A brief note on Pearl Jam’s ‘Wishlist’

This came up on my shuffle the other day and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Found this old piece I wrote on the song and what it means to me. I love this band, and i love this song.

“Wishlist” was released as the second single from “Yield” in 1998, with B-sides of “U” and a live version of “Brain of J.” Written solely by Eddie Vedder, it’s one of the quieter moments on the album, with his singing weaving in and out of Mike McCready’s guitar flourishes and Jack Irons’ drumming.

The song consists of 15 wishes that center around the narrator wishing to be anyone or anything other than themselves, only to concede midway through that “I wish I was as fortunate, as fortunate as me.”

From there, it becomes a love song with the narrators’ paramour being the center of the wishes (“I wish I was the pedal brake that you depended on”). It’s simple, but effective, with lyrics that take seemingly innocuous inanimate objects and inject them with a sense of deep meaning, a love song that could’ve only come from Vedder. For my money, it’s their best pop-rock outing since “Better Man.”

“Wishlist” was first played live in Santa Cruz, Calif. at The Catalyst on Nov. 12, 1997. Whenever it’s been played live since, Vedder switches up the wishes (“I wish I was the president/I wouldn’t have made the mistakes he did” is one that shows up at a Honolulu show in 2006) and often puts an extended solo in the middle of the song.

My favorite wish is the “I wish I was the verb to trust and never let you down” right before Vedder’s extended guitar solo. It’s the only wish that’s at all attainable. No, you can’t literally become a verb, but it’s possible to become trustworthy. However, it’s still impossible to truly never let someone down. To me, it’s a wish, but something the narrator is constantly working on. The plaintive, hopeful guitar solo after that wish seems to me to confirm that. It’s an acknowledgement that whatever our wishes are (in love, life, the pursuit of our happiness), we all need to work on them to make them happen.

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