Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town

Album: Vs. (1993)
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Songfacts®:

  • This started out as a poem written by Eddie Vedder. It is about 2 people (possibly lovers) who are reunited after many years, one of whom stayed in the same town all her life, and the other who left. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Andy - Arlington, VA
  • In a 1993 interview with the radio show Rockline, Vedder explained that the unusual title came to his mind because he was "Fed up with one word titles."
  • In the Pearl Jam biography by Mick Wall, Vedder said of this song: "It's kind of about a lady, and she's getting on in years, and she's stuck in this small town. Small towns fascinate me: You either struggle like hell to get out, to some people want to stay 'cause then they're the big fish in the small pond, and then others just kind of get stuck there. So here she is working in this little place, and then an old flame comes in, and he's probably driving a nice car and looking kind of sharp - not a fancy car, but he's moved on. And then she sees him, and at first she doesn't even remember who he is, and then she realizes who it is. She's just too embarrassed to say 'hello.'" >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Martin - Rostock, Germany for above 2

Comments: 35

  • Ab from OhMy favorite, all time!
  • Cheryl from Long Island, NyThis song reminds me of someone with dementia who can’t remember people anymore…. Because “hearts and thoughts they fade away….”
    I’m super glad it ISNT about this….
  • Dante from Le CapThis song is so beautiful it makes me very excited when I listen to it I would really like to go see a concert of pearl Jam just to listen to this song. OMG I'm a fan.
  • Emily from Las VegasEddie said it was just a story the just...happened. It's about a woman working in a tiny store (he mentioned a deli) in a small town. A man she used to know walks in, she recognizes him but he doesn't recognize her. As far as my own opinion, it sounds like she clearly had feelings for him a long time ago before he left this little town, but the feelings never manifested in to anything. It's really kinda heartbreaking. The fact that it is created from just a few simple open chords makes it that much more beautiful.
  • Joe from 49417Great song, still my fave Pearl Jam tune, and I can't believe that it apparently didn't chart.
  • Nancy from OhioA spellbinding song. The lyric ‘I swear I recognize your breath’ is so simple, profound and universal. The very essence of a person. The deepest connection. Whether it’s a story of the woman, or the woman is an amalgam symbol for all of us, it’s overwhelmingly poingnant and authentic.
  • Gail from Chicago Heughts IlJust thank you
  • AnonymousLove this song! Every lyric hits all the feelers. "I just want to scream hello, my god it's been so long, have I dreamed you'd return" gets me everytime, can't ever sing along without tearing up.
  • Jayne from Massachusetts Lifetimes are catching up with me, means more now than it did back in 1993. Still love this song
  • Bob from Chicago, Il"Cannot find the candle of thought to light your name..." makes me think of my Mom who's turning 96, has dementia/ alzheimers and can't always remember our names nor the words to complete her sentences. It's the passage of time and life.
  • Stephanie from UtahThis speaks to me as someone who was adopted and reunited with their birth family. It heals me and hurts me at the same time. Music is wonderful.
  • Kathleen from MarylandThis is one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs. The lyrics -- like all PJ songs -- are amazing. I wish Eddie V. would write a book of poetry. It would be fantastic.
  • Ian from Washington D.c., Dc@brian, boston: i never noticed it, but you're absolutely right.. its that strum and timing
  • Ever from Washington Dc, DcEddie Vedder has a lot of emotion inside and expresses them through his lyrics. I wish more people were able to express their emotions or thoughts into words as he does. When I hear his lyrics, I can feel them down deep inside me.
  • Brian from Boston, MaI hear influences of the song You've Got to Hide Your love away by the Beatles in this song
  • Bill from Pierce , IdI can't count how many times I've heard this song, but every time I do I still get chills listening to it. Some of Ed's best poetry complemented by the pure, raw emotion he injects into it through his incredible singing voice. Clearly one of PJ's most awsome musical documents.
  • Gordon from London, United KingdomFor me this song follows on from the Marmasan Trilogy in that it is the same guy who was abused (though he is now dead) Though I think it is Vedder meeting his mum who abused him as a child (referances to alive). If you could imagine that going into some place years after what had happened distancing yourself from someone who abused you and then bumping into them. I think he points out all the awkward moments in the lyrics beautifully. I think the woman is going senile or is trying to blank out what she has done because it hurts too much. "i swear i recognize your breath
    memories like fingerprints are slowly raising
    me, you wouldn't recall, for i'm not my former" I think the word former sounds like father in the song which would back up the follow on from Alive. And for me the hearts and thoughts they fade is in referance to time washing away all the pain of the abuse. Great song and this is just the way I see it as Vedder always has autobiographical hidden meanings and uses different words to mean another word like in daughter where violins is violence in this song former is father. Like i said great band and great song.
  • Grant from Olympia, WaI don't know about the whole lovers idea. I'm pretty sure this song is about a woman growing old and finding herself becoming disconnected with people of the town. It's common for the elderly to be ignored as time goes on, "It's hard when you're stuck upon the shelf". The elderly woman is also in lament because the town is just waiting for her to pass on, "small town predicts my fate". I can relate to this song because I have a hard time reaching out socially. I often see people moving past my life as I keep to myself. Being alone for too long can be depressing, especially when the people you love fade away. "I just want to scream, Hello?!"
  • Jeff from Palmdale, CaI agree that it could also be about senility or the losing thereof. It reminds me of my grandfather suffering from alzheimers. very sad that he didn't remember us while struggling to recall us. Hence "cannot find the candle of thought to light your name"
  • Heather from Los Angeles, CaA love Vedder's voice. I just love it. And I like how he writes songs from the woman's perspective. Not too many rock songwriter's do. The refrain, "Hearts and thoughts they fade....FAAAADe away..." is just beautiful.
  • Dale from Norfolk, VaWell, I think these comments above miss the point of the song. I think the elderly woman is suffering from some sort of senility, perhaps Alzheimers, thus the refrain, "hearts and thoughts they fade away." Another example,"I just want to scream hello," but somehow she can't. I think the song is more about the ravages of age than separation from a former lover.See the line above refering to not finding the "the candle of thought." I do love this song for these reasons.
  • Justin from Neoga, Il"everything has changed / absolutely nothing's changed"

    That is from Corduroy, and the line is "everything has chains / absolutely nothing's changed"
  • Allison from Chicago, IlI always thought it was about a guy lived in a small town as a boy then returned as an adult and had a surge of old memories when he saw the lady behind the counter. I picture a little corner store or something. I figured the same lady is still behind the counter as when he was a boy, and when he sees that she is still there, but now very old, he has a revelation about life and memories.
  • Jenny from Panamacity, FlThis song is so powerful and meaningful.It is about a lady who had a love but he wanted to leave the town but she was to attached to the town.But years and years later she bumps into her old flame.She realizes that she could of been something but she never went for her dream.eddie Vedder lyrics to everysong is beautiful and moving.
  • Lora from Toronto, CanadaMy favorite quote in this song is " I changed by not changing at all". I think it refers to a person who has stayed the same throughout the years. This person has not taken any risks or chances in life and therefore has not experienced any personal growth. So by not changing and growing that person may have changed in ways that were not evident to that person, for example the person may become more introverted, isolated or stuck in a rut. Inadvertently the person has changed by not changing at all.
  • Danny from Des Moines, IaThe song is actually called "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town," not "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter of a Small Town." That doesn't really matter, because not many people call it that, just "Small Town" is what I've heard. Not many of my friends like Pearl Jam because they can't appreciate music for deep meaning, but rather just having sex with girls, but this song speaks to anyone. I don't care if it doesn't rock hard, it's just awesome.
  • Chris from Buffalo, NyI alwalys thought it was about reincarnation?
  • Gavin from Sydney, Australiai love this song. particularly the line
    "i've changed by not changing at all" for some reason






  • Phoebe from B.r., LaSorry, But "everything has changed/absolutely nothings changed" is from Corduroy, NOT Small Town.
  • Chris from Scranton, PaHearts and thoughts, they fade, fade away... Brilliant!
  • Emily from Dahlgren, IlThis is my favorite Pearl Jam song!! I saw them in concert in Chicago, and as soon as I heard the chords at the beginning of this song I couldn't feel my legs!! But, I agree that is song is about two lovers..possible each others first loves. The girl stayed in their hometown, while her old flame left, only to be reunited on down the road. They realize that the old spark is still there, but they've became different people over the years..which has caused those feelings to tarnish and fade. The line..small town predicts my fate, perhaps thats what no one whats to see..is my life!! I love it!!!
  • Matko from Rijeka, CroatiaThe song is very nice, and it's great fun to play on guitar, even though there's just some basic chords.
    The lyrics are about two friends/lovers who meet after a long while, and the woman understands that her life has been wasted in that small town. Something like "everything has changed / absolutely nothing's changed". She sees him as an old love, but also someone who can make it ok, make her live again. Well, that's how I see it.
    Cheers
  • Obzcure from Auckland, New Zealandthe name is a joke at all the previous "oneword" names of all their other songs "alive, release, deep, once etc etc)
  • Jon from Latrobe, PaEddie Vedder is a genious with words...the line "cannot find the candle of thought to light your name" is by far one of my favorite lyrics of all time...it is such a great pun and gives such great imagery
  • Alberto from Carpi, ItalyVery sweet song, I definitely love it!
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