Friday, June 21, 2013

A Guided Tour of No Code: Hail Hail

And so, having created this quiet, peaceful, safe space with Sometimes, they immediately blow it all to hell with the explosive transition into Hail Hail, which actually isn’t that loud of a song when it isn’t following Sometimes.  So why did they do it?  I don’t have a great theory. We had a really good discussion about this a few months ago in some random thread. I wish I took notes. In either case, it is a brash beginning to what is otherwise a very mature song about how successful relationships are built on the mutual surrender of power.  

For  a song that wants to be about feeling it is more cerebral than passionate, more reflective than instinctive.   It is trying to understand, rationalize, and justify love rather than experience it.  And while it quite a penetrating song in terms of its insights, in the end it finds itself recognizing that some things just have to be surrendered to, regardless of whether or not there is a reason. Love is a because without a why. In some ways the song is the inverse of Sometimes. Whereas the former finds the subject rejecting the power of others over them in the pursuit of a meaningful relationship with the self, here we have someone having to accept the power of others over them  in the pursuit of a meaningful relationship with another.  Two songs about well being, two very different paths to get there. 

The main riff, dirty and tenacious, offsets the muted vocals--almost like it needs to remind the singer what is at stake. It has to remind the head of the heart.   That’s why the music sounds frustrated and stubborn--like it’s been at this for a long time and time is running out.    Maybe that’s why the transition is so loud.   Perhaps we needed the slap in the face.

The bridge and outro remind me a bit of Sometimes.  A prayer to the self to find the strength or courage or insight to really see (and accept) what is in front of you before it is too late.  Both songs are about seeing through our illusions, after all, whether they are illusions about our own power, our expectations, or about how independence is found in interdependence.

Eddie plays this one pretty straight.  A few albums prior Sometimes would have been Indifference, and the prayer would have turned into the ‘I will scream my lungs out until I fill this room’ moment.  Hail Hail would have been the pleading outros of Betterman or Black.  Instead the vocals are an exercise in restraint, which allows the greater contrast with the music and is appropriate for the head/heart debate in the song itself.

Hail Hail is not one of my favorite pearl jam songs, although I think it is quite good. But what I really respect about it is that it understands that love is about negotiating power and submission, ruling and being ruled--willingly giving someone power over and accepting responsibility for the power you have over them. Hail Hail comes at this obliquely in places, but it gets there.

These are some of my all time favorite Eddie lyrics.  I am a particularly big fan of ‘are we bound out of obligation/is that all we got’ and ‘I sometimes realize I can only be as good as you’ll let me’. But for the most part they are all pretty good, and we get the  story of a  relationship in crisis, a couple bound together out of habit, hamstrung by baggage they can’t let go of, finding salvation by  realizing that love requires acceptance of imperfection, surrender, and risk.  Love means giving someone power over you.

The dominant imagery in the song are shackles or restraint, the singer chafing under the loss of control.  ‘are we bound out of obligation’ ‘are we going to the same place’ (note that he has to ask permission to come’, ‘egg rolling thick and heavy’,’ bandaged hand in hand’ ‘on the run in a race that can’t be won.’.    But the ties that bind the people together, by the end of the song, are finally recognized as a source of strength, rather than weakness.   Nor do they require any justification. And with that realization there is the possibility that this all could work in the end.  That idea of strength through acceptance will be reprised once again in Who You Are.

Hail, Hail
Who You Are
In My Tree
Off He Goes
Red Mosquito
Present Tense
I'm Open
Around the Bend

No Code 
Riot Act 
Pearl Jam 


  1. Anyone know the info on the featured picture above? I have this on a shirt from Randals Island 96 and I can't wear it because people think its a penis in a woman's face.... any input would be appreciated..

  2. The picture is the Polaroid with the Hail, Hail lyrics on the back in the C Polaroid set.

  3. I actually knew that, I'm sorry, I should have been clearer... What exactly is the picture of? What is the odd pole going across the woman's face?

  4. Nothing says it's a woman. But it might be. Although there's no manly features, it appears to be quite a white-washed photo. Thickness of the neck makes me think it's athletic related. Looks like some gym/olympics type of thing - pre-javelin throw or someone nearly making impact with a chin up bar. Or the like....