My 7th Favorite Song of All-Time


“Rearviewmirror” by Pearl Jam

No song in my life has meant as much to my sobriety—and hence my continued existence—than “Rearviewmirror” (also known as RVM) by Pearl Jam.

RVM is a song with lyrics that are vague, but are about the narrator overcoming an abusive (or at the very least, very shitty) relationship of some kind.  Eddie Vedder’s intention with these lyrics was almost certainly to convey the triumph over abuse by either a parent or a romantic partner, but thousands of people the world over feel a deep connection to the song, as everyone in the world has some bullshit in their past that once sucked, but they feel they have conquered it.

When I was still a drinking man, I already had a connection to the song: the woman who had broken my heart was the focus of the song’s energy.  I didn’t have a good reason for hating her—she just didn’t love me like I loved her, but it sucked a lot, anyway—but I latched onto the song’s air of “fuck you, I’m better off” and broke a lot of shit in my garage while I was wasted and this song blared.

Later, after I got sober, I was listening to this song sometime during the first few weeks of sobriety, when it occurred to me the lyrics worked perfectly if I made the antagonist alcohol (or alcoholism, if you wish, but that’s a thorny differentiation).  It didn’t take long for me to label it my “sobriety anthem” (along with this song, which sadly missed the cut for this list).  I understand that the term “sobriety anthem” could be a turnoff, and strike some as too self-serious, but if so, you’ve probably never had to go from day to day, not knowing if you’d drink, and if you did, if you’d drink until you lost your job, your friends and family, and died.  If you need a fucking anthem to not do that, you get yourself a fucking anthem.

I latched onto this song more than almost anything during my first two years of sobriety.  My first few blogs borrowed their titles from the lyrics (“The Shades Are Raised” was one, “I Gather Speed” was another).  But nothing could ever beat the first time I saw it played live.  I’ve had plenty of crying fits during songs I have emotional connections to in concerts, but my first RVM (at my second-ever Pearl Jam concert, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, on July 12th, 2003) was a moment of purest emotional astonishment, surely never to be equaled.

I took a drive today,
time  to emancipate.
I guess it was the beatings made me wise.
But I’m not about to give thanks
or apologize.
I couldn’t breathe,
holdin’ me down.
Hand on my face,
kissin’ the ground.
Enmity gauged,
united by fear,
Supposed to endure
what I could not forgive…

I seem to look away,
wounds in the mirror waved.
It wasn’t my surface most defiled.
Head at your feet.
Fool to your crown.
Fist on my  plate,
swallowed it down.
Enmity  gained,
united by fear.
Tried to endure what I could not forgive.
Saw things clearer
once you were in my

I gather speed from you fucking with me.
Once and for all, I’m far away.
I hardly believe, finally the shades are raised.

8 Responses to “My 7th Favorite Song of All-Time”

  1. defintiely my favorite Pearl Jam song. I remember running into you at that concert, talking a little recovery. and yeah – if you need an anthem, you get yourself an anthem, and play it over and over.

    • sethdellinger Says:

      Running into you guys at that concert was a surreal moment for me. I was still living in Jersey and apparently a lot of people still thought I had “disappeared”, and I never expected to run into people I knew at a concert of 20,000 people, and I was still pretty fragile…it was very emotional seeing both of you. And it was a hell of a setlist, at that!

      • it WAS a great setlist. i give credit to stephanie – she joined me later that year at a standout REM concert. far as i can tell, she’s the only common denominator.

        • sethdellinger Says:

          I saw quite a few “better” setlists during the freaking fifteen PJ shows I would see after that one, but Hershey was on the Riot Act tour and they were playing songs that would go off setlists, probably permanently, after that tour. Many PJ fans have never and probably will never see “Help Help” or “Get Right”, which are songs I love and we saw. Also, we saw a “Deep”, which is rare, and it was a “Deep” with Boom playing his Hammond organ in it, which is super doopr rare (and ultra cool)

  2. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    On the extras for the 3 Disc of PJ20 there’s a college professor who breaks down Pearl Jam songs more than you times a million. A stat lovers dream even if you aren’t into the band. Anyway, he was asked what song he would play if he were to choose a song for someone who had never heard the band. He said without hesitation that his choice would be “Rearviewmirror”, but a live version. Any live version compared to the studio version is different mostly in tempo, but I love that I can appreciate both.

  3. One of my favorite songs of all time too. Love the “I gather speed” line.

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