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  • Writer's pictureAtomicRakshasi

Depictions of Childhood Trauma in ‘Jeremy’, ‘Daughter’ and ‘Bee Girl’

TW for mentions of suicide

At thirteen, when music videos first graced our television screens, I felt sorry for the titular Jeremy. I figured he had been screaming at those frozen figures of his parents, caught in the middle of an argument because no one was listening. He’s bullied by his classmates and wildly sketches out his master plan, imagining his enemies lying beneath his triumphant ‘V’ atop a mountain (The dead lay in pools of maroon below). The national flag wrapped around his body signifies the telling problem of gun violence in American schools, leading to the last scene where the camera moves over the frozen, blood-spattered bodies of his classmates. In the unedited version, Jeremy pulls out a gun, puts it in his mouth and pulls the trigger.

The fictional Jeremy is a bit of a delinquent, and though he triumphs through his act of self-inflicted violence, the message, according to Vedder is that: “[…] it does nothing … nothing changes. The world goes on and you’re gone. The best revenge is to live on and prove yourself. Be stronger than those people. And then you can come back.”

The real Jeremy was quieter and had a habit of passing notes to his friend during class, eerily signing his last note with ‘Later days’ instead of his usual entreaty to ‘Write back’. He was the victim of a broken marriage and insufficient counselling. His suicide is the basis for this song, combined with memories of a problematic kid Eddie Vedder knew in school. I confess that the more I learn about the source of inspiration of such songs, the less I like them, but such is the nature of writing.

The childhood stories are telling, as if Eddie himself has been there. Daughter describes a scene in a spartan room, with a mother trying to teach her child something that’s beyond her capabilities, and when the shades are drawn, the abuse begins, hidden from the neighbours. Eddie talks about dyslexia and how “They have to live with that abuse for the rest of their lives. Good, creative people are just fucking destroyed.” The message hits way too close to home, where I’ve witnessed such perfectly “good, creative people” become shadows of their original selves. With daughters, it’s a twofold blow when sexism and parental narcissism intertwine. The estrangement (Don’t call me daughter, not fit to/ The picture kept will remind me) is an active desire to cut the cord while maintaining a bare reminder of the relationship.

There’s actually a thick line between self-indulgent victimhood and true expression of trauma and grief. If you were a teen in the 90s you might know how relevant Pearl Jam was to your life with each musical release. The band has an uncanny skill in writing profound songs about these themes without slipping into sappy sentimentalism. Musical genius, combined with lyrical genius, produced something that can wrench at your gut even thirty years later.

Bee Girl, written in 1994, was supposedly an ode to the little girl who played the central role in Blind Melon’s No Rain, but in actuality is about Eddie Vedder warning Shannon Hoon, lead singer of Blind Melon, to rein in his drug habit.

Shannon Hoon is most famous for No Rain, an ambivalent take on loneliness and depression because it’s almost chirpy and heady, and if you danced to it as a teenager you might have misheard the lyrics (macabre in my version). The song was written by bassist Brad Smith, inspired by a girl he knew with depression who slept through sunny days and then woke up, asking why it wasn’t raining yet because she’d have to go face the day. The star of the video is a chubby and adorable misfit who is laughed at and rejected after a dance performance, displaying her less-than-adequate skills to random people on the street because, obviously, she loves to dance.

I’d interpret the first half of Bee Girl, beginning with “You’re gonna die” as a warning, referring to the death of the Bee Girl’s unique self: You don’t wanna be famous/ You wanna be shy/ Do your dances/ Alone in your room/ Becoming a star/ Will become your doom.

No Rain, video and all, isn’t about stardom, it’s more about finding friendship amongst misfits. All the same, Bee Girl warns her (ie., Shannon) darkly that: those who can be trusted/can change their mind. Sadly, Shannon Hoon died in 1995 of a drug overdose.

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