Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Eddie Vedder: Music for the Motion Picture Into the Wild
Written by El Conquistadorko
When it comes to writing music to accompany a dour film about an overprivileged kid who rejects materialism and wanders the vacant expanses of America only to die, starving and freezing, in the Alaska Wilderness, it's hard to think of a better match than Eddie Vedder. The Pearl Jam front man wrote and performed all the songs but two on the new Into the Wild soundtrack, a pensive mix of electrified ballads and solo acoustic instrumentals with earnest titles like “Setting Forth,” “Far Behind,” “Society,” and “End of the Road.”
If you haven't seen the movie or read the fantastic, similarly-titled Jon Krakauer book, the film concerns the misadventures of Chris McCandless, an east coast child of quarreling rich parents who like his hero Leo Tolstoy (one of McCandless' few possessions was a vintage copy of War and Peace) gives up all his worldly possessions and dedicates his life to a peripatetic search for isolation and harmony with nature. He even changes his name to Supertramp. Having read the book and reviews of the film—although not having seen the movie itself—it appears that Sean Penn has taken McCandless far more seriously than Krakauer (a veteran mountaineer) did.
In trailers for the film, Penn shows Supertramp kayaking alone down the Grand Canyon rapids of the Colorado River, a rip-roaring good time, except it never happened. In fact, McCandless never had a kayak, he had a canoe, and he didn't run the rapids, he put in south of the canyon and tried to paddle from the Colorado River to the Sea of Cortez, which turned out to be impossible and ended, as Krakauer noted, in a pointless disaster that didn't bode well for his future trip to Alaska.
Anyways, the music is solid stuff and if you're a fan of Vedder then it's a good buy. Just don't waste your time reading the pretentious lyrics, which are helpfully included in the CD, along with stills from the movie. If you have half a brain, or if you know anything about the real Chris McCandless, Vedder's attempt to turn a misguided kid's purposeless death in an abandoned school bus 30 miles from the nearest road — probably from eating poisonous berries because he intentionally didn't bring enough food with him — will only piss you off.
Here, in the song “Far Behind,” is a typical example of Vedder's poetic hagiography, which rhymes. “Empty Pockets will/ allow a greater sense of wealth/ Why contain yourself/ Like any other/ Book on the shelf?” But that's subtle wordsmithery compared Jerry Hannan's lyrics of “Society,” by far the most direct and outright silly song on the soundtrack. “It's a mystery to me/ We have a Greed/ With which we have agreed/ And you think you have to/ Want more than you need/ Until you have it all/ You won't be Free.”
Yikes, those lyrics sound like the kind of crap that works if you were a singer for a straight edge punk band 25 years ago and then, only because the music was so angry and you were yelling so loud about society to a bunch of slamdancing morons that nobody could understand you anyway.
By the way, what song could possibly be more appropriate for this movie than Temple of the Dog's 1992 single “Hunger Strike,” which featured Vedder on backing vocals? “I don't mind stealing bread/ From the mouths of decadence/ But I cant feed on the powerless/ When my cups already overfilled/ But it's on the table/ The fire is cooking/ And they're farming babies/ While the slaves are working/ The blood is on the table/ And their mouths are choking/ But I'm growing hungry.”
It's hard to blame Vedder. He had a job to do. The problem is that the best song on the album, “Tuolumne,” is the best song precisely because it has no lyrics, just Vedder plucking away at a guitar, the kind of tune you could imagine a kid like McCandless playing as he camped out in the desert or sat in that abandoned bus in Alaska waiting for death.