The Breakdown: “Wishlist” by Pearl Jam


No complete thoughts. Sentences only full with half-baked conjectures, malformed malapropisms, fractitudinal observations and anachronistic, uhm… well something anachronistic. On the fritz, that something just kept me up and up and up and up. No stopping. Just bzzts running circuits around and around and around and around and around again and again and again and again and again.

The track was moving, the spiritual legs were running, but the intellect was somewhere… somewhere in…uhm… yeah…

“Where was I?”

Trapped by the mental gymnastics on a front patio, Bailey’s face watches with a mix of horror and humour. No response. What seems elementary becomes calculus to me and I’m scribbling half-answers in crayon. Thomas’ sister too, has more questions than my mind had answers. Stone Temple Pilots murmuring from a pitiful phone, rescued from between the cushions. Arms raise above my head, frozen in habit. Grunge beckon me a-mosh but just as with two and two, the answer was out of reach. Terrified by the impossibility, arms by my side, my eyes stare long into hers. Scary: two mounds of dirt gaze in two smoky grey clouds, all but stopping gravity. Eyes can’t see how far up they go but fall into her sky nonetheless. Unstoppable, the mind of a kid under the veil of a man, it feels wrong. Terrified—she is too.

A cold sweat: “I’m going to take a shower.”

Walking towards the double doors with a slow lumber, something snaps and runs upstairs boosted by long legged rockets. Admiring the speed—me alas myself—and counting a quick-many profession given up: cross country runner, paleontologist fearing for his life, 4th-gen Pokémon trainer, X-Wing fighter pilot, Tom Cruise in…one of his movies… with the guns. Embarrassing. If only I can take a space ship to Mars or… somewhere… somewhere else… where I belonged, I would find myself right at home with no one at all, just the great dark beyond and me. But no! What if an asteroid—?  Fuck! The dials! Dials would confound me to no end—a schoolchild in a mock rocket grown into a dreamed-up cosmo-nut, doting on dials, dials, dials! Working the temp knobs of the shower is enough for a-perplexing me. But at least I wouldn’t need to figure out how to pair my goddamn phone—the callgirl wasn’t on speaker; she lives in the damn glasshouse, streetside to the ethereal super highway (“Alexa!” rang out). Again, arms whirled around my head, as if my thoughts came alive with a lightning bolt. A habit.

I must sound like a nut in this damn-hot shower, but then I realize: I am the only person in the bathroom. But how am I so sure? How am I so sure I am bellowing, here and now, aloud and without shame? The questions course through my lips, but utter no sound. Nerves popped and snapped like faulty cables, I wonder:  how much do I gamble to enter a shower when the corpse crackles in Watts? Electrocution aside, the water sizzles and mists hot off my skin. Tired and basking when I realize no music sounds, Alexa’s ears were perked to pluck me out a jam.

“Alexa… Pearl Jam, wish list”

Sea-green, turquoise, blue, it pulses, as if ringing the doorbell of the house, before quickly falling silent. It is ready, so am I:

Stone Gossard’s fingers, disembodied, spill sound out the bottleneck of his guitar, swallowing air between each note with a gulp. My eyes, disbelieving, close to sheets of black quickly corroding and sparking, rusting and cutting ridges a-many and holes a-million. Fraying yellow bursts in ever-morphing filament shape, whipping and wiggling, squirming, a fidgeting fractal string—loosing at the fly-lights and flickers crawling through the cracks. The water drops down the forehead, sticking with a slip, painting along the unseen lines of the windows, staining cherry-pink cheeks, coating chin and neck with steaming tears. My arms slither up the white tile walls—above my head, a bad habit. Hands stretch across and look for something or someone to hold on.

They find him: Jack Irons, eversteady in a position never steady for Pearl Jam, plays rock solid, no frills or lace; the tom-toms sets the bar and the beat sets the bed—ready to embrace all the stress a modern-day body can take—but it’s Eddie Vedder who subverts the hiss of shower steam with a lullaby:

I wish I was a neutron bomb, for once I could go off
I wish I was a sacrifice but somehow still lived on
I wish I was a sentimental ornament you hung on

Fragment sentiments beget fragments of a day passed: Nature admired, music enjoyed, friendly conversations and accidental arguments. Barbed words that felt like silk and… um, some opposite metaphor of that… Mouth breathes in again, having forgotten, as we all do sometimes, that something which is so important. Essential. And with each breath? A pulse, an om, a bass, Ament. Vedder accompanies:

I wish I was the evidence, I wish I was the grounds
For fifty million hands upraised and open toward the sky

And Mike McCready flourishes with a tiny riff. My hands press into the porcelain and my foot begins to tap. My head begins to bob. Habits started from an elementary school age, unable to help themselves to a catchy pattern: a soul dish, an old route. The sound of a car speeds by, and I begin to sing:

I wish I was a sailor with someone who waited for me
I wish I was as fortunate, as fortunate as me
I wish I was a messenger and all the news was good
I wish I was the full moon shining off a Camaro’s hood

Wishing away woes of the equation that require a more complete x and y, social anxiety melts from the skin, as if the water cleans an ectoplasmic ick that covered me downstairs, on the patio. Wires once unraveled, come back together, cord and coil into place under my skin: my eyes open, my soul laughs for a fortunate me. Not long and gone as quick as it comes, the golden ratio—McCready’s guitar—blooms, a magnum opus, a grand lotus blossom. Soft as petals and shaped just as divine, it is a sound that would bring any flower to fruition. My mouth curves to the sky. My arms slip from the walls, my body waves in motion, perhaps a little off-beat, but the only way to wriggle free of any some such jam, and this is such a song. When times were tough and teenage angst seemed like just too much, this was the song. When I can’t dance, when I can’t sing, when I can’t eat, when I can’t sleep, when I can’t smile, when I can’t run for miles: “Wishlist” is the song.

Electrical currents subsiding, I catch up:

…Wish I was the souvenir you kept your house key on
I wish I was the pedal brake that you depended on
I wish I was the verb to trust and never let you down…

Vedder’s e-bow plays my blood veins, strumming each heart beat with a wah before fading and fading and fading with his last hope: “I wish I was a radio song, the one that…” Off I turn the showerhead and out I walk from the communal shower, into the dressing area to dry off. I don’t remember how, but somewhere in those three long minutes, a glob of shampoo had entered and slicked through the strands of my long hair, growing and still growing longer today. Recovered and dry, the speaker finds itself back in my room. Perhaps now I’ll be able to talk about it. Perhaps I’ll solve my preoccupation with dials and spaceships. Perhaps I won’t fear stepping into that great grey sky. Perhaps I’ll finally understand why animative arms are such a bad habit. Perhaps I won’t. Perhaps they aren’t. Perhaps I won’t step, but jump.

For now, I walk downstairs.

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About BenJamsToo

An insane man moonlighting as a respectable member of society from Portland, Oregon. A rock ‘n’ roller since his mother first spun The Police’s “Roxanne,” Ben is a lover of all things rock, soul, funk, jazz, blues, electronic and hip-hop. Perhaps it’s easier to list what he doesn’t like: most gangsta rap, country-western and modern metal disagrees with his stomach. Once upon a time, a friend told him to write about music. So he started doing that under the title of a Willie Bobo cover by Santana. Now he wonders about what Stu McKenzie has for breakfast, why John Congleton is the best damn record producer this side of the millennium and just how Common came to be his favourite hip-hop star. He’s been working on that last one for nearly a decade now. No answers yet.