The band Supertramp was impactful enough to have a species named after them. Thankfully they were also impactful enough to be known even as far as my small village in Germany. The band name alone resonated with me. Having been born with an innate restlessness, I would have loved to be a super-tramp. But all I could do about it, was read Kerouac’s “On The Road” and listen to too much rock music. I was thrilled that they reunited in the 90s, and the year “You Win I Lose” was in the charts I was drafting chapter after restless chapter of a novel I never finished, which starred a violinist called Lorca (named after the poet…). At the time I was going for a rhythmical, stream of consciousness style and I didn’t use any capitals. Because accessibility is overrated 😅.
I have no idea how I stumbled upon K’s Choice, but fact is that their songs float to the surface when I think of my last year before I came to the UK.
There's a huge pile of memories sitting untouched. Somewhere in that pile is 2003, and I know if I don't tiptoe carefully to avoid upsetting the pile, intense details will come flooding back. Even so, what rushes towards me is a relentless summer sun and the year's soundtrack, which mostly consisted of Nick Cave, and for some random reason, K’s Choice. I see myself walking among university buildings that rise like the wrecks of huge concrete ships from the bottom of the sea. I felt similarly submerged, but coming up for air at last.
Maybe K's Choice was my Emotional Support Band that year. I absolutely loved Sam Betten’s smoky voice. I didn’t know they had toured with the Indigo Girls and Alanis Morrissette, and didn’t know of their cameo performance in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. At least 3 of their albums, however, were living on my iPod… that weird Otherworld were Pink was comfortable right next to Schoenberg, that private world that got me through my days.
I hadn't thought of "We're Gonna Make It" by Little Milton in what must be decades - until a few weeks ago. Things seemed to look very bleak, so I reached down into the farthest corners of my mind for something to keep me from falling apart, and this song appeared.
When I was 14 or 15, I bought my first blues compilation. This song was my immediate favourite. I needed that optimism. It kind of hits you right in the face. “Defiant Optimism”, Rob Jones calls it on his blog “The Delete Bin’. I love that phrase. I want “Defiant Optimist” inscribed on my gravestone! It’s not the kind of optimism that glosses over reality, it’s the f***-you-you-won’t-keep-me-down kind.
Which is why I imagine this song was considered a civil rights anthem. (“staring adversity in the face, acknowledging the reality that a community was facing systemic oppression, but with a firm belief that things would change for the better anyway.” -Rob Jones )
It completely eluded me when I was a teen, but listening to it again, without even knowing its history, I instantly understood. It was the perfect song when it was released in the 60s, and it’s still the perfect song for these times. I lie awake dreaming we’re all going to unite in defiant optimism. It’s all I’ve got.
So the week I've scheduled to post this cover, there's abuse allegations against Marilyn Manson coming to light. Since he can claim a widely known cover version of this song, I feel I don't want to post this without distancing myself. Having experienced abuse myself, I find it a sensitive topic and seriously considered posting something else instead. I decided against it, however, since me choosing to cover this song had nothing to do with the Marilyn Manson version anyway.
What I was trying to go for was more in line with what Annie Lennox said the song was about - the sense of hopelessness and the sinking feeling that the dreams you are chasing will always just be dreams. This song called out to me, because I feel we have to navigate a world in which things around us are constantly breaking. You look around, you assess the damage, you try and adjust the course. Try and keep going regardless.
This notion is one of the things at the very heart of my identity as an artist. Maybe the pandemic evoked the song for me. Especially, since, as a performer, the feeling of falling debris and demolition dust settling in my lungs feels particularly acute.
But fortunately I've learned to roll with the punches.
When I was about 20 I applied to the exclusive German Institute for Literature with a very pretentious essay, trying to convince of Leonard Cohen's (and Bob Dylan's) Nobel Prize worthiness.
I felt like a heretic, and never knew if I wasn't chosen for one of the 25 places because of this, or if my creative writing portfolio was shit. When a few years ago Bob Dylan was the first songwriter to win the Nobel Prize, I sported an inner I-told-you-so smile for several days - although I reckoned Cohen would have been way more deserving. (Bob Dylan himself once said he'd happily be Leonard Cohen, if he could choose to be another artist.)
Lyrically, I've yet to find another songwriter who has the same appeal to me. Somehow the imagery just cascades over you, and pulls you down into a mystical world - infused with beauty and with sadness. As an artist I like how malleable his songs are, it makes performing them extremely enjoyable, and Coming Back to You is no different.