Ongoing History Daily: The truth behind “Yellow Ledbetter”

Let’s solve the mystery of Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter” forever, shall we? What the hell is Eddie singing about? And are there any proper and official lyrics to this song?

The answer to the second question is easy. The answer is “no.” Eddie admits that the lyrics to the song have always, er, evolved over time. Sometimes, he sings complete crap.

Originally, though, there were some proper words. The track was written about the first Gulf War. Eddie imagined a young guy with long hair and an alternative fashion sense walking along the road clutching a yellow telegram from the army, notifying him that his brother had just been killed in action. As he walked in a daze, this guy passes some older folks sitting on a porch, flying an American flag. He waves to them in some kind of gesture of solidarity, but they gave this weird hippy-looking kid the finger, even though they were politically and ideologically on the same side. This makes the hippy dude even sadder when he thinks “What did my brother die for?”

Think about that storyline the next time you hear the song.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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