in '94, yet it holds up magnificently today. It's beautifully filmed, with a memorably vivid Ennio Morricone score, and terrific performances by all involved, especially from Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer has a lot of fun being the object of Nicholson's affection here. She makes acting choices that help reinforce the film's harsh critique of the male ego. Thr…

Gonna make you, make you, make you notice: The musical constancy of the Pretenders

That's Chrissie Hynde's face staring back at you on this blog's header. I've written about Hynde and the Pretenders here on more than one occasion. So it was only a matter of time before I wrote at greater length about her music and influence. She's provided me with a lifetime of deeply personal music to which I can relate to and also be constantly surprised by. There are several other artists, writers, and musicians whose work I've been equally invested in over the years, but my affection for Hynde and the Pretenders goes back to my formative years and is so intertwined with my life that it's almost impossible to separate the two.

Their debut album, Pretenders, was one of the first rock albums I ever owned and, as I like telling anyone within ear shot, a stone-cold perfect album that I've been comparing other great records to ever since. It's a masterpiece and one of the most impressive debuts in rock history. It contains everything you need to kn…

It Came From the '90s: "I want to write her name in the sky"

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

It wasn't just Tom Petty's words and music that imprinted on us, it was also his videos that resonated, their images forever stored inside us, helping guide us through life. They seemed to originate within us, as if Petty was simply reflecting back our own lives and experiences.

We were the MTV generation, and for a stretch during the '80s and '90s, words and pictures melded together in perfect harmony, a perfect pop cultural storm. None more perfect than Petty's videos.

"Free Fallin'", from 1989—when the earliest and bravest explorers of the uncharted '90s first started beaming back messages to the mother planet— is one of Petty's more straightforward video-stories, yet it's still packed tight with an unassuming yet sharply wrought commentary on contemporary Americana—Petty's stock and trade, after all.

Our teenage hero…