Pearl Jam is one of those iconic 90s bands that everyone remembers hearing. They were edgier than the popular music, instead fitting in alongside Nirvana in the grunge style of music that was becoming popular.
Like Nirvana, Pearl Jam originated from Seattle. The band has remained extremely successful in the years since its inception, but one song they wrote definitely brought the band to the attention of a lot more people.
In 1992, their song “Jeremy” was released as a part of their debut album. The song was their first foray into more story-driven lyrics, but a lot of people don’t actually realize what the song is actually about a real event.
Pearl Jam lead vocalist has explained that “Jeremy” is based on two different real life incidents involving school shootings.
One was from his own childhood, where he said a boy named Brian opened fire in a classroom of his school, but the other was pulled directly from the headlines.
A 16-year-old boy named Jeremy Delle was attending Richardson High School in Texas. It was January 8th, 1991, when he arrived late to class at 9:45 am.
His teacher told him to go to the office to get an admittance slip for being late, but when he returned to the classroom he allegedly said “Miss, I got what I really went for,” and pulled out a gun and shot himself before anyone could react.
The tragic and horrific event was unexpected to everyone in the classroom and especially the young man’s mother. She never spoke publicly about her son’s death until this year, finally giving her opinions on what happened.
At the time of her son’s suicide, Wanda was at work. She received a call and was stunned to hear what had happened.
“I was in my office at work,” Wanda said in an interview with WFAA “… I didn’t believe it. I was in shock. Not my son. I was going to pick him up that afternoon at school.”
Heartbroken over her son’s life, Wanda still wants people to know that it shouldn’t be all people remember about him.
“That day that he died did not define his life,” she said. “He was a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, a grandson. He was a friend. He was talented.”
It took her a long time to come to terms with the loss of her son, and while she’s obviously still devastated by it, twelve years ago she started her own grief support group to help others who are going through losses like this and putting her own experiences to good use.
She’s not the only one speaking up about Jeremy’s suicide, as the segment also followed up with one of the students who was in the classroom at the time of his death.
Brittany King, a fellow student, felt like the incident made her “grow up pretty quick, literally overnight.”
She said it was like “a big wakeup call” and that there was often more than meets the eye. “Like, you know what? Life is not all hunky-dory all the time. Real things, tragedies happen.”
King said that after the gunshot rang out, all the students rushed away, crowding at the back of the room. That was when she made a choice that she still thinks about to this day.
“Should I look?” she recalled thinking. “I remember thinking that. ‘Should I look?’ And I did, I looked. I don’t know why. I don’t know why I looked. And I’ll never forget. I will never forget it.”
When the song came out, King was upset by it. “I was angry at them for writing that song,” she said. “I thought, you don’t know. You weren’t there. That story isn’t accurate.”
After seeing Delle’s story in newspaper, Vedder decided that it was a good topic for a song. In an interview he explained his process for writing the lyrics.
“Now, uh, I remember one night in this basement when I was writing that … that I thought, man … I guess they can’t sue us for this one because I’m writing about it after it happened, you know?
Some kid did this. I didn’t make that up and that’s a fact. It came from a small paragraph in a paper which means you kill yourself and you make a big old sacrifice and try to get your revenge.
That all you’re gonna end up with is a paragraph in a newspaper. Sixty-three degrees and cloudy in a suburban neighborhood. That’s the beginning of the video and that’s the same thing is that in the end, 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 then those people. And then you can come back. That’s kinda what I did. Now all those people who were my enemies want to be my friends. They don’t understand why, uh, I don’t respond to them.”
But it’s easy to see why King and Delle’s family was upset by this band profiting off of their horrible experience.
Vedder claimed that he didn’t want to contact the family at the time of recording because it would be “intrusive” but just assumed the story of the young boy based on his other experiences.
The song is one thing, but by making the music video the way they did really must have been hard for the friends and family of Jeremy Delle to see as it attempted to recreate the incident.