Thursday, February 22, 2018
Track of the Week: The Verve, "Bittersweet Symphony"
There are some songs that bring chills, there are some that bring tears, this is one that brings both.
Picture this: it's the autumn of 1997. A college senior has just survived a hellish summer of working two jobs (factory and telemarketing) in his humdrum rural small town. He also had his heart broken pretty badly. He is on the cusp of spreading his wings, but doesn't know how to fly.
There is drama, he suddenly finds himself attracted to a friend who is the girlfriend of another friend, and there's still another friend who secretly burns a candle for her. (When she leaves her boyfriend and embraces our hero the drama will go into overdrive.) There is much yearning and much angst and much tension of the kind that only people in their early 20s can experience.
And at this age, he experiences it through music. Our young lad is a ridiculous Anglophile, and last year fell in love with The Verve, a band as popular on this side of the ocean as black puddings and steak and kidney pies. A Northern Soul and its trippy grooves have spent a lot of time in his CD player. When Urban Hymns hits his local record store he goes out and buys it immediately, before hearing a song. He knows it's going to be amazing.
And it is. The first song, "Bittersweet Symphony," casts a spell on him. It is unlike The Verve's former psychedelic spacefunk. The strings, practically banned from modern pop music, touch something in his soul. The lyrics, about the day to day survival that life demands and the need to break the chain, speak to him like nothing else. It is his anthem. It is his fight song. For a couple of weeks in the autumn of 1997, it is his everything.
I used the third person because that person who I was in the autumn in 1997 is dead. He was silly and naive but also romantic and hormonal and idealistic in ways I no longer am. The hardness of the road I traveled after that point made me a harder person, but also wiser. When I hear "Bittersweet Symphony" the chills come because I am instantly transported to such a fraught period. The tears come when I mourn the purer, softer version of me who is gone, never to come back. He could be touched by a song like "Bittersweet Symphony" in ways no song will ever again be capable of touching me.