Deep Song Breakdown, “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve

Deep Song Breakdown, “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve March 28, 2022

Life; a bittersweet symphony – this song had to make the deep song breakdown.

No punches pulled, right into the dilemma we go:

‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, that’s life
Tryna make ends meet, you’re a slave to money then you die

This is not just existential assertion, but a very real biography about lead singer and song writer Richard Ashcroft’s father who worked a job as an office clerk and died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage when Richard was eleven.

Ashcroft’s awakening with the death of his father allowed him not to fall into that trap. Not just trying to make ends meet, but even if one is financially successful, he believes that “people have been sold a lottery dream in life that money solves everyone’s problems.” [1].

And yet, even with enlightenment, can we really escape the bittersweet symphony?

Back to the lyrics:

No change, I can change
I can change, I can change
But I’m here in my mold
I am here in my mold
But I’m a million different people
From one day to the next
I can’t change my mold
No, no, no, no, no

I’m feeling this. Though we may have breakthroughs of enlightenment, we wax and wane. Our principles are met with temptations. Our many conflicting priorities and personalities collide. Molds are hard to break.

Incredibly deep and related themes (at least in my reading) continue throughout the song. In his despair of this life, looking for for hope and faith, “he’s never prayed but tonight I’m on my knees, yeah”. Like the problem of evil and suffering, he calls out to God for meaning and purpose in all the suffering to look for redemption: “I let the melody shine, let it cleans my mind, I feel free now”. But he hears nothing back as “the airwaves are clean and there’s nobody singin’ to me now”.

Is there an ultimate purpose? Is life just a cycle of “sex and violence, melody and silence”? Do we have free will? Can we change and escape our molds? Is he presenting a bleak characterization of life or laying down an existential challenge to break the mold, as difficult as it may be? I take it as the latter. The Platonic awakening to free oneself from his/her chains, elect to take the red pill (freeing oneself from the Matrix), take radical responsibility for one’s life, and find meaning in the suffering – is indeed rare and difficult.

Still, to not find meaning or authentic existence, (and to stay within my deep song breakdown theme) would be Unforgiven, so one should do Whatever It Takes to make this happen.

Ironically, there was a long legal battle on the rights to the song. Though Ashcroft wrote the song, instrumentals were borrowed from the Rolling Stones song “The Last Time”. Bitter sweet symphony indeed, after twenty years, it’s now been resolved. [2]

A true gem in lyrical and philosophical depth, this song was a must on the deep song breakdown list.

Image credit: Roger Woolman

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