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It’s the thrill of the hunt, they say, that makes life great. The catch is
nice, but the hunt is what makes it satisfying. Therefore, the longer the
hunt, the greater the catch.
Recently, I spent one fabulous week in the greater San Francisco area, perhaps the greatest destination
vacation any serious music geek can take. And while there, I trolled through many, many record stores, each
time overwhelmed by the sheer amount of vinyl available and the number of rare and quirky records I’d been
searching out for some time.
One of these, however, was coming to define my existence.
Now, as a bona-fide Pearl Jam fanatic, I have an obsession to own everything they’ve released. Band-approved
bootlegs, vinyl, albums, CD singles, promo DVDs, etc. But one release, which I had held in my hands nine years
ago, constantly escaped me.
I got the sickness in 1996, and I wholly blame this band for spinning me into full-on music mania. It started with
the release of No Code, and was furthered by the discovery of their first three albums. Buying CD singles was a
fast transition, with the seven-track “Dissident” maxi getting things rolling. The quest to collect all of the band's
|My white whale — Pearl Jam's "Off He Goes" single,
finally at home next to my turntable.
rare B-sides was a natural step for me, a natural
completist in all things, be they Transformers from
kindergarten, comic books later, then baseball cards,
and then in high school, CDs.
In early 1997, Pearl Jam released “Off He Goes” as a
single to radio, though tracking down an import disc
wasn’t easy. But one day, in my local Circuit City (then
the closest thing to a real music store in my area), I
saw a slipcase single featuring “Off He Goes” backed
with “Dead Man,” a song I’d never heard. Being 15, the
$9.99 price tag seemed rather hefty. I liked the artwork,
an animal’s eye and the fur surrounding it with the
band’s name slightly out of focus, and I was curious to
hear the new song. But, for some reason, I couldn’t
justify paying $10 for one song. I passed.
The disc was still there upon my next two trips in the
store, with each visit bringing me closer to buying the
damn thing. On the third visit, I went in determined to
finally buy it, finally willing to spend the ten bucks.
It was gone.
Fast forward three years, and I’ve fallen deep into the wonders of the internet (rather late, but getting a 56K
modem was easier said than done back then). And with the internet came the late, great, original Napster. With
this fantastic gateway to music I’d never heard before, I hunted down loads of stuff – live Led Zeppelin tracks,
joke songs, songs from bands I’d never heard, and, one faithful day, “Dead Man.” The song, originally recorded
for the movie of the same name but not used, was a revelation. Beautifully haunting, with just Eddie Vedder on
vocals and electric guitar, Jeff Ament on stand-up and Jack Irons on eerie percussion, “Dead Man” instantly
became one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs, which is saying quite a bit considering my affection towards the
The fire to have an official copy of the song was re-ignited that moment. Having an mp3 copy burned to disc was
nice, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted it in some form, be it on CD or, perhaps, a 45 rpm record. It was also around
this time that I received my first turntable, with my fondness for vinyl growing every day. But if the CD was that
hard to find, surely the 7” was even harder.
So, every time I entered a record store for the next six years, there was an immediate trip to the Pearl Jam
section of the store. Flipping through all the albums I already had and the handful of singles, I usually sighed
and made my way over to, say, the Flaming Lips section, to continue my music fanaticism elsewhere.
I never did track down the CD single in any of those racks or bins, despite my ritual in every store in every state I
plopped myself down in. But in 2004, Pearl Jam released Lost Dogs, their Odds and Sods-type compilation,
which included the song. And while it was nice to finally have an officially-released version of it, it wasn’t enough
to put out the fire. I needed that single.
Another two years or so pass, and the day sneaks up on me. On vacation, I hopped into Rasputin’s in Berkley,
Calif. With a vinyl copy of Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys already under my arm, I make my way to their 45 section,
like I had at so many other places so many times before.
Searching for ‘P,’ then ‘Pearl Jam,’ I was already happy with what I saw.
“Hmm, ‘Given to Fly,’ I only had the CD of this one … Oh, same for ‘Not For You’ … Oh my god …”
There it was. Sitting behind the other singles, with a $5.00 price sticker. “Off He Goes.” My white whale. My holy
grail. The single to end all singles.
I did about 10,000 jumping jacks in my head, calmed down, and made a bee-line for the register. And for the rest
of the trip, I made a nightly check in the hotel room to make sure it was still safe, and upon arriving home, I
quickly pulled it back out of my suitcase (stored securely for the flight home, fear not) and put it on the shelf.
A bit later, when I had unpacked and settled back into an East Coast frame of mind, I sat down in front of the
stereo after dropping the needle down on Side B. And for the next four minutes and sixteen seconds, I sat in
intense bliss. The vinyl revealed little blips and crashes in the background that the CD mix all but buried.
Vedder’s voice hushed and sailed over the guitar, while Ament’s bass was just right in the middle. It was
Now, I’m aware that this is far from the rarest single to ever be released. But finding it was the end of a journey
for me, the conclusion of a quest where I found other great bits of music in the process.
But it was the quest that made the catch so sweet. And now, sitting on my shelf, is the trigger to a story, the story
of the search for the sweetest single ever.