I vividly remember how Pearl Jam almost broke up, reeling from sadness, anger maybe even guilt, when a concert tragedy literally shook them to their core at Roskilde, in 2000. Around the 40 minute mark into their set, concertgoers rushed towards the stage, in effect, crushing nine fans to death. That said, I’m not sure many people thought they would come back. Vedder in an interview once said, “We came together as close as we could. People handled it in different ways. The guys whose general disposition is more emotional-they became more composed. Whereas some of the people who are more conservative with their emotions-they kind of cracked. Stone became the most affected by it. Stone was ready to close up shop. And I thought that if anyone ever lost their lives at one of our shows, that would be it. I would never play again.”
But they did return literally pulling themselves together a month after the tragedy, opening the US section of their world tour in support of their album Binaural at Virginia Beach. Vedder recalled soon after that concert that “playing, facing crowds, being together – it enabled us to start processing (the Roskilde tragedy).” Interestingly it was the night before the Virginia Beach concert that Vedder wrote I Am Mine, with the lines “And the feeling it gets left behind/ All the innocence lost at one time/ Significant behind the eyes/ There’s no need to hide/ We’re safe tonight” to reassure himself “that everything was going to be all right”. The song itself, wouldn’t debut until late October 2001 at Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View in California.
In 2003, I Am Mine would appear on their album Riot Act, as part of an array of songs that reflected the mood of the time that were respectful to the tragedy at Roskilde and the subsequent events of 9/11 that shaped their lives. The bigger picture, in terms of songwriting for the album, would see issues of love, existentialism, loss, life and death rise to the surface. In short, Love Boat Captain is arguably the standout on Riot Act, but the sentimental favourite it seems was always going to be I Am Mine.
Soon after its release (Riot Act) Matt Cameron said (about I Am Mine) that “it seems like it has all the elements this band is known for: strong lyrics, strong hook, and a good sense of melody. It wasn’t a really tough decision to have that be the starting point for the record.”
Even guitarist Mike McCready weighed in on to emphasis its importance. “It touched me immediately. (Vedder’s) lyrics: “the in-between is mine.” It’s kind of a positive affirmation of what to do with one’s life. I’m born and I die, but in between that, I can do whatever I want or have an opinion about something. It seems very positive to me. It meant a lot to me and still does when I hear it.”
Finally, what do I think? Well, Eddie Vedder once said that I Am Mine was basically a song about “what’s inside you”. I also get the intrinsic feeling that it’s a song about feeling at ease with yourself. It’s also about learning to except that you have no control or real ownership of anything other than what you do with your time and who you are. I guess the truth in the end is that, like Vedder says in the song, “I only own my mind/ I am mine.” And if anything, as a song it definitely helps to diffuse the occasionl bouts of stress that sneak up on me. As a song, with a good sense of melody (as pointed out by Cameron), it soars and dips with both haunting sorrow and uplifting optimism.