“Two years he walks the earth… ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyageur whose home is the road… After two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure, the climactic battle to kill the false being within… No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild.” (p. 163). This triumphant declaration of independence was penned by Alex Supertramp, not Chris McCandless, on the plywood covering of a window in bus number 142 on the Stampede Trail. His yearning for freedom, the intense pull he feels away from civilization—society—is as apparent in Alex as the need of a young sunflower for sun as it reaches towards the glowing orb of life. Frustrated and smothered by boundaries and double standards, Christopher McCandless transformed himself into Alexander Supertramp, breaking free like a butterfly from its chrysalis. Alex was always within Chris, eating away at the “boy” that Walt McCandless saw until he was ready to become a “man.” Transformation and confusion are well-represented in Eddie Vedder’s Society, who professes, “It’s a mystery to me.”
All through Chris’s life, his contempt for affluence and the American Dream was apparent. He was frustrated by the problems of the world and the greed of humans, as Eddie Vedder murmurs in the opening lines of Society, with the beautiful play on words, “we have agreed, with which we have a greed.” All humans have an instinctive greed, the desire for more; this is universal. How we control and channel this greed shapes our principles. Alex was an extremely complex person, full of inconsistencies and thoughts well ahead of his age. All through his life, he was told that “it was a mistake to get too deep into that kind of stuff,” but he did it all the same. Alex was a thinker and dreamer, and often would become lost in himself. Society’s lyrics emulate Alex’s multifaceted personality, and all of his perceived complexes. The song is full of oxymora and wordplay, cries for space and apologies. Neither society nor Alex understood the other, and the song takes turns showing both sides of the confusion. Alex laments the mystery of greed; everyman worries over the paradoxical phrase, “less is more.” To each party, the other is unreasonable and uncouth; Society glitteringly represents each side with lyrics riddled as choreographed chaos.
“I think I need to find a bigger place, ‘cause when you have more than you think, you need more space,” croons Eddie Vedder above a thrumming, rhythmic guitar. The ebb and flow of Vedder’s voice, paired with the decrescendos and crescendos of the wave-like guitar, reflected the tug of the wild on Alex’s life. The strumming guitar is similar to the cadenced pounding of the ocean, with its tides and undertows; its wild, mysterious grandeur. Always present, the desire to be out there shaped Alex’s life. His thirst for the wild, his “single-minded passion,” was “too powerful to be quenched by human contact.” (p. 66). The more others tried to draw him in, the more Alex fought that drag. And once he was free of those restraints, Alex surged forward, riding a tidal wave of pent-up energy into unknown territory without a backwards glance.
If Alex were told to jump through a hoop, he would probably either sidestep it or pick it up and being hula-hooping. He had no cares for society’s standards; he lived by his own. Thoreau, Tolstoy, London, and many other authors shaped Alex, kneaded his personality into clay that could be molded by literature and experience. He was an overthinker and a dreamer, full of lofty ideals and hard judgments. Society, as Chris’s fold, wants “more than you have, you think you need.” Society, Americans especially, can be shaped by neighbors and TV, competition and fads; wants become needs as true needs become assumed constants. Alex, on the other hand, can be summed up in the line, “when you think more than you want, your thoughts begin to bleed.” Alex wanted very little, materialistically speaking, but much spiritually and mentally. He was truly seeking Something, utilizing huge spaces and the expanses of his mind to find It. He thought so much, had so many ideas and notions, that at times his head seemed too full, and he began to contradict himself. His thoughts bled.
The enigmatic lyrics and chugging guitar of Society reflect Alex’s wire-like thinking. Flowing and repetitive, it’s possible to take the guitar line from the first lines of the song and loop it to the final fading strums of Vedder’s guitar. Round and round his thoughts went, until they reached a satisfactory conclusion and he could move on—exactly as the song does. Thought-provoking and insistent, the lyrics model Alex’s thoughts and dreams. The guitar, almost reminiscent of a train, seems to be going somewhere, as Alex was. The song is a journey, a rhetorical question and inconclusive analysis of both Alex and society itself. A guitar-picking interlude epitomizes beautiful simplicity, short pauses in Alex’s life when he did not travel and search and seek. He returns to his restless life of pursuing Something, living on wanderlust after a short period of time, and the song once more takes on a feeling of movement. In the end, the lyrics simply apologize, “Society, have mercy on me. I hope you’re not angry if I disagree. Society, crazy and deep, I hope you’re not lonely without me.” Alex vanishes from society as the song fades away.
Supertrampistic, Alex held himself to rigorous moral values that weren’t necessarily parallel to those of society. He spurned money, chased dreams, and pursued a higher course of life. Alex saw life as black or white, right or wrong; and once he decided something, it was nearly impossible to shake his beliefs. He strove to find reality, to find himself. Others saw his passion as mania, while he viewed them as apathetic. Neither understood the other, although the man named Alexander Supertramp was still growing, learning, and full of potential when he vanished from not just society, but wilderness as well.