The Hidden Meaning Of Pearl Jam's Jeremy

Clearly I remember / Pickin' on the boy / Seemed a harmless little f***

A full eight years before the shootings at Columbine High School resulted in the deaths of 13 students in Littleton, Colorado, well before school shootings became tragically passe, and before online bullying even existed, Pearl Jam released their 1991 masterpiece "Jeremy." The video for the song, featuring cuts of a young man seething with rage, misunderstood, backed by flames and ostracized by family and school alike, shocked viewers into a stunned silence as still as the video's final, blood-splattered shot. In that scene, Jeremy's white-shirted classmates shield their faces from his blood, but can't look away from the sight of their peer now dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The video, which won four MTV music video awards in 1993, combined with the song's lyrics, offers no doubt regarding what the track is about: bullying and child neglect, and their resultant violence.

Something that mommy wouldn't wear

"Jeremy" is track six on Pearl Jam's stellar debut album, Ten, and it showcases the already-mature musicianship and lyricism of a band that, in the intervening years, has done little but continue to explore and evolve its sound. "Jeremy's" instantly recognizable, ominous opening bassline serves as a prelude to the building menace of the story to come, full of vivid lines such as the first verse's Lemon yellow sun / Arms raised in a V / And the dead lay / In pools of maroon below. Jeremy, the young man portrayed in the song, imagines himself as a wicked ruler of an equally wicked world in response to the dismissiveness he's been subjected to his entire life. In the end, he "spoke in class today," as the song says, through the only means left to him.

Many have speculated whether or not "Jeremy" was inspired by some real-life event. As it turns out, the answer is yes: singer Eddie Vedder was inspired by a story he read in the Dallas Morning News about a nearly-16 year old young man named Jeremy Delle who committed suicide on January 8, 1991, at Richardson High School in Richardson, Texas. Delle, an artist by nature, had been told by the teacher of his second-period English class to get an admission slip from the school office because he missed class. As reported in Songfacts, he returned to class, gun in hand, and said, 'Miss, I got what I really went for,' before putting the barrel of the gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. He was one of three students in the school that year to commit suicide.

A song for a Vedder tomorrow

In an interview with Billboard, Vedder says that he knew a kid in seventh grade with similar difficulties, who came into school one day with a gun and shot a fish tank. The two incidents combined led him to try and write a song not meant to factually track the events of Jeremy Delle's life, but rather provide a portrait of his emotional state, and create a story that was universal in its message and sentiment. In 2018, Jeremy Delle's mother, Wanda Crane, spoke up for the first time about her son's death, and her feelings towards the song, as described in Ultimate Classic Rock. Crane, who helped herself cope by starting a grief support group, spoke to Dallas news outlet WFAA, stating that her son's death "did not define his life."

Regardless of the accuracy of the story of "Jeremy," its portrayal has doubtlessly helped countless others cope with trying times.