Interviewing a Rock Star Who Sang My Favorite Song in College is Not That Easy
Brian Vander Ark of The Verve Pipe performs in a family concert for Round Elementary School in Hartland — Can I have a redo?
I went to Michigan State during the 90s, which means I was on campus when The Verve Pipe and its song, The Freshman, hit it big. It was one of those songs that whenever it came on the radio — and for the longest time it seemed like it was every third song — it always made me sing from my gut and I honestly never got tired of it.
For the life of me, I cannot remember what made us think that we were wise and we’d never compromise. For the life of me, I cannot believe we’d ever die for these sins, we were merely freshmen.
Driving down Grand River in my blue Ford Probe (that was pretty cool back in the day) with the windows down, smoking a cigarette and feeling like, for those few minutes of song play, that someone understood my life and my mistakes. The fact was, I was young and dumb — and I sort of knew that — but I was also learning. And I also knew I should be allowed to make mistakes, so screw off to anyone who said otherwise.
That song can basically sum up my college career, so you can imagine my excitement when I found out that Brian Vander Ark, the lead singer for The Verve Pipe and East Lansing area hero, was coming to little ol' Hartland for Thursday night PTO fundraising concert for Round Elementary School. The man who basically wrote the anthem of my 20s was coming here and, oh thank you baby Jesus, I was actually going to have an opportunity to meet him.
Walking back to the room where he was waiting before going on stage, all the opening lines I had thought of were going through my head. I had several options from the gushing — “Oh my gosh, you’re song was epic for me. I know all the words … and I mean ALL the words even the 'heeey yeaahhhh' section,” to the teenage cool … “Hey dude. What up?”
I considered just shooting him with rapid-fire questions like: “How does that feel? To write a song that a whole generation uses to define their youth? Is the Romeo and Juliet theory true? Did you even like the movie (which is said to be the namesake for the song) The Freshman? ‘Cause it stunk.”
Instead, when the moment came, I obviously blew it cause really, with that much pressure, what did you expect? What came out of my mouth wasn’t cool or gushing or even sweet. Instead, what my brain decided to let my mouth say was, “Oh, wow. You’re tall.”
Way to go, rock star. And that was that.
I was never really able to come back from that, so I did my job as best I could with minimal speaking since I couldn’t really trust myself to say anything coherent after that. I think I did my cheerleader head bob a few times, giggled like a 13-year-old and left. Awesome.
But sitting in the crowd of about 150 area residents, listening to the hour-long performance with my husband and young children, I felt my worlds collide. The music selection was a mix of adult songs that spoke of growing up while the kid-friendly songs had a Raffi-like quality to them that had my boys giggling and groovin' in their seats. That was when I realized that my young adult, angst-filled world of mistakes and regrets had grown into one of parenthood and responsilblity with Vander Ark still singing about the things that mattered to me — and now my children as well.
I guess maybe that's what happens when you age with an artist. They're able to help you figure out certain things that are happening during your journey through life in a poetic way.
But as Vander Ark plucked out the first few chords of The Freshman, I let out a little involuntary squeal, forgot about being a mom and felt like reaching for my lighter. And looking around at all the other parents in the audience, who had all gone reverently silent during the song, I knew I wasn’t the only one remembering who they were over a decade ago and all the mistakes and moments that made up those years in-between teenager and responsible adult.
So, if I had a chance to do it over again, meeting Brian Vander Ark, I would simply say, "Thank you. The song meant a lot to us."
And OK, nevermind. I would still try to get that autograph and groupie photo that I had secrely hoped for.