Even Flow by Pearl Jam [what in the hell is that song about, anyway?]

If you haven’t heard it in a while, take a list to “Even Flow” by Pearl Jam from their 1991 debut album, Ten.  I’m not even going to ask you what this song is about – let’s just focus on what in the hell Eddie Vedder is saying.  This is a typical problem when it comes to Vedder’s vocal styling, but I have always felt that this is the best example of his yammering.  Adam Sandler agrees.

Freezin’, rests his head on a pillow made of concrete, again
Oh, Feelin’ maybe he’ll see a little better, set a days, ooh yeah
Oh, hand out, faces that he sees time again ain’t that familiar, oh yeah
Oh, dark grin, he can’t help, when he’s happy looks insane, oh yeah

So that’s what he’s saying, huh?  I’ve never heard the expression ‘set of days’ before.  I tend to refer to multiple days as ‘a couple of days’ (two), ‘a few days’ (three or more), or a ‘week’ or ‘month’ – not a ‘set.’   Sounds like he’s playing tennis or something.

Even flow, thoughts arrive like butterflies
Oh, he don’t know, so he chases them away
Someday yet, he’ll begin his life again
Life again, life again…

No idea what ‘Even flow’ means or how it relates to ‘thoughts arrive like butterflies’ – that’s nice poetic imagery, but it doesn’t mean a damn thing to me.  And ‘he don’t know’ what, exactly?

Kneelin’, looking through the paper though he doesn’t know to read, ooh yeah
Oh, prayin’, now to something that has never showed him anything
Oh, feelin’, understands the weather of the winters on it’s way
Oh, ceilings, few and far between all the legal halls of shame, yeah

‘Kneelin’ makes it sound like he’s praying to the newspaper, but the very next line is ‘prayin,’ so I guess.. he is praying to the newspaper, which he can’t read anyway?

Even flow, thoughts arrive like butterflies
Oh, he don’t know, so he chases them away
Someday yet, he’ll begin his life again
Whispering hands, gently lead him away
Him away, him away…

Who in the hell do the ‘whispering hands’ belong to?  Where are they leading him to?

Woo… ah yeah… fuck it up…

Fuck it up indeed, sir!

Even flow, thoughts arrive like butterflies
Oh, he don’t know, so he chases them away
Someday yet, he’ll begin his life again, yeah
Oh, whispering hands, gently lead him away
Him away, him away…

I’ve had such a hard time understanding the lyrics to this song that comprehending the meaning has never been something I’ve thought about, and unfortunately, I read the Wikipedia explanation before I read the lyrics.  That was dumb on my part as it makes it impossible for me to evaluate how effective Vedder is in conveying his message, which is:

The stark lyrics by Vedder for “Even Flow” describe the experience of being a homeless man. The subject sleeps “on a pillow made of concrete” and panhandles passersby for spare change. In addition to being illiterate, he may also be mentally ill, as he “looks insane” when he smiles and struggles to keep coherent thoughts (“Even flow, thoughts arrive like butterflies/Oh, he don’t know, so he chases them away”).

At Pearl Jam’s March 28, 1994 concert in Miami, Florida at the Bayfront Amphitheater, Vedder introduced the song by saying, “I thought I’d throw in a bit of street education while you still have an open mind…Right across the street there’s a little homeless community that lives under the bridge. You should just know that those people ain’t all crazy and sometimes it’s not their fault. This song is called ‘Even Flow’.”

Even with the explanation, I still don’t know what the expression ‘Even Flow’ means.  I’m not saying he needs to specifically talk about pan handling or shelters, but there are most certainly several things in these lyrics that don’t make any sense to me.  There are some references that do carry the idea of being homeless, but I don’t think Vedder knocked it out of the park.

About Jamie Insalaco

Jamie Insalaco is the author of CreativeJamie.com, BomberBanter.com and editor in chief of ComicBookClog.com

Posted on August 8, 2012, in music review, what the hell is this song about anyway and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Even flow = regular, and or even cycles of something as in normal, regular thought process and thought patterns.

    I understand this song almost completely; would you like me to translate? However “even flow” is a difficult part to understand and would probably take a little more imagination. If you pay attention, even flow is right before “thoughts arrive like butter flies” So take the definition of “even flow” and define the opposite definition of that. Even flow = regular, and or even cycles of something; so the opposite would be irregular, or dysfunctional thought process or thought patterns. As in homeless person does not have an even flow of normal or regular thoughts.

  2. Even flow = regular, and or even cycles of something as in normal, regular thought process and thought patterns.

  3. I always assumed “Even Flow”, is the protagonist, feeling “even”, maybe not having such a rough time with his mental illness, but it is still there, these moments of clarity, moments of feeling happy or even human, like better could still come for him, fleeting arriving like butterflies before being chased away by his illness.

    • Maybe even flow is how he feels when he’s medicated but the mental illness fights back against the medication so he Chase’s away thoughts that arrive like butterflies, which I assume means good thoughts. Maybe?

      • Yes, everything is flowing evenly, he is trying to overcome but the monkey on his back is always winning, could indicate that the good thoughts are uncomfortable to him, even flow isnt him, there is a kind of comfort in the chaos, because its his normal.
        Fleetingly, he thinks these things could happen, even be worthwhile, but what would he know? He’s just a little fella down here cant read and looks crazy when he smiles.
        What do you think? It’s been quite a long time since this post, so do you have any new thoughts after listening to the song recently?
        Interesting conversation for a song I have been “re-obsessed” with when writing in the last days.

      • Now I’m starting to think that rather than mental illness it’s addiction. Maybe Even Flow is when you’re sober but you’re troubled so you go back to the drugs and chase those butterflies away

      • Sometimes the two go hand in hand, perhaps how he fights is “self-medication” which makes him even, but of course, adds the layer of screwing him with addiction and adds another layer to the chaos and fleeting nature of his lucid thoughts.

      • Yeah, I do enjoy the postulating, I always found ‘Even Flow’ to be a very specific kind of stark beauty.
        Reading post now, shall comment there.

  4. https://polldaddy.com/js/rating/rating.jsAlthough not all street people are addicts , I have felt that even flow may have something to do with addiction and particularly heroin. Injecting drugs has to be done slow and even with no air bubbles and perhaps brings the thoughts like butterflies. Used to escape mental illness and the persons life situation(sleeping in the streets and asking for hand outs to pay for addiction)

  5. I have watched too many episodes of intervention and know people who have done drugs and have fortunately lived to tell their tale. Can see it in downtown Vancouver any given day. Sad

  1. Pingback: Mamasan: The Horrifying Truth Behind Pearl Jam’s Ten: “Alive,” “Once,” and “Footsteps” | CreativeJamie.com

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