Song Analysis “Not For You” Pearl Jam

Song Analysis – “Not For You” – Pearl Jam

Restless soul, enjoy your youth
Like Muhammad hits the truth
Can’t escape from the common rule
If you hate something, don’t you do it too…too…
Small my table, it sits just two
Got so crowded, i can’t make roo
Oh, where did they come from? Stormed my room!
And you dare say it belongs to you…to you…
This is not for you
This is not for you
This is not for you
Oh, not for you…ah, you…
…scream…my friends…don’t call me…
…friends, no they don’t scream…
…my friends don’t call…my friends don’t…
All that’s sacred comes from youth
Dedication, naive and true
With no power, nothing to do
I still remember, why don’t you…don’t you…

This is not for you
This is not for you
This is not for you
Oh, never was for you…f#$% you…
This is not for you…
Oh, this is not for you…yeah, you…
This is not for you…
Oh, not for you…
Oh,

Vocalist Eddie Vedder about “Not for You”:

I believe…that there is something sacred about youth, and the song is about how youth is being sold and exploited. I think I felt like I had become part of that too. Maybe that’s why sometimes I have a hard time with the TV end of music and much of the media and the magazines. When I pick up a magazine, I just count how many pages of ads before the first article starts. You go one, two…up to fifteen to twenty or more. And then in the back you have phone sex ads. So I’ve pretty much had it. I don’t want to be the traveling medicine show where we go out and do the song and dance and someone else drops the back of the wagon and starts selling crap. I don’t want our music to sell anything—or anyone else use it. There are a lot of middlemen, somewhere between the band and the audience. I know you need some people to help facilitate things for the live show, and I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate these people but…In the last ten or fifteen years, there have been a lot of changes in music, and somehow the percentages being charged [by the concert industry] got out of hand. We also don’t want to be part of all the marketing tools or whatever, but believe me, we have been. [That happened] on the first album and that’s probably why we are where we are now, but it was hell and I feel awful about it and I’m not going to do it anymore.[2]

He also noted that writing a song like “Not for You” felt like therapy because instead of writing about a character, he was able to express what he himself was feeling.

In another interview, Vedder stated:

These attitudes out there…that it’s the industry’s music… And it’s not. It’s mine. And it’s yours. Whoever’s listening to it. It’s mine and it’s yours. And everybody in between, they’re the distributors. I think that something like a music channel can be very powerful. Sometimes they think they’re the ones who decide what’s heard. I think that’s a dangerous situation. And, I think, what’s more dangerous is that they think it belongs to them. That’s probably what “Not for You” is about.[3]

This song caught my attention because Eddie Vedder mentions Muhammad, peace be upon him, in the second verse. I even had the typical American Muslim reaction. I thought, “Does this mean Eddie Vedder is Muslim (hands open in prayer)?“  The answer is fairly clear – No. Then what is Vedder trying to say? He says, “Like Muhammad hits the truth. Can’t escape from the common rule. If you hate something, don’t you do it too…too…” He’s saying that Muhammad (S) taught the Golden Rule, usually stated in English as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And he’s being historically accurate because Muhammad (S) said, “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”(An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith 13 (p. 56))[1]. Also, he said in a similar vein, “If anyone harms (others), God will harm him, and if anyone shows hostility to others, God will show hostility to him.” (Sunan of Abu-Dawood, Hadith 1625). Interestingly, he didn’t say in the song that this is something Jesus (peace be upon him) said. It’s ingenious that he quotes Muhammad (S) and not Jesus (pbuh). Can you see why? Most of his audience already knows that Jesus (pbuh) said this, but many of them likely do not realize that Muhammad (S), a man often reviled by Christians, said words to the same effect. This allows Vedder to make two points at once – one, regardless of who said it, treat people how you hope to be treated by them; two, if you focus on the moral teachings of different religions, you will see universal themes repeat over and over. These two ideas go hand in hand because Muslims and Christians, as well as people of all faiths and non-faiths, ought to treat each other with reciprocity because equality is a universal human value.

In addition, Pearl Jam is talking about the absurdity of the music industry. He describes how he attempts to have an intimate moment with a woman, not necessarily sexual, but part of a relationship, only to have it invaded by rude people. There is this inevitable conflict between his identity as a rock star and his role as a human being. I wonder if the couple at the table is a metaphor also for his relationship with his fans. This is something I’ve seen in U2’s lyrics as well where you can shift perspective and suddenly a song about a man and a woman becomes a song about a rock star and a fan. He wants to connect with the fan directly, even intimately, but all these barriers, middlemen, and pitfalls come in the way.

 

When he says, “This is not for you,” he’s referring to all those middlemen – agents, promoters, managers, perhaps critics, and others. He’s not dissing his fans, even though some might interpret it that way. He makes it clearer that his fans aren’t his enemies.

Look closely at the lines, “All that’s sacred comes from youth/ Dedication, naive and true.” This is his expression of his love for his fans. They are full of passion, innocent, sincere. Don’t think I skipped the line, “All that’s sacred comes from youth.” That is an immensely profound line. In fact, in another time, in another culture, thinkers could write volumes on that one line alone. There’s even a subtle yet poignant sense of guilt. I think he feels guilty that he’s taking money from these kids who he finds so honest in their devotion to him. The best he can do is to try to be the musician that he would want to see as a fan. And if he can do that, he will be paying back the young fans who pay him.

 

[1] “Religious Tolerance” http://www.religioustolerance.org/islam.htm/

[2] Hilburn, Robert. “All Revved Up (As Usual)”. Los Angeles Times. November 20, 1994.

[3]Chiam, Lynn. “Pearl Jam Interview”. Singapore’s BIGO (Before I Get Old). April 1995.

 

 

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