You’re still alive - Stories and perspectives
The Retune Blog - 24th November 2023
The story in Pearl Jam’s Alive is a sad but defiant tale. A mother tells her son that the man he thought was his father isn’t and that his biological father was dead. The son is awash with emotions; despair, anger, questioning, and yet despite this the shoots of resilience are present in the defiant cry:
I’m still alive.
In the emotion of the song there is a middle section where we get to see the position of the mother in a dialogue with her son:
Is something wrong, she said. Well of course there is. You're still alive, she said.
As we hear the lyrics perhaps we are instantly invested in the story of the son. But all of the sudden, we are confronted with the concept that the mother has a story to tell too.
Perhaps there was a reason the boy only ever knew the other man as his father. Perhaps she made what she thought were the right choices for him as well as her.
We don’t know. But, she seems almost shocked that the son sees something wrong in her decision. After all, he is still alive, unlike the biological father.
The simple nature of the story is suddenly blown open with the idea that there is more than one story for us to hear. As is often the case in life, we are often drawn to one version of a story, but may find the other one with which is harder to naturally connect. The song then draws us deeper in again:
You’re still alive … Oh, and do I deserve to be? Is that the question? And if so ...who answers?
As we begin to see the depth and impact perspective has on the experience of a story we start to see the impact on the son. Further, we are confronted with one of the more philosophical questions of life, who gets to say what someone deserves?
Bringing this back to the idea of living life well, Pearl Jam’s Alive highlights the importance of perspective and storytelling to how we live life. We all gravitate toward a perspective which is our own, and to which we have arrived for our own reasons. It’s important that we recognise two things if we are to be secure and rounded in our views: First, it is a perspective. It is often helpful for us to choose to engage empathy at this point to attempt to understand others perspectives too so we can gain a fuller picture. Second, who gets to decide what is right. This is why engaging empathy is so important, we need to be able to reflect to get closer to the truth.
Finally, with all the questioning, there comes one defiant cry to which we must always cling when questioning:
Hey, but I’m still alive.