Eddie Vedder - vocals
Jeff Ament - bass
Mike McCready - guitar
Stone Gossard - guitar
Dave Krusen - drums
Rick Parashar - keyboards
On January 8, 1991, Jeremy Wade Delle, a student at Richardson High School in the Dallas suburbs, showed up late for his second-period English class. The troubled boy was sent to the administrative office for a late-admittance pass, but he returned with a .357 Magnum. He spoke just one chilling sentence - "Miss, I got what I really went for" - and then, as his classmates watched in horror, put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
When Eddie Vedder read a newspaper account of the incident, he found himself so moved that he had to react. "I wrote the song that night, I think," Vedder has said. "I thought of calling up and finding out more, like, 'I wonder why that happened?' I wonder why he did it. Richardson sounded to me like a decent suburb, middle- if not upper-class. The fact is, I didn't want to. I thought that was intruding."
Instead, Vedder drew on his recollection of junior high in San Diego, where a schoolmate had brought a gun to class and started firing, with less-disastrous results. "I remember being in the halls and hearing it," Vedder said. "I had had altercations with this kid in the past. I was kind of a rebellious fifth-grader, and we got in fights. So [the song is] a bit about this kid named Jeremy, and also a bit about a kid named Brian who I knew."
At a rehearsal shortly after he wrote the lyrics, Vedder showed the news clipping to Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament. "I already had two pieces of music that I wrote on acoustic guitar," Ament says, "with the idea that I would play them on a Hamer 12-string bass I had just ordered. When the bass arrived, one of [the pieces] became 'Jeremy.'"
In early 1991, Pearl Jam had been together as a band for only a short time. "We were a machine those first few weeks," Ament remembers. "We were in a room togother talking about arrangements and working on parts."
With the structure for "Jeremy" largely complete, Pearl Jam taped a demo. But even as they started work on a finished version in March at Seattle's London Bridge Studios with producer Rich Parashar, they were still tinkering. "I had an idea for the outro when we were recording it the second time," Ament says. "I overdubbed a 12-string bass, and we added a cello. That was big-time production, for us."
Parashar wasn't just a knob-twiddler. "Rick's a supertalented engineer-musician," Ament says. Stone [Gossard, Pearl Jam's rhythm guitarist] was sick one day, and Ed, Rick and I conjured up the art piece that opens and closes the song. That was so fun - I wanted to make a whole record like that."
The song reached the world as a track on Pearl Jam's debut album, "Ten", released on August 27, 1991. A slow-burner, "Ten" didn't peak until almost a year later, hitting "Billboard's" number 2 slot on August 22, 1992.
"Jeremy," meanwhile, was becoming a favorite at the band's live shows, and was an increasingly obvious contender for release as a single. Ament recalls shooting a video for it with Chris Caffaro, a photographer who was a friend of the band's. Although Caffaro delivered a good performance-style video, Pearl Jam commissioned another. "At the start of our second European tour, in the middle of June '92, we filmed a video with Mark Pellington in Germany," Ament recalls. "It was mostly Mark and Ed's vision. In fact, I think it would have been a better video if the rest of the band wasn't in it. I know some of us were having a hard time with the movie-type video that Mark made, because our two previous videos were made live."
As the third single for "Ten," "Jeremy" failed to trouble the Top 40, but in September 1993, Pellington's clip walked off with four MTV Video Music Awards, including Video of the Year.
As with any song that dares to examine society's failings, "Jeremy" has never wanted for critics. Some have accused if of contributing to an upsurge of shootings in schools' the legal defense team for Barry Loukaitis, a junior-high-schooler who shot two students and a teacher to death in Washington State in 1996, claimed he had been emulating Pellington's video.
Ament vehemently disagrees. If anything, he says, the band's intention was to try to make America reexamine a communication breaddown between adults and kids. "The message of the video was a warning of what happened at Columbine," he says. "Parents and teachers don't always pay attention to what's goin on. If I were getting paid 25 grand a year, I wouldn't feel very responsible either."
Through the early '90s, "Jeremy" continued to grow in stature amoung Pearl Jam devotees, and a new, dramatic arrangement was released in 1995. "That was at the height of our largeness," Ament says. "we first worked on it backstage at Red Rocks in Colorado. We were just trying to mix it up a bit. Personally, I wish we did that a little more to some of the old stuff. I really liked that version."
The song's highest Hot 100 ranking came on August 19, 1995, when it reached number 79 as a rerelease. Despite its humble chart postion, "Jeremy" continues to be the song most closely identified with Pearl Jam. Ament has a theory why: "I think mostly because of what Ed brought to the song. You can feel the anger and despair of a fucked-up situation in his voice."