In honor of National Gun Violence Awareness Day on Friday (June 5), Pearl Jam officially released for the first time the original, uncensored 1992 video for its classic song “Jeremy,” directed by Mark Pellington. This version has circulated in varying degrees of quality online and on Pellington’s Web site for some time, but the update unveiled by Pearl Jam on Friday has been remastered in HD and features a new audio track first remixed by Brendan O’Brien for the 2009 reissue of the band’s 1991 Epic debut album “Ten.”
The release comes as gun violence continues to plague the United States, particularly the recent murder of Breonna Taylor by policemen in Louisville, Ky., which has become a rallying cry for protesters all over the world. It also extends Pearl Jam’s longtime support of gun violence initiatives, including contributing fellow “Ten” track “Porch” to the just-released documentary “Parkland Rising,” about the teen-driven gun reform movement in the wake of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School in Florida.
“The increase in gun violence since the debut of ‘Jeremy’ is staggering,” Pearl Jam said in an accompanying social media post, adding that proceeds from a new edition of its famed “Choices” t-shirt would be donated to support organizations working to prevent gun violence. “We can prevent gun deaths whether mass shootings, deaths of despair, law enforcement, or accidental.”
“Jeremy” was inspired by the suicide of Texas high school student Jeremy Wade Delle, who shot himself in a classroom full of students in 1991, and Pellington’s video mirrors the narrative in classic three-act fashion. But due to its depiction of the Jeremy character placing a gun into his mouth, the clip was deemed unfit for air by MTV higher-ups when it was completed the following year.
As a compromise, Pellington reluctantly edited the video to hide the gun by zooming in on Jeremy’s face at the critical moment, and this version quickly became iconic, earning video of the year and best direction honors at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards.
“It was not an easy edit to change, as I didn’t have any footage from over the shoulder, or reverse or even a closeup of the hand or the gun to add mystery or implication,” Pellington tells Variety. “All we had was a front master, so we tried blowing the image up, defocusing and editing it a little earlier. There were three permutations before we got to the final one. I’m still not really sure who at MTV made the decision not to air the original. It’s a mystery. It is like doing an autopsy of censorship 28 years later.”
The edit quickly became a source of confusion, with some viewers mistakenly interpreting the ending to mean Jeremy had shot his classmates instead of himself, and that they were covered by their own blood rather than his. Pellington admits that for years this misunderstanding “was a real bummer. I don’t think any filmmaker who has ever been censored or edited isn’t grateful when their original vision gets out there. But it’s great that a new generation of people can now see, hear and experience ‘Jeremy’ in an unfiltered way, because the message is still very powerful.”
Pearl Jam actually shot an earlier video for “Jeremy” with director Chris Cuffaro in October 1991, but the performance-driven clip was rejected by Epic and never officially released. By the following spring, the band was in the midst of a meteoric ascent fueled in part by similarly performance-driven videos for “Alive” and “Even Flow.”
Sensing a more polished treatment for “Jeremy” could take things to the proverbial next level, Epic executives approached Pellington, who had worked as a producer for MTV from 1984-1990 before embarking on a career directing videos for such acts as U2 and PM Dawn. “I was more of a Nirvana fan than a Pearl Jam fan, but after I spent some time with the song, I really embraced it,” Pellington says. “I had a conversation with Eddie Vedder and he explained his emotional connection to the tragedy.
“This was the first treatment I ever wrote that was a true narrative — I had always done thematic collages,” he continues. “I wanted to make this an internal, psychological horror story, where we experience Jeremy’s isolation and frustration and bullying. The focus was on the story and the subjective feeling, with the classroom, the subconscious, the forest and the images of his internal fears.”
Pellington filmed the band’s scenes in London in June 1992, then returned to Staten Island, N.Y., to capture the portion featuring the Jeremy character, portrayed by rookie 12-year-old actor Trevor Wilson. “Most of the casting tapes we saw were of kids who were all angsty and overwrought. But Trevor was sick with the flu and came across as smoldering by barely doing anything,” Pellington recalls. “We met him in person and something about him really spoke to us. He was such an emotionally intelligent young man. We knew he could be Jeremy.”
Released on Aug. 1, 1992, the clip was an instant sensation, helping push “Ten” to triple-platinum status by the following month. Pearl Jam did not make another music video for six years, and did not actually appear in one until 2002.
“The song is epic — it has three acts, like a movie, which has to contribute the lasting appeal of the video now so many years later,” Pellington says. “People still get chills. The visuals are very shocking, but the song is everything. It is just incredible, and the video moves people because of Eddie and Trevor’s performance. They become one.”
Wilson joined Pearl Jam onstage when the band accepted its MTV VMA haul in 1993 but sidestepped show business to embark on a career with the United Nations as an adult. He tragically drowned at age 36 in a 2016 accident in Puerto Rico, prompting Pellington and Vedder to reconnect for the first time in years. “We had a long conversation about how it affected us both,” he says. “We spoke as fathers and what life has been like after all these years. He’s the same deep, beautiful artist he always was.”
On the heels of directing the Sophie Turner-starring series “Survive” for Quibi, Pellington is hoping to soon cast his movie “Lone Wolf,” which he says is in the vein of his 1997 Jeff Bridges/Tim Robbins thriller “Arlington Road.” He’s also editing a music video for the Nada Surf song “Just Wait” from the rock trio’s latest album, “Never Not Together.”
As for Pearl Jam, the band — which released its 11th studio album, “Gigaton,” in March — is scheduled to appear June 24 alongside Brandi Carlile, Dave Matthews and Macklemore as part of All in WA: A Concert for COVID-19 Relief, which will air live on Amazon’s Twitch platform.