Mamasan: The Horrifying Truth Behind Pearl Jam’s Ten: “Alive,” “Once,” and “Footsteps”


“Alive” is the first single from Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten, and the first song in a terrifying musical trilogy. Read on if you dare learn the truth! 

Be careful when composing a musical trilogy… and by the time we’re done, I bet you’d rather hear the “Lick My Love Pump” opus rather than any of these songs ever again.

I’ll let Wikipedia break it down for you nice and quick:

“Alive” tells the story of a young man discovering that his father is actually his stepfather, while his mother’s grief leads to an incestuous relationship with the son, who strongly resembles the biological father. This leads to “Once” in which the man descends into madness and goes on a killing spree, and “Footsteps” in which the man is eventually looking back from a prison cell awaiting his execution.

Got all that?  Let’s take a look at the lyrics because for me, this is all about “Alive” – the other two songs are kinda incidental.

Son she said
Have I got a little story for you
What you thought was your daddy
Was nothin’ but a fool

While you were sittin’
Home alone at age thirteen
Your real father was dyin’
Sorry you didn’t see him
But I’m glad we talked,

Oh I, oh, I’m still alive
Hey, hey, I, oh, I’m still alive
Hey I, oh, I’m still alive

Oh she walks slowly
Across a young man’s room
She said I’m ready, for you
I can’t remember anything
To this very day
‘Cept the look, yeah the look
Oh, you know where
Now I can’t see, I just stare

I, I, I’m still alive
Yeah, yeah I, oh, I’m still alive
Yeah, yeah I, oh, I’m still alive
Yeah, yeah I, oh, I’m still alive

Is something wrong
She said
Of course there is
You’re still alive
She said
Oh do I deserve to be?
And is that the question? Oh
And if so, if so
Who answers?
Who answers?

I, I, I’m still alive
Yeah, yeah I, oh, I’m still alive
I’m still alive

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Apparently, the compelling part of the lyrics is the second verse.  I heard it this way:

Oh she walks slowly
Across a young man’s room
She said “I’m ready, for you [to yell at me for hiding the truth about your father from you].”
I can’t remember anything
To this very day [because I was so mad I just screamed at her]
‘Cept the look, yeah the look [the look on her face while I was yelling at her; obviously, she finally told me the truth because she couldn’t stand the guilt anymore, couldn’t tell the lie anymore, so the look on her face reflects that]

Except I was way off.

Again, from Wikipedia:

“Oh, she walks slowly, across a young man’s room/She said I’m ready…for you/I can’t remember anything to this very day/’Cept the look, the look…/Oh, you know where, now I can’t see, I just stare…,” and [Eddie] Vedder revealed that “she” was the mother, and “the look” referred to was not the look on her face, but “the look is between her legs. Where do you go with that? That’s where you came from.”

So… yeah.

These three songs are about lies, incest, murder and execution.  Hooray!


I knew something was amiss from Vedder when he sang that he had a “16 gauge buried under my clothes,” but I didn’t think it had anything to do with a vague (at best) reference to the incest mentioned in another song. Or, you could argue that Eddie Vedder’s lyrics are vague and that the listener can interpret any meaning they choose and go back to the blissful ignorance we all once enjoyed when we thought “Alive” was inspirational and about overcoming adversity.

(“Overcoming adversity” in the sense that when you’re lied to about where you come from, it makes you question who you are, but f@ck it, you’re still alive man.  Who answers?  I answer, mother f@cker!  Because I’m still alive and even if my real father is dead, I’m still alive – yeah yeah yeah yeah!).

Or not.  Good luck trying to enjoy these songs ever again!  =)

But if Pearl Jam (and/or Eddie Vedder) really believes in this trilogy thing, why didn’t they put all three songs on Ten?  (“Footsteps” didn’t make the cut – I had this song on the three song “Jeremy” single.)  And of the two that are on Ten, “Alive” is the third track and “Once” is the first, but the order of the songs in the story go “Alive,” then “Once” and finally “Footsteps.”  You could argue they didn’t have much control over their first album… but whatever.

You can read all of the Pearl Jam posts here!

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

About Jamie Insalaco

Jamie Insalaco is the author of, and editor in chief of

Posted on May 19, 2015, in music review, what the hell is this song about anyway and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. also, “Mamasan” means female pimp – my understanding is this term is used in East Asia.

  2. How about, if “once” is his state in the recent past, where he’s found himself, he is as much to blame for this (in his mind) as the mother the one he will go on to blame for all the bad that will befall him. Alive is reminiscing about how all this begun, but “thankfully” he is still alive, doesn’t want to be, for even a second, hence the 16 Gauge in his most current iteration. He is playing with thoughts of suicide and/or matricide.Therefore footsteps, the third “would-be” track in this lineup, is the reality of where he is, he was caught, his life is over, despite being “alive” and he is happy to have a scapegoat to save himself from the thought that he has blame in any of this.
    He lost any of the semblance of control he claimed himself to have back in “once”.

    This is all just from my memory of the songs and some quick referencing of the lyrics haven’t listened to “Ten” as a whole in the longest time.

    Also, could he be “Jeremy” who, theoretically got out of Juvie, after his rampage, still as fucked up as ever, but going back to the mother, who was too busy to pay him any mind, who made his so angry, so mad, so broken to whom he was just an inconvenient truth and something to massage both her vagina and her ego.

    A quartet?

  3. maybe “Jeremy” should be included! it’s hard to know what Vedder’s intent was… there’s a thread on the Pearl Jam site where people are trying to work it out and apparently, Pearl Jam did a storytellers episode on VH1 back in 2006 where Vedder talks about this, but I haven’t see that.

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