We are winding down! For a few minutes there I wondered if I would make it. Well, I only have one more letter (which is Z, Z! Ha.) so hopefully I’m there.
Both of the songs on the list were chosen by me, so I went with the one least likely to yield a love story of any kind. (YAY! 😉 ). That song is “Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam. This is one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs. It also comes with the very strange fact that the lyrics may never have been completely nailed down and that Eddie Vedder may actually change them up from time to time. I’m going with one of the suggestions, which is probably, or not, that it’s about someone who joined up (military) and there’s hope that he won’t come home in a box or a bag.
A Different Time
Watching the Towers go down at the beginning of our senior year fueled us. Right away, Daniel decided to join up and get Bin-Laden. Me and Tony, at 17, were too young and there was no way our parents would sign a form to let us join the Marines, especially since Tony was slated for some Ivy League school. So, we watched Daniel get on a bus bound for Parris Island.
Before he shipped out, Daniel came home one more time, around Thanksgiving, when the cold wind whipped away our breath. He was different. His shaggy hair was gone, replaced by near baldness, he was thinner with muscles and maybe even a little bit scary, not that I’d admit it.
He hit me in the shoulder with his fist, probably thinking it was lightly, but I had to step back, refrained from getting pissed, and just held my shoulder. “Damn, dude, that’s the shoulder I strum my guitar with.”
“Next year it had better be the hand you’re ready to shoot with. We’ve got freedom to fight for,” he said.
Now, I’ve got to admit that I was still fervently proud to be an American, but my desire to join the Marines and get shot at by Middle Eastern fanatics had waned more than a little so I nodded. “Sure, man. I’m with you.” And I felt like a liar, a feeling that clung to me like some ungodly stench.
The following year, Tony went to Brown much to his parents’ disappointment, especially as he was accepted to Harvard and Yale. I fell into a gig by accident when some guys heard me sing “Over the Hills and Far Away” on open-mic at Fletcher’s. In six months,there was a record deal and then there were fans. Crazy stuff like you’d never believe. And I couldn’t believe.
Then there was Daniel who won a medal of honor, the purple heart, and saved the lives of the men in his unit. A true hero.
Two years after 9/11, the three of us met up back home at Thanksgiving: the nerd, the Marine, and the wannabe Rockstar.
“I’m signing up for another tour,” Daniel said into his beer.
He was different. I remember the boy who saved kittens from drowning in a river after some old lady threw them over the bridge. He found them homes, kept one himself. That little tabby walked alongside Dan, hugged him, and loved him with every ounce of her feline being. Amazing stuff. He was always going to be the savior.
And maybe Tony was always going to be the smart one.
And maybe I was always going to be the dreamer, the artist, a little too afraid of getting my ass shot off to join up.
Daniel stared at me. “I don’t expect you guys to do it. It’s hell. It’s effing unpleasant. I’ve seen things no one should ever see.” He didn’t elaborate and we didn’t ask. I don’t think we had the nerve.
I wondered why the most passionate and feeling of us would do it. Maybe there, in that description, was my answer. I asked the bartender for three shots of bourbon. We grinned at each other, threw back the shots, and did it again until we had to hang onto each other to get ourselves into a taxi.
You probably think this story is going to end with Tony winning some Nobel Prize, me being in the Rock Hall of Fame, and Daniel dying for a cause, and you’d be wrong. Tony dropped out of college to join the Peace Corps. Daniel came home, got married to his high school sweetheart, writes poetry, and lives along the coast in Maine. And me, well, I’m still singing and writing music, and sometimes people come to hear me sing and ask for my autograph.
The three of us still remember where we were on 9/11 as if it were yesterday, a freaking unforgettable, tragic yesterday, and we know we’ll never forget.
This is one of my favorite videos of Yellow Ledbetter. It’s like Eddie Vedder has gone all preppy on us. Enjoy.