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  • Brian Vander Ark

Carry On My Wayward Friends

In 1995, The Verve Pipe signed with RCA, and a few weeks later, I deposited over $300,000 into my savings account. I’m sure it triggered some sort of alarm at Chase; I’d never deposited more than a hundred dollars at one time, and I withdrew that savings within a few days when the McRibs were back.

I made about a million dollars from The Verve Pipe’s biggest album, Villains. That’s a pretty cavalier statement, considering how amazing it felt: I was suddenly comfortable. Having a million dollars in the bank meant I’ll never have to worry about money again!

I felt I had enough financial security to whip out my Amex Gold like a ninja, picking up drinks and dinners while still footing the bill for the nightly parties I had at my new condo in downtown Grand Rapids. “C’mon over to my place,” I’d tell the bar at last call. “We’ll party on the rooftop ’til dawn, then my personal chef will make us some emu egg omelets!” We’d all head over to my place, and everyone would ooo and aah over my the condo’s furnishings, all picked out by my designer, a protégé of MC Hammer’s.

It reminds me of the song I used to blast on my 8-track player in my old Chevy Bel-Air. The car was two-toned—red and rust—with giant speaker cabinets (meant for home use) farting out the bass in the back seat. I would sing these lines by Kansas at the top of my lungs like we were all just dust in the wind at a point of no return:

Masquerading as a man with a reason

My charade is the event of the season

I didn’t know it in high school, but one day I’d become a rockstar—a wayward son—hosting charades, the events of the season.

I’m more frugal now—always trying to save a buck. I have a drawer full of hotel soaps in my bathroom, a Dutch tradition. (I’m merely following in the footsteps of my grandmother, who would swipe all of the condiments off a diner table into her bag.) I encourage my kids to use the public hand sanitizers wherever we go, telling them, “Hey, this is free! Have some! Here, squirt some in your pocket for later!”

I’m smarter with the money these days. I budget out every month, have three months of emergency funding, and automatic monthly payments go into my IRA (though I’ll probably never retire). The windfalls of money that come in for a movie soundtrack or a festival concert performance are few and far between these days, but miraculously, I’ve been able to make money.

But is it ‘miraculous?’

Doing what makes me most uncomfortable has opened up numerous doors and windows of opportunity.

I’ll give you an example—When I went to a children’s concert with my daughter years ago, I noticed that every child was leaving with something. Merchandise, priced high and low, was moving out the door like I’d never witnessed. Despite the left side of my brain telling me, “you’re in an alternative rock band—don’t do anything uncool,” I decided that The Verve Pipe needed to put out a children’s album to weather the withering album sales. As uncomfortable as it made me, I jeopardized our brand, and we made the kid’s album. Thanks to Sirius/XM airplay and critical acclaim (finally!), we sold records again. Many kids don’t even know what a CD is, yet it’s colorful, it’s soon to be signed by the band, and it’s priced right for the parents. (And parents, you understand that if you buy one item for one of your kids, you’re buying items for ALL of your kids.) We quadrupled our merchandise sales.

And if I claim to be a wise man

It surely means that I don’t know

These lyrics ring especially true to me; in fact, my song The Freshmen starts with the line “When I was young I knew everything”! It may be the reason I am always hesitant to give advice, to declare myself a wise man—it surely means that I don’t know. And yet, I just can’t help myself when it comes to doing things that make me uncomfortable. So, I’m going to keep giving you advice until I become comfortable with it. Because we all have to find comfort in discomfort. And the only way to find it is to get uncomfortable, then…Set a course for winds of fortune.

Carry on, my wayward friends. Take a breath, make the leap into that which makes you uncomfortable, and you’ll find comfort, fortune—and peace—when you are done.



Brian Vander Ark is the lead singer of The Verve Pipe and self-proclaimed cheapskate. He performed a version of Carry On My Wayward Son and had a short conversation with Simeon Hernandez about what it means to him - you can watch it here.

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