Tattooed Everything: A Homage To Pearl Jam’s “Black”

Tattooed Everything

Some songs are just larger than life. More than just your typical verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, outro etc. There are a select few that are an out-of-body, emotional movement. It’s hard to even classify or describe them. One of the beautiful things about music is that fans have the ability to identify their own personal soul-touching gems. Then there are others that are just universal. Credit Pearl Jam for having at least two – “Release,” and the one and only … “Black.”

Recently, I’ve been spinning various versions of “Black” – thinking deeply about the song, what it means to me and all the different ways it could mean something so heavy to anyone that hears it. There’s one that I find to be the superhuman of the superhuman.

April of 1994. I was on vacation visiting my grandparents with my cousins in Naples, Florida. Pearl Jam had announced they will broadcast their Atlanta concert live on numerous radio stations. My cousins and I were completely submersed in the Pearl Jam world (and still are). My older cousin doctored up the fossil of a radio deck in the living room / Grandfather’s office where the three of us were staying. He found it. There was a station in Naples that would be getting the live stream. There was one problem; we had to go out for a wild night on the town with the family. Most likely a four hour dinner where us kids would blend sugar rush, sun-burnt antics with completely falling asleep, face-planting at the table. Don’t get me wrong, we loved every second of it. But this night was a Pearl Jam special. In 1994! If we didn’t catch it, the world may end.

My cousin happened to have an old cassette tape. He didn’t care what was on it. It was getting rewound and we would attempt to record the show in the “A” slot of the old radio. A four hour dinner felt like four days. As we got home we sprinted to the radio. Did it work? A couple of cranks and prayers and … Yes!

The three of us stayed up all night, listening to this epic show at a ridiculously low volume, not wanting to wake anyone up or let them hear what we were doing. How they must have wondered why we were so eager to go to “sleep” on vacation.

Three things stuck out to me after listening to that show: 1. Another reminder – this band is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. 2. “Better Man” was debuted. “it’s dedicated to the bastard that married my mama.” 3. “Black.” The most amazing version of the song (or any other song) I had ever heard.

The intensity, raw emotion, delivery and sentiment had me half frozen, half tear-filled. I have never seen a video of this performance. I’m not sure if there even is one. A quick Google and Youtube search produced zero results. But that’s ok. I don’t think I want one. The audio is moving enough and gives me a canvas to paint my own picture.

It’s so easy to get caught up in how moving “Black” is overall and how great the melodies are that the lyrics sometimes take a back seat. Take for example the word “tattooed,” used several times. “Tattooed everything,” “tattooed all I see, all that I am, all I’ll be.” There are so many other word choices that can have been used there instead. Easier, more common words and phrases. Tattooed? It changes everything. A tattoo is meant to be permanent. It’s usually meaningful (you either never forget what your tattoo symbolizes or don’t even remember getting it). Then there’s “all been washed in Black,” “turned my world to Black.” An incredible lightning bolt of impact, in just five words. And don’t even get me started on the “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life” outro. Can’t. There are no words.

What was also different about ’94 Atlanta – Fox Theater “Black” is that it included a vigorous “we belong together” tag at the end. It was the first time I had heard it like that. Not on the album version, it’s become somewhat of a common end rap over the years. Find yourself in the right live setting, among a crowd that gets it, and you may experience the loudest silence, or perhaps you’ll be part of a unified wave – arms wrapped around each other, heads held high or low, swaying back and forth, just getting lost in it all.

There’s a small part in Cameron Crowe’s PJ20 film where Eddie Vedder discusses “Black” and what it means to him:
“It’s a true story, something that I really felt – and I still feel every time I sing it.”

There are few things more fragile or emotionally ripping than the feeling of missing. Especially if you know they (or you) are not coming back. Everyone has someone or some experience this song can relate to – whether it’s old or lost love, a friend, family member, an experience, a place or a thing. “Black” makes that tattoo itch. “Black” is a tattoo unto itself. Ironically, it can be comforting.

“…And all I taught her was .. everything. That’s All.”

2016 is big year for Pearl Jam. A tour was just announced, it marks 25 years since their debut record – Ten was released, there’s an anniversary special on all five horizons and I’m sure much more we don’t even know about.

I offer this as a thank you. As a letter of appreciation. I would rarely include “Black” on a top song list because I don’t want to do it a disservice – including it with others that have catchy hooks and big choruses. It’s more of a piece of art blanketing the sky, surfing the seas, tattooed in the emotional lock-box. There for multiple purposes, always at the right time. Somehow we survive.

April 3, 1994:
“I don’t think
These people understand.
Oh you don’t understand.
No one understands.
We belong together……..”

Do do do do dodo do


  • Corndog

    Absolutely beautiful song. Got me through some hard times in my youth. No music can have the same emotional impact on me as Pearl Jam can; especially the songs from Ten.

    Over the years though, i would say that i have come to prefer Release to Black. I would consider that my favourite Pearl Jam song.

  • Péricles

    Such an incredible article. Pearl Jam is a band that can reach you in many ways, some of them you can’t even realize. “Black” is a song that touches me every time, although only the “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life…” applies to my life experience, since I’ve never had the person I love, but I do wish all the best to her, because this is the message I think Eddie tried to express: to be able to keep looking after the ones you love even when you can’t be with them.

  • JG10

    Here is the audio of the Black performance referenced. The we belong together tag at the end is one of a kind ..

    • Corndog


      Just listened to this in work, i got goosebumps!

    • Rizz

      Holy sh– that was f’n great.

  • Rizz

    Well written article. Song is a staple of my youth. I was 19 in 1992 and extremely immersed in music, in particular the seattle movement. I’ve introduced the song to my daughter and she now knows Eddie because of it.

    • Corndog

      I was 14 in 92, and i have also introduced my son to Pearl Jam. Took him to his first concert (PJ of course) when he was only 4 years old.

      I’m sure anyone that has spent a bit of time on the site will have noticed that i often and regularly refer to Eddie as ‘your uncle Eddie’. Well if anyone is interested, the reason is my son. When he started getting interested in the music i was listening to he would ask me questions about it. He always seemed interested in Pearl Jam; the singer in particular, so when he would ask me ‘who’s that?’ while i was listening to PJ, i would reply ‘that’s your uncle Eddie’. I think my kid grew up thinking that Eddie actually was his uncle, and for me, saying that just kind of stuck! My kid is ten now and a total metalhead. He just can’t get it heavy and fast enough.

      Boring story, just thought i would share as it wouldn’t be the first person around here that asked me why i always refer to him as your uncle Eddie. Now you know:)

      • Rizz

        I sat in a virtual waiting room for 90 min this past Friday trying to score PJ tix, so it could be the 1st concert I took my daughter to. I couldn’t get them. Secondary market is ridiculous. Maybe I’ll take her to see Slayer instead 😉

        Not a boring story. Thanks for sharing.

        • Corndog

          That’s a shame about the tickets. Do you live in the states? Will you be able to get tickets for an alternative venue?

          • Rizz

            Nah, I doubt it. At this point I can get 2-4 shows for the price of a PJ ticket. I’ve seen them a few times in the past 20 years. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find one….

          • Corndog

            I’ve only ever seen them once. Well they’ve only been to the North of Ireland once, and any time they were in the Republic of Ireland i just couldn’t get the time to travel all the way to Dublin. I’d love to see them again though. Waited nearly 20 years to see them the last time!

  • María Eugenia González Márquez

    In 2011, the second time that Pearl Jam came to Argentina at the Estadio Unico de La Plata, a beautiful event occurred while they’re playing Black. It’s an emotional song. That’s it. That’s All. People could not control the emotion and all fans cried. We did not want to never end. And maybe that’s why we sing the melody without stopping at the end of the song. We wanted to make it last forever. And some that was the feeling that we left. An unforgettable experience.

  • Billy

    Def one of my fave songs ever. Great article, the performances where he adds the final final few lines add so much to it.

  • Jesusswept

    Black is truly on a higher emotional level than most of their other songs. Others may disagree but I think that Better Man also evokes a very powerful emotional response every time I hear it.

  • Felonious Punk

    ‘Black’ is okay.

    ‘Release’ is one of my favourite PJ songs though. I remember when I first discovered Ten, I would listen to that song over and over again, it would just blow me away. Once, Garden and Jeremy had pretty much the same effect, just not as deep.

    • stickmanpj

      While I also prefer Release to Black, I think it’s a bit rude to answer someone’s statement of love for Black with an “it’s just okay”.

      • Felonious Punk

        It’s not rude.

        Rude would have been if I said “Black fucking sucks and so does anyone who likes that shitty song”

        But that’s not what I said at all. I just said the song was alright, *to me*. Probably because I’ve heard it a million times on the radio, just like Even Flow and Alive, to the point where I never want to hear it again, that’s all.

        On the flipside, I absolutely love the song ‘Creep’ by STP, and have probably heard that song eight times as much as ‘Black’. But it’s still one of my favourite songs ever. I know people who hate the song and everything about it. But that’s alright with me. To each his own, that’s all

    • Corndog

      Release is my all time favourite song.

      • Felonious Punk

        Powerful stuff, man. It’s a Titan as album-closers go..

        • Corndog

          If my mood is even a little off when I listen to it, that songs can destroy me emotionally.

          Arguably the best your uncle Eddie has ever sounded.

          • Felonious Punk

            Elderly Woman and Wishlist are right up there, too

    • Rizz

      Maybe you guys will dig this:


    This and “round here” from the Counting Crows are my favorite songs off all time.