When The Verve Pipe albums were released into the mainstream, we would get pretty good reviews. Don't ask me what they were, I don’t recall. In fact, the only good review I remember was when my old music teacher said something nice about my fingerpicking. And though I don't remember exactly what he said, I remember how it made me feel.
Oh, wait! There was that time Pete Townsend said a very nice thing after seeing me act and sing in a play at the La Jolla Playhouse. "I loved the play. Brian Vander Ark of The Verve Pipe was awesome," he told a theatre crowd of potential donors where he performed a set. I'm a huge fan, so that was pretty cool! But then I realized he was heavily invested in the La Jolla Playhouse, so...you know, I started to suspect he had to say it. So, I kind of just let that one go.
The ones I can't let go of are the negative reviews. Entertainment Weekly called us “Corn-Fed Flakes.” Maxim called our album “Piss in a champagne bottle.”
"Corn-fed flakes" has a nice ring to it actually. It would have been a better name for the band than The Verve Pipe, for sure. “Ladies and Gentleman, please welcome CORN…FED…FLAAAAKES! And the crowd goes wild.
The other one—Piss in a Champagne bottle—yowza. That review was as laughably bad as Spinal Tap’s “Shit sandwich.” We were dead fish wrapped in velvet. Lizards dressed in lace. Urine in an elegant decanter.
I remember thinking, “Damn, that’s good. And…wow, that really stings.”
How long am I going to carry that stinger around with me? How long am I going to argue with a critic I don’t know?
Those are the times I identify with that song "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera.
Every day is so wonderful
Then suddenly it's hard to breathe
Now and then I get insecure
From all the pain
I'm so ashamed
Perhaps writing about it will be the soothing salve the sore needs. I mean, I just googled “Maxim magazine review the verve pipe piss champagne bottle” because I thought it would be funny to prove it to you, and it didn’t show up.
EVEN THE INTERNET HAS LET IT GO.
For years, my brain had been conditioned to pay closer attention to the negative. It’s what drove me. “You better make enough money, or you won’t be able to pay the mortgage!” “If you don’t go work out today, you’ll get fat!”
However, in the past few years, I’ve retrained my brain to think positively. For instance—“I want to make enough money this year to take my family on a nice vacation, we deserve it,” or “I love the way I feel when I work out, let’s do this!” is leaving a healthier impression than hearing the nagging voices of my critics/relatives/adversaries. (You know the voices I’m talking about—the ones you argue with while you're vacuuming.)
I was much happier quieting the negative reviews so the positive reviews could be heard.
And yet, something still wasn’t sitting right with me. If I don’t pay attention to the bad reviews, how can I pay attention to the good ones?
Time to take it to the next level!
Now I’m ignoring all of the white noise, pontifications from people who have no idea who I am. I’ll just assume there are more people saying positive things about me than negative.
Because not only do I already know me, I know my intent.
I’ll bet you know you as well.
We are beautiful in every single way
Words can't bring us down, oh, no
So don't you bring me down today
Listen to your own voice. Listen when it tells you you're beautiful. And listen when it tells you you’re being ugly.
It's time to be your one (and only) critic.
Start here: You are nothing less than champagne in a champagne bottle.
Now, you’ll have to excuse me, there’s vacuuming to be done—and this time I think I’ll have a pleasant conversation with my old music teacher.
Brian Vander Ark is the lead singer of the multi-platinum band The Verve Pipe. When his wife or kids have something critical to say about him, he makes them write it down so he can read them like he used to read his reviews. (The ones that are cleverly worded carry more weight.) You can see the premiere of the video for Brian's version of "Beautiful" on Wednesday, September 29, by subscribing to the Rockstar Reinvention Youtube Channel.
Cover Photo by Anthony Norkus