“Jeremy” is a song by the American grunge band Pearl Jam. Written by bassist Jeff Ament and vocalist Eddie Vedder, the song was inspired by a newspaper article Vedder read about a kid who killed himself in front of his classmates. “Jeremy” was released as the third single from Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten (1991) in 1992. The song reached the number five spot on both the Mainstream and Modern Rock Billboard charts. “Jeremy” was included on Pearl Jam’s greatest hits album, rearviewmirror: Greatest Hits 1991–2003.
The song especially gained notoriety by way of its music video (directed by Mark Pellington and released in 1992), which was put into heavy rotation by MTV and became a hit. In 1993, the “Jeremy” video was awarded four MTV Video Music Awards, including Best Video of the Year.
The song features lyrics written by frontman Eddie Vedder and music written by bassist Jeff Ament. The song’s music was written before the band went out on tour in support of Alice in Chains in February 1991.
Ament on the song:
I already had two pieces of music that I wrote on acoustic guitar…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”….I had an idea for the outro when we were recording it the second time…I overdubbed a 12-string bass, and we added a cello. That was big-time production, for us….Rick [Parashar]’s a supertalented engineer-musician…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.
In another interview, Ament stated:
We knew it was a good song, but it was tough getting it to feel right — for the chorus to sit back and the outro to push over the top. The tune went from practically not making it on the record to being one of the best takes. I’m not sure if it’s the best song on the album but I think it’s the best take. On “Jeremy” I always heard this other melody in the choruses and the end, and it never sounded good on guitar or bass. So we brought in a cello player which inspired a background vocal, and those things made the song really happen. Most of the time if something doesn’t work right away, I just say fuck it — but this was an instance when perseverance paid off.
The song is in the key of A, and intertwines the parallel modes of major and minor frequently. It features prominent usage of Ament’s 12-string Hamer bass guitar, which is pivotal to the sound of the introduction and end of the recording. The song starts off with the bassline and quiet harmonic notes also on the 12-string bass, and continues in a sedate vein until after the second chorus, when densely layered guitars and vocals gradually enter. At the end the instruments gradually fade out until all that is audible is a clean guitar and the 12-string bass, like the intro. Both instruments play a descending minor key melody, fading out with one single note.
“Jeremy” is based on two different true stories. The song takes its main inspiration from a newspaper article about a 15-year-old boy named Jeremy Wade Delle, born February 10, 1975, from Richardson, Texas who shot himself in front of his English class at Richardson High School on the morning of January 8, 1991 at about 9:45 am. Delle was described by schoolmates as “real quiet” and known for “acting sad.” After coming in to class late that morning, Delle was told to get an admittance slip from the school office. He left the classroom, and returned with a .357 Magnum revolver. Delle walked to the front of the classroom, announced “Miss, I got what I really went for”, put the barrel of the firearm in his mouth, and pulled the trigger before his teacher or classmates could react. A girl named Lisa Moore knew Jeremy from the in-school suspension program: “He and I would pass notes back and forth and he would talk about life and stuff,” she said. “He signed all of his notes, ‘Write back.’ But on Monday he wrote, ‘Later days.’ I didn’t know what to make of it. But I never thought this would happen.”
When asked about the song, Vedder explained:
It came from a small paragraph in a paper which means you kill yourself and you make a big old sacrifice and try to get your revenge. That all you’re gonna end up with is a paragraph in a newspaper. Sixty-three degrees and cloudy in a suburban neighborhood. That’s the beginning of the video and that’s the same thing is that in the end, it does nothing … nothing changes. The world goes on and you’re gone. The best revenge is to live on and prove yourself. Be stronger than those people. And then you can come back.
The other story that the song is based on involved a student that Vedder knew from his junior high school in San Diego, California. He elaborated further in a 1991 interview:
I actually knew somebody in junior high school, in San Diego, California, that did the same thing, just about, didn’t take his life but ended up shooting up an oceanography room. I remember being in the halls and hearing it and I had actually had altercations with this kid in the past. I was kind of a rebellious fifth-grader and I think we got in fights and stuff. So it’s a bit about this kid named Jeremy and it’s also a bit about a kid named Brian that I knew and I don’t know…the song, I think it says a lot. I think it goes somewhere…and a lot of people interpret it different ways and it’s just been recently that I’ve been talking about the true meaning behind it and I hope no one’s offended and believe me, I think of Jeremy when I sing it.
Release and reception
The song was released as a single in 1992 with the B-sides “Footsteps” and “Yellow Ledbetter”, both of which can also be found on the compilation Lost Dogs (2003). “Jeremy” became the most successful song from Ten on the American rock charts. The song peaked at number five on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks and Billboard Modern Rock Tracks charts. It received Grammy nominations for Best Rock Song and Best Hard Rock Performance in 1993.
Outside of the United States, the single was released in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. In Canada, the song reached the top 40 on the Canadian Singles Chart. “Jeremy” reached the UK Top 20. It peaked at number 93 in Germany, reached the top 40 in New Zealand, and was a top ten success in Ireland.
Chris True of Allmusic said that “Jeremy” “is where Pearl Jam mania galvanized and propelled the band past the ‘Seattle sound’ and into rock royalty.” He described it as a “classic buildup tune” and proclaimed it as “arguably Pearl Jam’s most earnest work and one of their most successful singles.”
In July 1991, Vedder became acquainted with photographer Chris Cuffaro. They hit it off immediately, and Vedder suggested Cuffaro film a video for the band. On Vedder’s insistence, Epic gave Cuffaro permission to use any song off Ten. He decided on “Jeremy”, which was not intended to be released as a single at the time. Epic refused to fund the clip, forcing Cuffaro to finance it himself.
Cuffaro raised the money by taking out a loan and selling all of his furniture and half his guitar collection. He first shot several scenes of a young actor, Eric Schubert, playing the part of Jeremy. Cuffaro and his crew spent a day filming Schubert playing the part of Jeremy. The scenes with Pearl Jam were shot in a warehouse on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles on October 4, 1991. A revolving platform was rigged at the center of the set, and the members of the band climbed on it individually to give the illusion of the song being performed as a crew member spun the giant turntable by hand. Vedder appeared with black gaffer’s tape around his biceps as a mourning band for the real Jeremy.
To save money, Cuffaro did all of the post-production himself. He finished the video after six months, but it was ultimately rejected by Epic. Cuffaro’s version was never broadcast, and lived on only in bootlegs. It is currently available on his website.
By the time Cuffaro finished his video, Epic had warmed up to the idea of releasing “Jeremy” as a single. Music video director Mark Pellington was brought in to handle the project. Pellington and Pearl Jam convened in Kings Cross, London, England in June 1992 to film a new version of the “Jeremy” video.
Working with veteran editor Bruce Ashley, Pellington’s high-budget video incorporated rapid-fire editing and juxtaposition of sound, still images, graphics and text elements with live action sequences to create a collage effect. Actor Trevor Wilson portrayed Jeremy. Wilson filmed his classroom scenes as Jeremy at Bayonne High School in New Jersey. The video also featured many close-ups of Vedder performing the song, with the other members of Pearl Jam shown only briefly. Some of the stock imagery was similar to the original video, but when it came to the band Pellington focused on Vedder. Vedder thus serves as the video’s narrator.
The video premiered on August 1, 1992, and quickly found its way into heavy rotation on MTV. The success of the “Jeremy” video helped catapult Pearl Jam to fame. The video won four MTV Video Music Awards in 1993, including Best Video of the Year, Best Group Video, Best Metal/Hard Rock Video and Best Direction.
In Pellington’s video, Jeremy is shown being taunted by classmates at school, running through a forest, and screaming at his parents at a dinner table. Jeremy is the only character that actually moves throughout the video. The other characters in Jeremy’s life are in stationary tableau. Shots of words such as “problem”, “peer”, “harmless”, “bored”, and “child” frequently appear onscreen. Also, the phrase Genesis 3:6 appears, which references the creation of sin, specifically Eve eating from the tree of knowledge and giving some of the fruit to Adam. As the song becomes more dense and frenetic, Jeremy’s behavior becomes increasingly agitated. Strobe lighting adds to the anxious atmosphere. Jeremy is shown standing, arms raised in a V (as described in the lyrics at the beginning of the song), in front of a wall of billowing flames. Jeremy is later shown staring at the camera while wrapped in a US flag, surrounded by fire.
The final scene of the video shows Jeremy striding into class, tossing a crumpled up late slip to the teacher and standing before his classmates. He reaches down and draws back his arm as he takes a gun out of his pocket. The gun only appears onscreen in the uncut version of the video. The edited video cuts to an extreme close-up of Jeremy’s face as he puts the barrel of the gun in his mouth, closes his eyes, and pulls the trigger. After a flash of light the screen turns black. The next shot is a pan across the classroom, showing Jeremy’s blood-spattered classmates, all completely still, recoiling in horror.
MTV restrictions on violent imagery prevented Pellington from showing Jeremy putting the gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger at the climax of the video. Ironically, the ambiguous close-up of Jeremy at the end of the edited video, combined with the defensive posture of Jeremy’s classmates and the large amount of blood, led many viewers to believe that the video ended with Jeremy shooting his classmates, not himself.
Pellington himself dismisses this interpretation of the video. He had filmed a scene where Jeremy is shown putting the gun in his mouth, but this footage was edited with a zoom effect for the MTV version of the video so the gun was not visible. Pellington also shot a slightly different take of the classroom Pledge of Allegiance sequence. In the MTV version of the video there is a brief shot of Jeremy’s classmates making a gesture that could be either the American Bellamy salute or the Nazi Hitler salute; in the original cut of the video this scene is longer.
After “Jeremy”, Pearl Jam backed away from making music videos. “Ten years from now,” Ament said, “I don’t want people to remember our songs as videos.” The band did not release another video until 1998′s “Do the Evolution”, which was entirely animated.
In 1996, a shooting occurred at Frontier Junior High School in Moses Lake, Washington that left three dead and a fourth injured. The legal defense team for the shooter, Barry Loukaitis, stated that he was influenced by the music video.
After the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, the video was banned for a time. Since then, MTV and VH1 have rarely aired the video, and mention of it has been omitted in retro-documentaries such as I Love the ’90s. It is still available on the internet, on websites such as YouTube. It can also occasionally be seen playing at Hard Rock Cafe locations. The video has been getting airtime on VH1 Classic and MTV Hits programming as of 2006. The video was included in MuchMusic’s list of the 12 most controversial videos. The reason was because of the topic of suicide, and recent school shootings. The scene of Jeremy with the gun in his mouth was not shown. It was also included on VH1′s countdown of the “100 Greatest Songs of the ’90s” at number eleven, with several clips of the video shown, including part of the ending.
The song was premiered live at the band’s May 17, 1991 concert in Seattle, Washington. Pearl Jam performed “Jeremy” at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1992. The band had intended to perform the Dead Boys song “Sonic Reducer”, but MTV insisted that it play “Jeremy” since its video was already in heavy rotation. (It had been released after the deadline for that year’s awards.) At the end of the intense performance, Vedder managed to sneak in a reference to the Dead Boys song by singing the first line of “Sonic Reducer”, “I don’t need no … I don’t need no mom and dad.”
Live performances of “Jeremy” can be found on the “Animal” single, the “Dissident”/Live in Atlanta box set, and the Live at the Gorge 05/06 box set. A performance of the song is also included on the DVD Touring Band 2000. – adapted from Wikipedia