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Eddie Vedder explained in the Pearl Jam 20 documentary that this song is about first relationships. "The song is about letting go," said Vedder. "It's very rare for a relationship to withstand the Earth's gravitational pull and where it's going to take people and how they're going to grow. I've heard it said that you can't really have a true love unless it was a love unrequited. It's a harsh one, because then your truest one is the one you can't have forever."
By September, 1992, Pearl Jam had taken off, with three singles released from their debut album Ten
," "Even Flow
" and "Jeremy
." Sony Records was hot and heavy to released "Black" as the next single, and it was the obvious choice, since it was getting airplay as an album cut and was a ballad that could cross them over to other formats. The band, however, took a firm stance against releasing it, as Eddie Vedder didn't want to make a video or have to go through any more of the promotional process. Vedder won that battle and "Oceans," which got very little attention, was released as the fourth and final single from the album. This was a big moment for Pearl Jam and their manager Kelly Curtis, who stood up to Sony and their powerful CEO Tommy Mottola, who pressured them to issue "Black" as the single.
Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard wrote the music for this song, which he called "E Ballad" before Vedder put words to it.
This has been rumored to be about a girl who has an abortion without telling her boyfriend, but the lyrics suggest Vedder is talking about a girlfriend (or close companion), who either died or broke up with him. Some lyric analysis:
"Sheets of empty canvas, untouched sheets of clay" - All art references, art supplies not being changed or used.
"Were laid spread out before me as her body once did" - Sexual reference? Did she die?
"All five horizons revolved around her soul" - Possible religious reference, five is a pretty important number to many religions (like a pentagram). It could also refer to her being sprawled out (two legs+two arms+1 head=5).
"Ooh, I know she gave me all that she wore" - All that she wore could be a metaphor for knowledge, emotional clothing.
"Oh, the pictures have all been washed in black, tattooed everything..." - He had pictures of the woman, but something happened to her and now they're "black" to him.
"I'm surrounded by some kids at play" - This could be where the abortion reference is coming from.
"I can feel their laughter, so why do I sear" - The thought of children brings up bad memories. Maybe it was a child that died, but more likely it's someone heknew.
"All the love gone bad turned my world to black" - This line supports the breakup theory.
"Tattooed all I see, all that I am, all that I'll be...yeah..." - His vision and life and meaning has been obscured by this tragic event.
"I know someday you'll have a beautiful life, I know you'll be a star in somebody else's sky, but why why, why can't it be, why can't it be mine" - She is now with somebody else, but he wants to be with her.
Aaron Lewis performed this song live with just his acoustic guitar during Staind's 2002 tour. One recording of it got some radio play. (thanks, Nick - Paramus, NJ)
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