The Power of Owning Your Mind
I vividly remember sitting in a focus group in college where we discussed in detail — the girl who dyed her hair green. As my classmates and the professor crucified her for subjecting herself to the onslaught of hard times she would subject herself to (people will stare at her, mock her, she won’t get a job or even an interview, she’s a freak), I threw jabs left and right in her defense. I wanted more people with green hair and thought this fellow student was incredibly courageous for sporting what she wanted. Furthermore, she had the self-confidence that most others did not, including the professor. “All the feelings that get left behind…”
At the same time, the lead single off Pearl Jam’s seventh studio album, Riot Act had just been released. “I Am Mine.” My first thought upon hearing it was — what a powerful title, very appropriate timing. It was written by Eddie Vedder in his hotel home prior to the Virginia Beach, US tour kick off in August of 2000. This was a sensitive time in the band’s history having experienced the tragic events of Roskilde in Denmark a few months before. The Virginia Beach show was the first time the band would take the stage since the incident. A bit apprehensive and dealing with a whirlwind of emotions, this song is what courageously poured out that stormy night before the show. It would later be debuted at the 2001 Bridge School Benefit (“no better place,” said Vedder during the intro), before cementing its place as a cornerstone on Riot Act.
Perhaps the most tattooed Pearl Jam lyric, “I Am Mine” contains some of the more inspirational and impactful messages in the extensive PJ catalog. The themes of being yourself, freedom, strength, security and carving your own path, have allowed the song to evolve and has enabled it to serve as a companion in both good times and bad.
It took on a new meaning the first time the band had been back to New York City after 9/11.
“This is the first time we’ve been here since that big day about a year and half ago, it seemed to change everybody. We were on the opposite coast in Seattle. Everybody felt it and we felt it. We had just been through Denmark the year before. We certainly knew how it felt to see loss of life and to feel it deeply. And know how many people each life affected. I’m taking the opportunity now, a year and half later, since it’s the first time we’ve been back proper, just to tell you, we were all thinking about you. We think you handled yourselves so great. This song is about personal safety and the feeling of being secure and even free,” said Vedder before striking the first D chord of the intro. Similar sentiments were shared in regards to the Boston Marathon bombing during the band’s Worcester 2013 shows.
Now, 16 years later, “I Am Mine” feels more relevant than ever. One fascinating point about Vedder; I believe he’s one of the most open, honest and in the moment frontmen you will ever see on stage and in the music. Where it really matters. Here’s just a small example; during Pearl Jam’s May 8, 2016 show in Ottawa, Vedder with genuine sincerity in his voice and eyes, introduced “I Am Mine” by saying it’s about, “appreciating the fact that for the moment, everything is OK.”
You can make the argument that “I Am Mine” was ahead of its time — as it’s a statement to be yourself and be proud of it. There’s nothing wrong with being different. Jimmy Fallon stated it perfectly on The Tonight Show during his monologue, after the terror in Orlando when he said, “We need to support each other’s differences and worry less about our own opinions. We need to get back to being brave enough to accept that we have different opinions, and that’s OK.”
Chris Cornell, another Seattle icon, has a song called “Can’t Change Me.” Its craft-work and delivery are different from Vedder’s “I Am Mine,” but the foundation is similar. On Cornell’s live SongBook record, he provides some insight….
“You at some point try to be a better person and change your ways to make everyone happy. That goes on for a while and then you get to a point where it’s like — Fuck it! I’m me.”
A good friend of mine has always been an incredible painter. He could take any picture you hand him and make the most beautiful oil painting replica with his eyes closed. I’ve never seen anything like it. His father was very successful in finance and eventually opened his own firm. His mother worked there as well. His older brother, the golden child, thrived in this field and seemingly had a clear path to take the reins of the firm in the future. My friend’s art was referred to as “silly drawings” by his father — that of course, would not lead to any formidable career. He was discouraged from putting his time (and talents) towards his art. Instead, he was to follow the “normal” path to the top of the finance mountain, as that was the only dignified option that would lead to respectable work. Telling your father to take a hike after he just put you through college without a loan to your name is not the easiest thing to do. So, off he went. Into the world of finance, putting his artist mind to rest.
“The sorrow grows bigger when the sorrow’s denied…”
He was miserable. That wasn’t who he was. He needed to be a painter, mostly to serve as an outlet of expression. Finally, after spending a few years tucked away in silence he found a way to do both and now is developing his own studio, which he intends to make his full-time gig in the near future. He realized the in between was his and that being himself was in fact the dignified path. He was a little overdue and tactful in his approach, but nonetheless, he made it happen.
“I Am Mine” starts off delicate and sensitive before ripping into the very forthright chorus. It’s Vedder’s powerful “waaaahh” in the bridge that I always envisioned being the- that’s it!!, I’m me, turning point moment, leading the song into a soaring — it’s going be alright, I’m going to stand proud, finale.
Nobody is entitled to anything (except maybe a chance). And you’re not for everyone. Amanda Palmer’s book — The Art of Asking, does such a great job of showcasing this subject matter. She calls it connect and collect. Find your tribe. It’s so simple and so challenging at the same time. When you get it, you get it. And you’ll thrive internally and externally.
It’s OK to be broken along the way as long as you keep on keeping on. You only own your mind.
Cheers to having green hair.
“ The North is to South what the clock is to time
There’s east and there’s west and there’s everywhere life
I know I was born and I know that I’ll die
The in between is mine
I am mine.
…And the meanings that get left behind
All the innocents lost at one time
We’re all different behind the eyes
There’s no need to hide…”
Jeff Gorra / jeffgorra@gmail