Have you ever come across a song that has taught you a lot about life? A song, that conveys a message that touches your heart to an extent that you keep thinking about it over and over again? Eventually, you keep listening to that song and never get tired of it, you post about it on Facebook and let people know how much you love it, the lyrics of your song find their place in your diary or on the walls of your room. And then, new songs take its place and you grow tired of listening to the same thing again and again. But after a year, you check out one of your old playlists and find that ‘one’ special song. All the memories come back in a jiffy and when you start listening to it, a tear or two flows out from your eyes…

‘Black’ by Pearl Jam is that one song. When I was a kid, I heard my sister play it on our system and I fell in love with it that very moment. Eddie Vedder, the writer of that song and also the lead vocalist of Pearl Jam once told in an interview, “The song is about letting go. 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.”

There are a lot of ways in which you can interpret a piece of literature or a song. Take Black for an example. This song has always confused people because nobody has ever been able to fathom its true meaning. With the statement that Eddie Vedder made, the first thought that might normally come to our minds is that this song is about relationship with a lover. But no, this song actually holds a deeper meaning. Here goes the first stanza,

“Sheets of empty canvas, untouched sheets of clay were laid spread out before me.
As her body once did…
All five horizons revolved around her soul, as the earth to the sun,
Now the air I tasted and breathed has taken a turn.”

When you read the lyrics and observe the first line closely, you get an impression that a father has described the childhood of his daughter. You also get an impression of a male lover describing his girlfriend. Either the father is reminiscing about his daughter’s birth when he saw her for the first time and her body was completely untouched and new. Or the lover is talking about his girlfriend making a sexual reference to her body saying that it once lay bare before him while they made love. ‘Five horizons’ is a very strange metaphor here. In both the cases, I could only equate five horizons to five senses in a human body. All the five senses of his body concentrated on her- be it the father or the lover.

“And all I taught her was everything. I know she gave me all that she wore.
And now my bitter hands shake beneath the clouds
Of what was everything, all the pictures had, all been washed in black, tattooed everything..”

The father-daughter aspect fits better here. The usage of ‘everything’ in the first line here makes all the difference. The father taught his daughter everything while she was growing up and in return; she came up to him and shared about everything that happened with her (“I know she gave me all that she wore”). However, a lover can say this about his girlfriend too. But it won’t be that relevant. The next two lines indicate the pain and suffering. The protagonist of the song is becoming weak because she’s not there anymore. All the pictures that he had of her have either been burnt or they just don’t remain anymore. Most of us already know that the color black signifies ‘negativity’ or ‘end’.


“I take a walk outside, I’m surrounded by some kids at play
I can feel their laughter, so why do I sear?
And twisted thoughts that spin round my head, I’m spinning, oh, I’m spinning,
How quick the sun can, drop away…”

Now this stanza is the most important part of this song. It also highlights the relevance of both the interpretations that I made before. The father goes outside and sees some children play and that reminds him of his daughter. Their laughter is pleasant but his daughter’s memories are making him emotional. However, this stanza gives a new dimension to the story of the lover and his girlfriend. The girl either had an abortion or a still-born baby which means that the girl either left her lover or she died because of the grief. And the kids remind him of the baby that they could have had.

“And now my bitter hands cradle broken glass of what was everything
All the pictures had all been washed in black, tattooed everything
All the love gone bad, turned my world to black.
Tattooed all I see, all that I am, all I’ll be, yeah.”

This is kind of simple. Here, the protagonist is simply missing her.

“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, can’t it be mine?”

The bridge of the song makes all the difference. The most relevant interpretation is that the girl actually left the lover because he refused to have the baby. And now he is wishing for her to come back. He wants her to be his again. We also get an idea that the father wants her back, with him. Maybe the feud between them hasn’t ended and she doesn’t wish to see her father’s face again. Maybe she’s not even alive…

Perplexed? Ah yes! I completely understand. This song has the same effect on me.

In the end, this song induces sadness and sadness alone. You get the impression that true love never lasts. The music of the song is mellow and never ceases to end. And Eddie Vedder’s voice makes it even more melancholic.. But this is one song that never grows old. This one song, that’s till now been closest to my heart.

“And all the pictures have all been washed in black, tattooed everything..”

Sudisha Misra

Man-United fan. Singer. Writer. Reader. Hollywood movie buff. Metalhead.

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