In 1998 Pearl Jam released their fifth studio album Yield. It marked a return to the band’s earlier straightforward heavier approach to albums. The stand out track is the soaring epic Given to Fly, a song that carries underlying themes of existence and rebirth.
A subtle, yet sublime guitar riff from Mike McCready opens the song. The track slowly builds into a majestic cacophony of a chorus, before returning to McCready’s opening guitar riff. With each return to the chorus the song builds in both intensity and energy.
“Not becoming bitter and reclusive, not condemning the whole world because of the actions of a few.”
It is reported that Eddie Vedder penned the lyrics to represent a man blessed with the ability of flight, who hopes to share it with others only to be greeted with violence. Vedder talked further about the meaning of the song to the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1998. “It’s a fable, that’s all. The music almost gives you this feeling of flight, and I really love singing the part at the end, which is about rising above anybody’s comments about what you do and still giving your love away. You know — not becoming bitter and reclusive, not condemning the whole world because of the actions of a few.”
Pearl Jam have always stated that their songs are open to interpretation, and that the fans should take part ownership and make them their own.
I interpret this song as a tale of overcoming adversity. Both lyrically and musically the song easily lends itself to the feeling of a wave that slowly builds in strength. The building crescendo of each musical bridge that carries the listener from verse to chorus evokes in me the rising and subsequent breaking of a wave. The arrival of each chorus conjures up in my mind the image of waves violently crashing on a shore. Each crashing wave, represents for me a metaphorical barrier to escaping adversity. I view the final wave as the wave that the character is able to overcome and escape from, due to his ability to fly. I see the flying away of the character as the ‘rising above’ of the negative perceptions and comments of others.
I have never tired of listening to this song, and I hope I never will. As encouraged by Pearl Jam I have taken part ownership of this song. It has been a part of me during both good and bad times. I have seen it performed live twice, which is an incredibly awe-inspiring experience in itself. I even have Given to Fly tattoed on the inside of my right arm. So this song really does go everywhere with me. I certainly feel I have earned my part ownership of this song.
And he still gives his love, he just gives it away
The love he receives is the love that is saved
And sometimes is seen a strange spot in the sky
A human being that was given to fly