Friday Fun: My Top Ten 90s Songs, #3

#3: Lucky Man by the Verve (off of Urban Hymns (1997))

The Verve is a criminally underrated band.  Everything Coldplay has done, the Verve did first and better.  They were experimenting with weird sounds and trippy music when Radiohead was writing straight forward rock songs like "Creep."  They are more interesting than Oasis, and I like Oasis.

They are not well known because their career was rather short, done in by stereotypical band problems--interpersonal conflicts, drugs, financial disputes.  Urban Hymns, their best album, was also their last significant album.  In a sense, though, it is not tremendously surprising, as their music certainly conveys that they were dealing with some stuff.

The song of theirs that you have heard is "Bittersweet Symphony."  It got them into trouble because it sampled an orchestral version of "The Last Time" by the Rolling Stones, resulting in all the royalties going to the Stones.  It is also famous for the video, which has lead singer Richard Ashcroft walking down the street running into people.  It is a great song, but it is not as good as "Lucky Man."

I know nothing about the life of Richard Ashcroft, so I will not speculate what was going on in his head when he wrote the song.  I can only tell you what the song means to me.
To me, this is a song about what it is like to come out from underneath an episode of depression.  One of the most difficult things to explain to people, or even to understand myself, is that depression doesn't manifest as some concrete, easily identifiable illness.  When you have a cold, or a cut on your knee, you can point directly to that as your injury, and the injury is limited only to that identifiable problem.  Depression is not like that.  Instead, it is a more like a filter that overlays and colors everything in your life. You can't point to one specific thing, because it is everywhere.

On the flip side, coming out of the down period is equally non-specific.  There are no dramatic moments of clarity or revelation; one day, you wake up and you realize that you feel OK, or at least better.  The filter peels away, and you can see things as they actually are.  It just kind of happens.

This experience is perfectly described in the first five lines of "Lucky Man":

More or less
It's just a change in me
Something in my liberty
Oh, my, my

One of the other challenges of depression is that it causes a kind of forgetting.  When things are going well, you tend to forget or block out how bad and how painful it is to be down deep.  I wonder if it is a kind of defense mechanism, similar to the way the mind blocks out trauma.  Whatever the source, this forgetting tends to encourage you to pretend that it will never come back, as if it were some weird, one-shot anomaly.  That is wrong, as you are inevitably reminded of when it comes back, but it can lead you to fall into a cycle of up and down.

But how many corners do I have to turn?
How many times do I have to learn
All the love I have is in my mind?

But neither of those are the best part of the song.  It's a place that I've never quite gotten to yet.  I get closer at times and am further away at other times, but it is the place I hope to be able to get to some day.

Something in my own place
I'm standing naked
Smiling, I feel no disgrace
With who I am

As I am sure you can tell, this song means a lot to me.  The rest of their music is great as well, but this song is a masterpiece.


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