Over the last five or six years, i’ve found myself turning increasingly introspective around my birthday, and in some way that should only be natural. Each year is the increasingly gradual accretion of thoughts, emotions, memories and experiences that become one’s life. But on a personal level, early spring for me is fraught with conflicting and very difficult emotions – my late, estranged father’s birthday is on March 20th, my birthday is on the 28th and his death (which, I learned about a month after it had happened) was on April 22nd, and on a certain level, I’ve thought of this particular period in a much different, more serious light than I would have, say about a decade ago. More than ever, there’s a sense that time is rushing by and that there’s much work to do, and never enough time to do it all. “I’ve got to tell you my tale/of how i loved and how I’ve failed,” Richard Ashcroft sings on The Verve’s “History,” and the line has reverberated in my head over the past couple of days in an profoundly unexpected way – in a way that I couldn’t have possibly comprehended at 20 or 27 or even 32. As I inch towards 36, the line kicked me in the stomach late one night, while drinking at my regular bar. It also brought to mind an incident a couple of months ago: I caught up with a couple of former coworkers and one of them who I’ll refer to as E (and she’ll know who she is), had said to me at one point, completely out of the blue, “You know, you have a book or two in you. I can tell.”
As I look back at my life with another year on this blue ball, I think of the fact that I’ve lived a life of vehement, vitriolic passions; that I’ve squandered and saved; begged, borrowed, stole, leeched, mooched, scammed; spent shivering nights in parks; been a stumbling, shouting, drunken lout; loved, and lusted – oh how I’ve loved and lusted; been utterly foolish; worked at things i’ve loved and despised; been foolish and responsible, sometimes simultaneously; that I’ve discovered incredible bravery when I’ve been so very afraid; started and quit countless things; and made both wise and stupid decisions and lived to tell tales. And because of all that I needed and wanted to look back at the music that has meant so much to me. Now if there’s a few things that most people will probably immediately tell you about me – I enjoy Guinness, Romeo Y Julieta cigars; I’m a New York Yankee fan; I’m a New York Ranger fan; and The Verve is one of my favorite bands. But favorite doesn’t accurately describe what the Wigan, UK-based band means to me. Or how much albums like Urban Hymns and A Storm In Heaven mean to me.
The Verve came to me as a bit of a serendipitous discovery to me when I was 18 or 19. I had heard a few songs from Urban Hymns – namely “Bittersweet Symphony,” “Sonnet,” “The Drugs Don’t Work” and “The Rolling People,” because the Music Choice Alternative Rock Channel played them in fairly regular rotation at the time. I bought Urban Hymns shortly after, and I can tell you that the first time I had played the album, that it had felt like the most profound, most perfect thing I had ever known musically. In retrospect, I was probably certain that I found not just the soundtrack of my life, but the music that would be one of the largest influences in my life. I quickly brought up as much of The Verve’s work as I could get my hands on, and the Virgin Megastore was wonderful because I couldn’t normally find their self titled EP, A Storm in Heaven or No Come Down in the typical record store. I downloaded B-sdie singles from Napster and put them on a Sony MiniDisc player. I played every album countless times and knew every single note, every single breath forward and backward. I mentioned this on Twitter once or twice before but I had a copy of Urban Hymns I played so much that it cracked in half in my computer’s CD -ROM. And you know what I did? I ran out to the Virgin Megastore in Union Square to buy another copy as quickly as possible. The idea of waiting a couple of days without the album seemed unfeasible. However, that copy was defective and I had to return and get another copy. In fact, in a now abandoned draft of a novel I had written at the time, the novel’s narrator was obsessed with the album.
I once was playing my copy of A Storm In Heaven later one night on the subway and while transferring trains at Roosevelt Avenue, I dropped my discman in a such a way that it popped open and the disc rolled completely off the platform. And what was my response? I actually went down to the tracks to retrieve the damn disc. Rats? Fuck that! i need my copy of A Storm In Heaven! In case you were wondering – yes, I know, it was stupid. I actually had quite some time for a train. And I was looking for the train while retrieving that disc. I’d do it again, too.
When The Verve announced that they had gotten back together, would be releasing a new album and touring to support it, I remember telling an ex-girlfriend that i would give my left arm to just see them once. I didn’t have to give my left arm but I sang along to every single song and it was one of the best concerts i’ve ever seen live.
Interestingly, a Twitter follower of mine, David Livick, who’s also a huge Verve fan had sent along some live footage of the band at the Glastonbury Festival in 2008 and not only is the footage absolutely incredible, there’s something that should be apparent to everyone – The Verve should have been one of the biggest bands on the face of the earth. Live they had a sound that was expansive yet at its core was intimate, thoughtful, deeply personal and yet penetratingly universal. As one critic described it, their sound spiraled “upward and outward.” As far as this footage, there are so many incredible highlights but to get a sense of what I mean check out the forceful power chords of “This Is Music,” the stunning beauty of “Sonnet,” and “Space and Time.” Also check out one of the best live versions of “The Rolling People” and “Bittersweet Symphony” I’ve ever heard. Towards the end of “The Rolling People,” the boys throw in a nod to The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rappers Delight” with a sequence that has frontman Richard Ashcroft freestyling. And before they start “Bittersweet Symphony,” Ashcroft empathetically (and forcefully) talks about how he recognizes that for many people in the crowd, that they’ll soon be at work doing things that loathe with bosses they despise for money. And he says it in a way that just says “I understand. It’s time for you to sing along with me.”
I have to add there’s something about seeing several hundred thousand fans singing along that makes this one truly memorable and special.. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.