Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Bittersweet Symphony of Life

This piece was written for Sangeet Ke Sitare, a music group on Facebook, for the theme - “Film songs where the lyrics attempt to answer the question - What is Life?”

Meri zindagi hai naghma, meri zindagi tarana, wrote Shevan Rizvi in 1969 for Madam to croon. Two years later, Ian Andersen called life a long song but with a caveat that the tune ends too soon for us all! Then more than a decade later life turned into a love song emerging from Sawan Kumar’s pen. It took another decade and a half, to turn life into a full-fledged symphony. Not just any symphony, but a bittersweet one.

Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, this life
Try to make ends meet
You're a slave to money then you die…

Bitter Sweet Symphony - The Verve (1997)

Written by their lead singer Richard Ashcroft, this 1997 song by English group The Verve was immensely popular around the time of its release, but soon ran into a controversy for plagiarism and quite literally turned into a bittersweet symphony for the group. It remains the biggest hit for the group, licensed and used by multiple companies, but they don’t get any royalties out of it.

The Story of Bitter Sweet Symphony

The main instrumental hook of the song is so catchy that it has made a permanent home in my mind ever since I first heard it in the summer of 1998.

It is quite ironic that since 2008 this song is being used by ITV as the background music to the opening sequence for England's international football matches, whereas in my mind this song is inextricably linked to England’s shocking ouster from the FIFA world cup in 1998.

ITV Sport - England Football Team Highlights Intro

In June of 1998, I was on a 3 week-long visit to the United Kingdom. There were only two things one heard on TV and in pubs in the UK those days – this song and endless debates on how England was sure to win the FIFA world cup that year. When England lost a nail-biter to Argentina and crashed out of the tournament, people took to the streets creating a ruckus, with all their ire directed at one man – David Beckham. The nation-wide anger was so intense that David Beckham soon became the most hated man in the country and he chose not to return to England immediately after the defeat. And all this while, the catchy instrumental hook of this song, which was used in a TV commercial, continued to play all over the place. So every time I hear this song, I recall England’s unfortunate defeat that summer. A bittersweet symphony indeed.

Vauxhall Astra - TV Commercial (1998)
Nike - I Can - TV Commercial (1998)

The song was later used to underscore the reversal of fortune of the lead characters in the closing scenes of the 1999 film Cruel Intentions.

Cruel Intentions (1999) - Closing Scenes