My 13th Favorite Song of All-Time


“Hard to Imagine” by Pearl Jam

I formed my long-held adoration of Pearl Jam during my most serious drinking years.  They were years filled with mostly sorrow, self-doubt, regret, and love-sickness.  The music and lyrics of Pearl Jam meshed perfectly with this era of my life, and fewer songs left such an impression as “Hard to Imagine”.

I am far from alone in feeling such an intense connection to this song.  It never appeared on an official Pearl Jam album, but is certainly one of their more famous “b-sides”.  Until the mid-2000s, it had only been played live a handful of times, and it became notorious for it’s absence from the band’s live sets as more and more fans expressed their intense emotional connection to the song.  Eventually, around 2007, the band started putting it in setlists to wide acclaim (I knew I’d seen the band too many times when I actually started to feel annoyed by them opening with ‘Hard to Imagine’ again).

What’s interesting about the song is the completely interpretable lyrics.  Sure, Eddie Vedder doesn’t always write the world’s most straight-forward lyrics, but “Hard to Imagine” tells a story that can be viewed from about a hundred angles.  That’s part of what lends itself so well to a wide emotional connection, as well as it’s universal chorus of “Things were different then.  All is different now.  I try to explain…somehow.”  I mean, who doesn’t feel that in your GUT, no matter what you’re going through in life?

Below are the (very short, so read them!) lyrics, and then the studio version of the song, and then the best live version I could find.  I highly encourage everyone to watch and listen to this (everyone!).  I promise—promise!–you will be emotionally affected.

Hard to Imagine
by Pearl Jam

Paint a picture using only grey.
Light your pillow. Lay back. Watch the flames.
I’ll tell a story but no one
would listen that long.

It’s hard to imagine.

Tear into yourself, count days on your arm.
Ah the beating ticking like a bomb.
After having seen all that they saw,
it’s hard to imagine.

Things were different then. All is different now.
I tried to explain, somehow.

Things were different then. All is different now.
I tried to explain. I hope this works somehow.

4 Responses to “My 13th Favorite Song of All-Time”

  1. This just might be their most adaptable song. I can’t think of a situation this doesn’t apply to.

    • sethdellinger Says:

      It has a bunch of ver universal lyrics, and then what I consider to be quite mysterious ones (“Count days on your arm”, setting fire to a pillow) that are just strange eough to make you not even really try to interpret them.

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