The Anthemic: Pearl Jam, “In Hiding” (1998)

When you were a kid and you went into hiding, you probably loved being out of reach and in charge of your microworld, but didn’t you also want to be found?  Ambivalence!  You knew in any case you would be found—but when, how, by whom?  Suspense!

Pearl Jam’s “In Hiding” is about a grown-up version of hiding that we call “retreat.”  After locking the door and unplugging everything, the singer works through semi-crazy experiences to the point where, he says, “I swallowed my breath and went deep, I was diving . . . I surfaced and all of my being was enlightened.”  Just at that advanced stage, one of the glorious Pearl Jam choruses breaks out, “I’m in hiding” (4 times), with the slightly provocative melodic intervals (starting with a half step followed by a fifth) and gentle harmonic overlay of the I and IV chords (A and D) that make for the juiciest sort of “anthemic” refrain,[1] a surging yet stable platform from which all of us can blast off singing, going for some big solution in the sky.

“In Hiding”

It could seem funny—that Pearl Jam can’t help but deliver an anthemic hook even when their theme is hiding, or that they’re purposely goosing us with a paradox hook.  Everyone join me and let’s shout it together:  I’m in hiding!

But I see the point.  The singer of “I’m in hiding” has gotten over the willies of hiding.  Post-ambivalently, he is convinced that microworld and macroworld are okay together.  And there’s no worry about how he will be found, because the song itself decides that with its anthemic hook.  Whoever sings that hook is hiding like the Empire State Building, like the sun at noon, like the vox populi.

Yet the song is serious about its retreat aspect.  You get to acceptance and joy by going into hiding, diving deep, and finding the cure for what ails you in an adjusted state of mind (“It’s funny when things change so much, it’s all state of mind”).  This could be a formula for the “anthemic”:  that it involves not just blasting off with a crowd in the chorus but leveraging a privately discovered state of mind from the verse.[2]


[1] It hits C sharp, the sweet major third of the A chord, on “I’m,” then goes a half-step up to D on “in” (which doesn’t belong to the A chord but summons the coming D chord), then soars up to a high A on “hid-,” the clarion fifth of the now-arrived D chord, then fills in the rest of the D chord’s measure by falling to an E (or quick E-D-C sharp sequence) for “-ing” that actually belongs to the A chord from which we have come and to which we will shortly return.

[2] Is something like this going on in the John Lennon anthem prototypes “All You Need Is Love” and “Instant Karma”?  The verses of those songs are less biographically personal than in “In Hiding,” but they have the strong quality of individual reflection on the topic.

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About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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