Pearl Jam Battle Addiction with ‘Save You’
"I'm gonna save you, fucker. Not gonna lose you."
Released on Feb. 11, 2003, the song is written from the perspective of someone trying to save a friend battling addiction, an fact that becomes crystal clear by the time Vedder and company get to the chorus: "Fuck me if I say something you don't wanna hear / Fuck me if you only hear what you wanna hear / Fuck me if I care / But I'm not leavin' here."
Though guitarist Mike McCready admits the song's riff was a blast to play in the studio, another memory stands out to him from the session that led to the version of "Save You" that would find its way onto Riot Act. As he told Billboard, "[H]alfway through the song, [drummer] Matt [Cameron] lost his headphones. He was going off. That's my favorite part of that song, his crazy drum fills. I like the solo, too, but the drum fills are insane how good they are. He's doing them without his headphones, just by watching the bass."
In the same interview, Cameron noted, "It was me watching Jeff's fingers and hoping I was in time, you know? There's a breakdown of just me and Jeff. I hit a cymbal, moved my head, and the headphones went flying. A little point of interest there for the listener!"
Beyond the music, though, Vedder's anger and frustration are the pulse of "Save You." Chatting with The New Zealand Herald ahead of the release of Riot Act, Vedder discussed the struggles he faced watching friends go through addiction, particularly those fighting heroin. "I didn't have a complete understanding and a lot of times it was easy to come to the conclusion that you place blame on the person or accuse them of weakness or ask, 'Why couldn't Kurt [Cobain] keep it together,'" he said. "There was always that in the back of your mind."
For Vedder, though, that wasn't a healthy or helpful place to be.
"What I've learned is there really isn't any blame," he said. "It has happened to some folks I cared about so much and [who] had it so together, so it really isn't a blame thing. I think the song is expressing how badly you want to help."
While many believe "Save You" was inspired by the life, struggles and death of Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley, Vedder instead seems to indicate that the song was inspired by more than one real-life situation. Pearl Jam would go on to honor Staley with the hidden track, "4/20/02," found at the end of "Bee Girl" on Lost Dogs: Rarities and B-Sides.
"Save You" was supported by a music video directed by James Frost, marking the band's first music video since 1998's "Do the Evolution" from Yield. Pearl Jam also performed "Save You" on Late Night with David Letterman on Nov. 15, 2002. As Letterman put it, "Our next guests are here to blow the roof off the dump."
Watch Pearl Jam Perform "Save You" on Late Night with David Letterman
The only Riot Act track credited to every member of the band, "Save You" hit No. 23 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, No. 29 on the Alternative Songs chart and worked its way up to No. 17 on the Canadian Hot 100. It was the second-most performed track on the band's 2003 Riot Act tour, coming in behind "Even Flow," and still finds its way into set lists to this day.
Watch Pearl Jam's "Save You" Video