My Pappy always said, “Son, should you decide to conduct a comparative analysis of the lyrics of Pearl Jam and Nirvana, you would do well to narrow your focus of study to each band’s treatment of the subject of daughters and their fathers.”
Pearl Jam’s “Daughter” is as earnest and self-serious as most any other Pearl Jam song (my friend Jeremiah Death has offered the crude but persuasive suggestion that everything Eddie Vedder said and wrote in the 1990s represents nothing more than an effort to “score some of that Lilith Fair pussy”); its tepid chorus includes the sanctimonious admonishment, “Don’t call me daughter, not fit to”, although to be fair, “She holds the hand that holds her down” is almost elegant by Pearl Jam standards.
Nirvana’s take is more interesting. “Been a Son” is the sad tale of a father who wishes he’d had a son rather than a daughter. It’s arguably every bit as heavy-handed as “Daughter”–if nothing else, Nirvana’s title is more intriguing and imaginative–but it’s far less pandering, not least because Nirvana opts to write from the perspective of the father, who offers such disappointed criticisms as “She should have made her mama proud” and “She should have had more time to spend” and, most alarming and least subtle of all, “She should have died when she was born”.
But then, it’s hardly surprising that the stunted narcissist who scribbled “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” and then blew his brains out when his kid was two would write convincingly from the perspective of a shitty father; I’d rather listen to Cobain, but when it comes to dads, surely Vedder’s better.
Queensryche’s “Bridge” (You’re begging me for a brand new start / Trying to mend a bridge that’s been blown apart / But you know… You never built it, Dad”); Jane’s Addiction’s “Had a Dad” (“I walked around, even tried to call / Got that funny feeling, he’s not there at all”); Everclear’s “Father of Mine” (“My Daddy gave me a name / Then he walked away”); Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” (“When you comin’ home, Dad? / I don’t know when”); Austin Powers’s “Daddy Wasn’t There” (“When I was first baptized / When I was criticized / When I was ostracized / When I was Jazzercized / Steak and kidney pies / When I was modernized / When I was circumcised / Daddy wasn’t there”).