“Better Man” – Pearl Jam

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Pearl Jam is one of those bands that I liked a lot 20 years ago, but don’t really do much for me these days. It’s not their fault … I’m just in a different space. But they do have some songs that I still love dearly and “Better Man,” from 1994’s album “Vitalogy,” is my all-time favorite of theirs. Many people interpret the lyrics as about a woman in an abusive relationship who is too afraid to leave. But I don’t think this is necessarily the case. I think the song is broader and more universal than that. The lyrics don’t spell out any kind of abuse going on. They don’t even indicate the guy the woman is with is cheating on her. He’s just no longer right for her for whatever reason and I think this is more about the mental struggles someone goes through when that person in a relationship that’s not working, but they’re afraid to end it because the fear of being alone overrides all else. I love the way the song starts quietly and then builds in emotion and intensity and then explodes with Eddie Vedder’s anguished vocals. Vedder has always had a great rock voice and this is, in my opinion, Vedder at his best.

While many people could hear this and say some trite s–t like “Drop that zero, yadda yadda …,” I think the song gives proper respect to how difficult it is for the protagonist to leave a person who is clearly not right for them without condescension. If you have ever been in a relationship and felt intensely about someone for a long time, but realize it’s not working, it’s not so easy to cut the chord because of what’s been invested emotionally. There’s a part that of you that wants to make it work because you’re afraid of admitting that you bet too much on the wrong horse. Granted, it’s not a healthy way to be. But it’s not as easy as someone who is not invested in the relationship may think. Key lyrics: “Memories back when she was bold and strong … And waiting for the world to come along…” “Better Man” is a great exploration of very complex and mixed emotions.

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“Sonic Reducer” – Dead Boys (live from CBGB’s 1977)

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The signature song from the premiere Cleveland bad boys of punk. This is a ferocious performance captured live at NYC’s legendary punk club CBGB’s in 1977. I’m not quite sure what this song is about, but I’ve always thought it was about someone who felt small in their life who felt bigger by blasting music from their car, their home, etc. as a way to show they’re significant and that they mean something. I try to remember this every time I get annoyed by someone who’s pumping their bass a bit too loudly when I’m stopped at a light. It’s just someone who needs to show the world they matter. It’s misguided to be sure, but it’s sincere.  Probably the same reason Pearl Jam relentlessly covered this song for several years in concert.