25 Years Ago: Eddie Vedder Slams Music Industry in ‘Not For You’
By this time, Vedder’s position on the way the music business operated was well known. His contribution to Pearl Jam’s third album, Vitalogy – the last to feature drummer Dave Abbruzzese – was a series of aggressive and experimental outbursts against how the frontman was expected to play the role of rock star and sell his art in the process.
"I'm just totally vulnerable,” Vedder told Spin at the time of the LP’s release. “I’m way too fucking soft for this whole business, this whole trip.… There's a contradiction there, because that's probably why I can write songs that mean something to someone and express some of these things that other people can't necessarily express.”
One of his most direct commentaries on the subject came via the second single from the LP, “Not For You,” launched on Mar. 21, 1995, which went on to reach No. 12 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Vedder didn’t just talk about himself, however – he included the fans who cared about the music as much as he did. Furthermore, since the song had been written on tour, while it was all happening around him, there was an additional edge and anger to his lyrics.
“We'd come home for a few days at a time, go back for another two weeks, 10 weeks, two-and-a-half months,” he told BIGO. “You play music that hard, giving all you have every night, traveling to another place, setting up the circus again and really putting your head in the lion's mouth, doing everything you could to make each show the best it could be,” he explained of life on the road. “Then people, whether they work with the record company, press department, or they work with, let's say, a music channel or something like that… they think the reason you were successful is because of them… you'd say, ’Fuck you. What about all this, that we've done?’”
He emphasized that he didn’t care if others took the credit for his work – that wasn’t his point. “But when they start acting like they own you, that they are the reason... that's something that's not true. These attitudes out there that the music is theirs that it's the industry's music... And it's not. It's mine. And it's yours. Whoever's listening to it. It's mine and it's yours.”
Railing against “distributors”of music who “think they're the ones who decide what's heard,” he added, “I think that's a dangerous situation. And, I think, what's more dangerous is that they think it belongs to them. That's probably what ‘Not For You’ is about.”
Pearl Jam - ‘Not For You’
Vedder had a second point to make, illustrated in the line “all that’s sacred comes from youth,” a statement he said be believed was true. “Youth is being sold and exploited,” he declared to the LA Times. “I think I felt like I had become part of that too. Maybe that's why sometimes I have a hard time with the TV end of music and much of the media and the magazines. … I don't want to be the traveling medicine show where we go out and do the song and dance and someone else drops the back of the wagon and starts selling crap. I don't want our music to sell anything -- or anyone else use it.”
The stripped-down, almost punk, vibe of the track offered Mike McCready the space to go in a different direction with his guitar contribution – a situation that had been enforced anyway as Vedder began adding his own guitar tracks during the making of Vitalogy. “Tom Petty sent me this amazing 12-string Rickenbacker, and 'Not For You' was the first time I used it,” McCready explained. “It was like a Christmas present. One day it just showed up at my door.”
While all the songs on Vitalogy had been composed on the tour to support previous album Vs, the B-side to “Not For You” was a little more in-the-moment, having been composed, jammed and recorded on stage in Atlanta during the road trip.
“Not For You” first appeared on Pearl Jam’s live set list around a year before its release as a single, and they performed it on Saturday Night Live in April 1994, without the “fuck you” line towards the end. It appeared regularly in their set lists for five years before beginning to be performed less regularly; but Vedder’s point, he hoped, would continue to be made for much longer. “I thought about not having our youth exploited by various music channels, or by corporate sponsorship,” he told Spin. “Right now it’s the odd band out there that does that… I just don’t want there to be a day when every band Is sponsored. Hopefully in 50 years, when I check back in on society after I’ve left to go sleep under a tree, I won’t wake up and see that it’s changed like that.”
Pearl Jam - ‘Not For You’ - 'Saturday Night Live' Rehearsal Footage