River Cross

Songfacts®:

  • "River Cross" debuted on February 2, 2020 in a mawkish one-minute Super Bowl commercial for Verizon that used images of first responders to promote its 5G network. The song is the last track on Pearl Jam's album Gigaton, released March 27.

    To this point, Pearl Jam had emulated Neil Young in refusing to let their songs be used in commercials. The band has a longstanding relationship with Verizon though, and the commercial takes that relationship to a new level.

    In 2008, Pearl Jam promoted Verizon's V Cast music service by making songs played at each tour stop available for download on the platform (these songs were also packaged into ringtones). In 2009, Verizon sponsored Pearl Jam's tour and did a "Ten Weeks Of 'Ten'" promotion, giving away mobile downloads of songs from the group's debut album to build anticipation for its reissue. Later in the year, Verizon did something similar to promote Pearl Jam's Backspacer album, offering ringtones of the tracks before they were released.

    This cozy relationship with Verizon could be seen as crass commercialism or savvy marketing, depending on your side of the fence. By teaming with a wireless company, Pearl Jam is able to keep up with trends in technology and reach more fans. At least they ain't singing for Pepsi.

    The ad is narrated by Harrison Ford; it's the first time he's voiced commercial.
  • Eddie Vedder performed this song live from time to time about 16 months before it appeared in the Super Bowl commercial. Vedder played it solo on an organ during these shows.
  • This is a very reflective song punctuated by the refrain "Share the light, won't hold us down," which appears at the end of the track - this is the only vocal that is heard in the commercial.

    The song opens with the line that provides the title:

    I always thought I'd cross that river

    But the crossing doesn't go as expected; Vedder finds himself in metaphorical peril:

    Drifting off in the undertow, can't spot a figure on dry land
    afterthoughts of safety when in truth none to be had


    In poetry and literature, crossing a river is often a symbol for a bold decision that can't be undone. But it's only when you're more than halfway through the crossing that you realize there's no turning back - that's when fear and doubt typically set in.

    As the song continues, Vedder seems to contemplate mortality:

    Wide awake through this deepest night
    Still waiting on the sun
    As the hours seem to multiply
    Find a star to soldier on


    He finds his courage when he surrenders to it:

    Living beneath the lion's paw
    Knowing nothing can be tamed
    Don't hold me down
  • Eddie Vedder performed this from his home as part of the April 18, 2020, One World: Together At Home Concert, which supported the Global Citizen organization and World Health Organization during the coronavirus pandemic.

Comments: 2

  • Carmyn from Minnesota I dedicate this song to my friend Ryan Grahn who is the star I look up to, to soldier on...one day I'll see you again in the Light. Thank you Eddie and Pearl Jam for this song that finally brings me peace.
  • Tim S from Cincinnati I believe the song is Eddie Vedder describing his pain from the death of pj fans at Roskilde in 2000. The river crossing is fans going to the concert. A safe place. But the lions paw does not allow such safety. With the funeral sounding organ, the fading of light, the undertow of the wet undulating crowd and non accusatorial plea from those below, "share the light..don't hold me down" he puts himself and us in the crowd that day. The first time he sang it he used "don't hold me down" . I believe he added later his poignant description of our current culture and in vein of Can't Deny Me used can't and won't. He puts us there when he sings" I used to tell time by shadow, til (under) the thunder clouds, they took the stage.." Describes the conditions on that fateful day in June 2000. (Read the Rolling Stone article which reported the horrible day). He then describes his, (S,M,M,J & B's) and the families night. "Wide awake in the deepest night.....) Wish I could confirm but I believe the only songs possibly more personal are Release and
    Falling Down.
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