Pearl Jam – Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town

Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town - Pearl Jam

Vs., Pearl Jam’s second album and the follow up to their massively successful debut Ten, was produced with the intention of presenting a more versatile sound. The band’s approach to creating the album differed vastly from the experience of recording Ten. The process, inclusive of each band member, was far more conducive to drawing from their individual ideas and inspirations. Producer Brendan O’Brien had the band set up as if they were playing a live show and many of the songs developed naturally out of jams, unfolding as a result of the natural synergy between the musicians. Vs. is a diverse mix of hard edged rock songs and magical ballads that all explore various aspects of life.

“Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In Small Town” offers Eddie Vedder’s reflection on small town life. The band chose the long title as a contrast to their common use of one word song titles. Vedder commented, “It’s kind of about a lady, and she’s getting on in years, and she’s stuck in this small town. Small towns fascinate me: You either struggle like hell to get out, to some people want to stay ’cause then they’re the big fish in the small pond, and then others just kind of get stuck there. So here she is working in this little place, and then an old flame comes in, and he’s probably driving a nice car and looking kind of sharp – not a fancy car, but he’s moved on. And then she sees him, and at first she doesn’t even remember who he is, and then she realizes who it is. She’s just too embarrassed to say ‘hello.'” Living her entire life in a small town and growing older, she can’t seem to remember a familiar face from her past and regrets that no one has ever removed her from the repetitive uniformity of her days. She explains that she wouldn’t be recognizable because she has grown old and likens the monotony of her life to being “stuck upon the shelf.” She wants to “scream hello” and somehow return to a moment in her past when she felt alive. But the years of small town life have deadened her and she resigns herself to a lifetime of days filled with regret and futility, “Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away.”

The despairing atmosphere of the song is established by Vedder’s deep, emotive vocal approach. His delivery is magically captivating and commands immediate attention. Guitarist Mike McCready adds sparse, lonely guitar lines that enhance the song’s overall mood of longing and resignation. Ament’s bass lines follow Vedder’s confession like slow clouds passing through a darkening sky.

Vs. Pearl Jam“I seem to recognize your face
Haunting familiar yet I can’t seem to place it
Cannot find the candle of thought to light your name
Lifetimes are catching up with me
All these changes taking place I wish I’d seen the place
But no one’s ever taken me

I swear I recognize your breath
Memories like fingerprints are slowly raising
Me you wouldn’t recall, for I’m not my former
It’s hard when, you’re stuck upon the shelf
I changed by not changing at all, small town predicts my fate
Perhaps that’s what no one wants to see
I just want to scream, hello
My god its been so long, never dreamed you’d return
But now here you are, and here I am
Hearts and thoughts they fade, away

Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away
Hearts and thoughts they fade, away
Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away
Hearts and thoughts they fade”