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The Freshman

by

The Verve Pipe



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

The Verve Pipe's lead singer, Brian Vander Ark, wrote this about his ex-girlfriend getting an abortion. In the second verse, his girlfriend overdoses on Valium to commit suicide, but this part never happened and was made up by Vander Ark. (thanks, Ross - Cleveland, OH)
The band had been around since 1992 and was loved by critics, but didn't crack the charts until 1996 when "Photograph" made #53 US. "The Freshman" hit big a year later, but that was their last chart entry. They released two more albums - The Verve Pipe (1999) and Underneath (2001) - before calling it quits.
This song was first released on early copies of the 1992 Verve Pipe EP I've Suffered a Head Injury, which they released independently. The second recording appeared on the 1996 album Villains, and the third recording, which was the hit, appeared on a 1997 single and in the video. The song later appeared on various compilations.
In 2001, Brian Vander Ark explained what the song means to him on Verve Pipe's bulletin boards:
"When I was young I knew everything" - We all think we know everything at a young age. I thought I did. I realize I didn't know sh*t until I was 36.
"And she, a Punk who rarely took advice" - How many people do we know like that?
"Now I'm guilt-stricken, sobbing, with my head on the floor" - Something happened that caused this reaction, but I wouldn't want to give that away this early in the song, so let's throw in an some ambiguity:
"Stop a baby's breath, and a shoe full of rice, no" - First of all, forget the NO. Stop a baby's breath is just that. Abort the baby. A shoe full of rice is a result of a wedding. So - stop a baby's breath AND then you stop a wedding. She's pregnant, get her to abort, and then there's no wedding. And you know what?
"I can't be held responsible, cause she was touching her face" - When I wrote this song, The Divinyls had a song out called 'I Touch Myself.' The TV was on, she was touching her face in the video. Very sexy. So, I can't be held responsible because she was trying to be sexy, trying to seduce me, etc.
"I won't be held responsible, she fell in love in the first place" - I didn't tell her to fall in love.
"For the life of me, I cannot remember what made us think that we were wise, and we'd never compromise" - What was I thinking back then? Who am I to put a girl though that? Why was I unable to compromise? Guilty feelings.
"For the life of me, I cannot believe we'd ever die for these sins, we were merely freshmen" - We were just kids, let it go, we all make mistakes, etc.
"My best friend took a week's vacation to forget her" - He needed to get away because of what happened.
"His girl took a week's worth of Valium and slept" - This is why this song is not that strong literally - it's confusing. HIS girl is MY girl. the same girl that had the abortion has now killed herself.
"Now he's guilt-stricken, sobbing with his head on the floor, thinks about her now and how he never really wept he says" - He has the same guilty feelings that I do about the abortion and death.
"We tried to wash our hands of all of this, we never talk of our lacking relationships" - We rarely spoke after the incident - we just tried to forget it. We never spoke of her or the fact that we can't have a decent relationship with anyone since then.
"We fell through the ice when we tried not to slip" - No matter how careful you might be, there are other perils out there.
The girl is real, the abortion is real. the death is not. it's poetic license to make the story more interesting.
Brian Vander Ark said of this song: "'The Freshmen' was written in 1991. One year before the Verve Pipe was born. I wrote it in a house on Gull Lake, Michigan. I had rented the movie The Freshmen with Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick, and the case was just sitting there the next morning and I found myself staring at it. then I realized that we are all freshmen at some point in our life - why not write a song for all of us? The song has nothing to do with the movie, though I owe the filmmakers tremendously. since the song is 11 years old - I'll make the commitment that every #1 song I write I will post a detailed definition, line by line, 11 years after it is written."
There is a theory that this song is about Romeo and Juliet. The young lovers were only 14 (about the age of a high school freshman) and the "weeks vacation" could be when Romeo went away while Juliet faked her death. The "weeks worth of Valium" could be when Juliet poisoned herself. (thanks, taryn - ducksvill, AK)
The music video was directed by Mark Neale, who had also done Counting Crows' "Round Here," and would later direct the documentary Faster.
While this was climbing the charts, British group The Verve had broken into America with their hit "Bittersweet Symphony." This caused confusion along the lines of the Black Crowes/Counting Crows/Sheryl Crow enigma of the early '90s.
The Verve Pipe
More The Verve Pipe songs
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More songs that became hits long after they were first released
More songs from 1 hit wonders

Comments (68):

This song is stuck with me since it was released. I believe that's because the singer conveys raw emotions in his voice. It's a beautiful song that has the power to reveal what it is like to be human ... what it is like to feel, to feel anguish, pain, guilt, compassion, despair. Everytime I hear this song, I feel. But it's not all bad because joy comes through the honest acceptance of feelings. Thank you, The Verve
- nicolette, christchurch, New Zealand
The Freshmen is a great song that serves as a fitting anthem for the introspective 90's. It is carried by its dark, moody tempo and a vocal that steadily rises in intensity.

An abortion, suicide, ultimately, the song speaks to everyone because it isn't about these barely alluded to events, but rather, it is about the naivette of youth and the mistakes that haunt us.
- Shawn, Green Bay, WI
This song brings up horrible memories. I took a weeks worth of my grandfather's Viagra once in 9th grade. My girlfriend was laughing so hard it made her cry --and she was snorting diet Pepsi out her nose. My friend kept saying he wasn't responsible even though he switched the Viagra for the caffeine pills --we were studying for 4 midterms. I wouldn't compromise and refused to go to the hospital. My throbbing head and the rest of my throbbing member hurt so bad I was crying on the floor. I tried putting it in ice, but it was too cold. There was some left over Chinese food in the fridge, mostly rice, so I stuck it and my swollen member in my dad's shoe, which smelled like the breath of a baby that just vomited . I feel guilty for taking pills because I can't have children now.
- Juan, Springfield, VA
I once believed that the song was about drunk driving that caused the death of all but the driver. Who feels so guilty that he wishes he was dead. I used to think te baby's breath was just about a dying teenager. The freshmen referred to university to me. The never compromise i believed referred to not having a designated driver. They were young and thought they could do anything.
- wendell, milton, PE
This song came out when I was 29. I never really knew all the words, and there was no way to get a copy back then. (I never bought the CD.) I didn't know "stop" was in there, so I thought the baby's breath was part of a wedding bouquet. Since I missed some words, I could never really conclude what the song meant until I read Brian's comments. I never saw an abortion in there, so I never understood the part about the wedding.

I thought that four people were involved... singer, best friend, best friend's girl and another girl, whom the first three killed (possibly by accident). The second girl seduced the singer (by touching her face in a sexy way), and she fell in love after the sex... which is often the case for young girls. Then pieces of the puzzle are missing. What happened after the sex? Did she become a stalker? Did they all conspire to get rid of her? "Now I'm guilt-stricken, sobbing, with my head on the floor"... regretted the action they took against the girl. "My best friend took a week's vacation to forget her"... Best friend felt so guilty that he had to leave town. "His girl took a week's worth of Valium and slept"... best friend's girl took drugs to cope. "Now he's guilt-stricken, sobbing with his head on the floor, thinks about her now and how he never really wept he says"... best friend put everything behind him so he wouldn't have to face his guilt. "We tried to wash our hands of all of this"... they all wanted to put it behind them. "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”… the three were arrested, charged and convicted of the girl's death. They received a death sentence. They never thought it would happen because they were just kids.
- Mary O., Omaha, NE
Dude, she wasn't a groupie. She was his girlfriend. And they weren't Freshmen, he said that everyone was a freshman once. It's to help everyone relate to the song.
- Lishy, n/a, MA
I thought it was about a girl that killed herself because she was dating one and cheating on him with the other and loved them both and didn't know what to do .....
- Trista, Tower, MN
i don't at all agree with the romeo and juliet theory. the guy singing it already explained what it's about, and anything he left unsaid is up to us to imagine. this song is so powerful, it's been one of my favorite songs since the first time i heard it.
- Bridget, Seattle, WA
There are a ton of different opinions here. This song has been disected from beginning to end. A thought provoking song indeed. The emotion in his voice, the melody....this is a great song of our generation
- taylor, lawrence, MA
I had my first pregnancy scare as a college freshman about the time this song came out and never really internalized it. I did as Vandar wrote and said "I can't be held responsible" because I was a horney freshman. Several years later it happened to my girlfriend and it was hard. I've been tearing up ever since whenever I hear this song. I believe those with a simular experience used this song to mourn their experience, actions, or lost child. The beauty of this song is that it took enough poetic license to allows us all to interprete it as "we" need it to, whether Vandor knew what he was doing or not.
- Rich, DC, DC
you r all wrong basically this song is about a groupie who followed them around. But the lead singer and some other guys did the nasty with her when they were fresman in college and they filmed it. The tape went around eventually getting to the girls parents. When her parents found out the girl killed herself. The lead singer is basically saying in the end it is not his fault she did that.
- bob, danville , PA
To me, the fact we are all guessing and expressing what WE think the song is about goes to prove how powerful of a song it is. I have probably listen to the song at least a thousand times and in no way saw in the lyrics what vander ark said it was about. All I know is it is one of the best songs I have ever heard and I grew up in the 60's.
- Dan, Mattoon, IL
-to Chamot, Brisbane, Australia
dude. it said stop a baby's breath. what ELSE could it mean?
- Kelsey, Marshall, TX
When this song was first released I never paid attention to it and then finally I did. Could the best and most haunting song of the late '90s. I will love this song til the day I die, it's not that good!
- Theresa, Murfreesboro, TN
I absolutly love this song it's my favorie. I totally love the lyrics and the story behind it. It makes me cry when I listen to it but I really do love I can never stop listening to it!!


Amazing song
- Jasmine, Fleetwood, PA
seriously, talk about how fricken awesome this song is and not what it's about
- Eric, lake orion, MI
this is sp eye opening. my whole long life i thought it was about a gay clown which i really could connect with... but im not gay... i thought the clown got aids and for revenge went around killing college freshmen. i think he felt really bad about it so he was guilt stricken with his make up painted face on the floor and then he told his mom about it and she couldn't turn him in because it was her kid so she just took vallium and killed herself. it just makes so much more sense that way.
- Gaymann, gainesville, FL
I heard this song on the radio today in the car, and it really struck me. In january my bofriend committed suicide, and he really was a "punk who rarely ever took advice." When I found out thats exactly how I felt and reacted, "guilt stricken,
Sobbing with my head on the floor."
We were only college freshmen...
- Jacqueline, DC, DC
I always thought it was about a boy that gave a girl aids. my whole life I thought that was the song was about.
- Bryan, Minneapolis, MN
this song is amazing. its really made me think how one thing can cause so many reactions. i first heard this song when i was about 10 because my cousin loved it so much, and now i realize why.
- emily, M, MI
this song sucks....the reason why you kids can't "find any more hits from them" is because there are none. This song was just another piece of crap that came from the rockless black hole called the late 90's
- Jeff, Austin, TX
I like this song because it explanes the emotions you would feel after getting an abortion so perfectly.I would be..."guilt stricken,sobbing with my head on the floor..."too.
- Cortney, Grand Junction, CO
this song is remarkable. there is so many thoughts that go into my head when i hear this song. this song is a short story of my life. it deals with everything that i went through. the abortion, how i sacrificed for love. i replay this song over and over again, and every time - it hits me hard. the lyrics "I cannot remember what made us think that we were wise, and we'd never compromise" - when i was pregnant, we both thought we would be able to handle this situation, and go through with it. and we never thought that we would compromise. but we did. this song is truly amazing, and heart breaking.
- kellie, n/a, MI
I really love this song. Since i'm a freshman just starting out in high school i can relate. THe song is really awesome. Unfortunately i haven't been able to get my hands on any of the other hits so this one is my all-time fav.
- Bryce, winner, SD
the freshmen is my favorite verve pipe song. It is truly one of the greatest songs ever written. I thought that it as their only hit. Then i found their single "Never Let You Down" and i was amazed. I just wish i could find more hits by them.
- Nathan, Sherwood, OR
this song is simply amazing.
- kelsey, largo, FL
The true meaning of this song? We all think were wise but we are not, and people die because of our stupidity. However there are answers, find me.
- raymond, Sydney , Australia
thought it was about a girl and boy breaking up and a girl was taking pills to kill the pain
- Alyssa, Forney , TX
Very good song! I was looking for the British band by the same name and found this. However, the page title is incorrect. The title of the song is "The Freshmen". Plural, not singular.
- Joshua, Havelock, NC
their only hit...wasnt it ? this song is lame. it was good til the radio stations over played it ! then it became annoying !
- NORA, N/A, FL
The Acoustic version of this song is amazing as well.
- Trent, Great Falls, MT
I didn't think the album was particularly great, but this is a really good song. In case it hasn't been mentioned, the band recorded three versions of it: one for their first album, a rerecording for the Villains album, and another rerecording for the single that became a hit.
- Ryan, Marion, IA
I think it's funny how many different ways you can think that this song is about...
All these comments say either the same thing or something completly different. I laugh at that.
The point is that this is a pure genious song. It's been around ever since i was born (and its been 15 years) and i heard it on the radio the other day...so that must tell you that it definetly does not suck...
i love this song more and more everytime i hear it..
- Winter, Niceville, FL
this song is also amazing, it rocks! when i was a freshman i loved it, still love it
- jordan, new castle, PA
Out of all these comments, you're all wrong - apart from Nate from Lansing, MI.

There was an interview he did YEARS ago...where he said practically the same thing as Nate had mentioned.

A girl, or groupie, would follow the band everywhere. The band members used her for...you know what, but it was too much for the band as they were starting to get annoyed by her and practically told her to leave them alone because apparently the groupie fell in love with lead singer Brian Vander Ark, "she fell in love in the first place...". Feeling upset about the ditching situation, she committed suicide through overdose... The Verve Pipe were struck by the awful news...made a song, which became a mass hit.

This song has never made sense to an 'abortion' lyric.
- Chamot, Brisbane, Australia
"stop a babies breathe and a shoe full of rise" babies breath is actually the flowers that are in a wedding bouquet, and a shoe full or rise, rise thrown in a wedding, so they're not preventing a baby from breathing, it's just the name of a flower that's used in weddings, though It's still about an abortion, maybe stop a babies breathe is a pun, because they would be stopping it in two different ways, because if she wanted to stop a wedding bad enough to commit suicide from because of it, because just saying you don't want to go through with it is a much easier out. Anyway, just letting y'all know what "babies breathe was," But the song's meaning still stays the same.
- Ryan T Lange, Corpus Christi, TX
He was awakened at 36. Made a ressurection into a higher awaereness. He took resposibility. The
pain triggered an awareness to his replayed memory of her being applied to his real physical environment, thus realizing that its mind or energy over matter. Most planet die as "freshman"
because they never knew the truth and reality of whats really going on. Such an experience would make one write songs about this new world.
Ressurection. Villains are those who distort are reality.
- Ryan, Los Angeles, CA
I had a jam session with a bunch of people at my college. At the time, this was one of the few songs I knew off the top of my head that sounded good on acoustic guitar. I started playing this, and the whole group just went nuts!
- Neal, North, NJ
I think this song is more about a lesbian relashonship then an abortion or anything. The writer of the song says that he couldn't control the two who were falling in love so they stayed together. At least this is what I heard.
- Kane, Vancouver, WA
I have heard the "original" version several times. I don't like it because the guitar isn't completely in tune. It is a nice "bare bones" version however.
- Brian, Gregory, MI
The original version of this song is only found on the 1992 Verve Pipe EP - "I've Suffered a Head Injury".

The version of The Freshmen is a slower-paced remake of the original, which is more quickly-paced, and features only Vander Ark on vocal and an electric guitar. It's still played on the radio around here and is The Freshmen that we all cut out teeth on. I highly suggest a listen. I think you'll find it better than the Villians version.
- Mark, Grand Rapids, MI
it's pretty lazy to just diagnose syd as insane.
- Zack, Cambridge, DC
WOW, it is nice to see what the song is really about. This song made it big at the same time the headline news was reading something along the lines of Freshman raping this girl and killing her. The boy were not tried as adults and were not held responsible. They blamed the rape on the girl saying she asked for it and teased them, the killing was an accident. I am so glad that the lyrics are NOT about that.
- Matt, Marksville, TN
I love this song.
here is an interview http://www.ink19.com/issues/october2001/inkSpots/vervePipe.html

excerpt:

What's the most important lesson you've learned since you've been in the major label world?

Any lesson? It's got to be honesty. I got so tired of doing interviews and dealing with the band on a dishonest level. I think, in the end, if you're just incredibly honest with everyone, it doesn't come back and bite you on the ass, you know? I think that the band lived a few lies and we got out of that. I think the honesty comes across with Underneath. That would be the biggest lesson that I've learned, definitely. I mean, I went through many different stories of what "The Freshman" was about, trying to concoct more press in some ways, and it's just a ridiculous thing, because it always comes back to you.
- loren, tulsa, OK
So, I think this song is about two ninth grade kids who fall in love, and then the girl eventually gets an abortion (I knew this song had to with abortion!), cheats on the author with his best friend, and commits suicide by overdosing on Valium. It's kind of confusing because you think the best friend's "girl" is separate, but Brian van der Ark said no.
- Grace, Fairfax Station, VA
THis has been my favorite song since it came out and that was like forever ago. Everytime i ask someone if they have heard it they stare at me like im crazy. this guy i like is like the only person aroud that has heard of it and he luvs it as much as i do, but we had a thing last year and i dont think he trusts me...
- Denise, Nisland, SD
I absolutely love this song. i want to cry everytime I hear it. The first time I heard it was when a guy that I really like invited me to his house to play me some songs (he's a great singer and guitar player) and he played this song for me. He's a junior and im a freshman and it meant so much when he played this song. The next week he moved to Dallas, Tx. I was depressed for weeks. I wanted to cry everytime i heard any one of the songs he played for me. i still like him a lot and i miss him like crazy.
- lilly, stephenville, TX
i love this song and when i first herd it it sounded like a group of guys thinking they new better attacked a young girl when they were freshmen and they sufferd the punishment and they are now trying to get on with their lives but cant, ????????
- sally, newzealand, New Zealand
i heard this song was about a girl who the band fooled around with and then she killed herself

i heard thats what the lead singer said in an interview
- kate, san diego, United States
its not about abortion

stop a baby's breath is refering to the flower in a wedding boquet "and a shoe full of rice" at a wedding you throw rice
- kate, san diego, United States
Vander Ark (the lead singer) and the girl in the song ended up getting married
- Tox, SSI, GA
i reckon this as a classic alternative song. it is every youth's anthem for adulthood. everytime you make another step,grab another opportunity, head for a greener pasture, you just can't help but hum this song in your head, always reminding you that you will always be a freshman in everything that you do. that we learn something everyday.the imagery is just powerful, totally universal. that this is every young adults' phase...to think that he/she is in love and found himself/herself breaking down when it didn't work.honestly, it almost happened to me, but this song moved me...and still does up to this very day. this song still makes me realize how sweet and how tough it is to be young...and to fall in and out of love and to relish the ups and downs of young adulthood.
- may, davao city, Other
Wow, okay i always heard that the song was about a guy's friend who slept with this girl and got aids and didn't know he had it, then slept with his girlfriend and she got aids and then she tryed (did) kill herself and he lived. thats what i've always been told so yeah
- nancy, salem, OR
i think that it's about a guy having a baby with his friend's girlfriend, then she kills the baby (she was touching her face) and in the secong verse the girl commits suicide
- becky, watsontown, PA
i used to think that this song was about romeo and juliet. i mean, think about it. they were "freshman", only 14. and the "weeks vacation to forget" was when romeo had to go away right after they got married in secret. and the "weeks worth of Valium and slept" is like when she took the poison to make her go into a death-like sleep. and to "never comprimise" is like how they could not agree with their parents or the others for that matter. hey, it makes sence!
- taryn, ducksvill, AK
a verve is Energy and enthusiasm in the expression of ideas, especially in artistic performance or composition: The revival lacked the verve of the original musical. good ol dictionary ;)
- taryn, ducksvill, AK
yea, i'd still like to know what touching her face has to do w/ anything and also wut a verve pipe is... good song tho!!
- laurie, bartlett, IL
I heard it was about the singer who slept with his best friends girlfriend, who then got pregnant and had an abortion, she then killed herself of an overdose. Thats just what I heard...guess the lyrics do add up to that.
- Kendra, wellington, New Zealand
Ok i've been listenin to this song for a while and i also thought it was about abortion but then my friend says it was about his g/f overdosing on herioin...when ur on heroin u touch you face a lot hence "she was touching her face" and "i won't be held responsible/ she fell in love in the first place" meaning she fell in love with the drug and he had nothing to do with it. "we were merely freshman" means they were so new to the drug that he couldn't believe that his g/f would die for the sins. "stop of baby's breath and a shoe full of rice" means there would be no more wedding cuz of her death.
- Nastasia, Peabody, MA
Isn't the line "She was touching her fate"? This would make more sense.
- Lauren, Maryville, MO
The Verve Pipe is still alive and kicking... still performing and in my opinion better then ever.

Since the Villians (album with the freshmen) they have released a self titled album "The Verve Pipe" in 1999 and another album by the name of "Underneath" 2001. There is talk of another The Verve Pipe Record... not sure when that might be released.

Brian Vander Ark (lead singer) realeased a solo album "Resurrection". These boys have tremendous talent. I am surprised they are not more well known...

I strongly recommend anything and everything by The Verve Pipe and Brian Vander Ark... Now go out there and start buying :)
- noname, out there, Canada
I had heard that this song was about a groupie that kept following them around to all of their performances. She got obsessed with one of the members and they had messed around and stuff. After a while he got annoyed of her and told her to leave them alone. After she was told off she eventually committed suiced. When the band heard about it they wrote a song about it. Not sure if its exactly true, but it makes sense. "I can't be held responsible, she feel in love in the first place" "My friend took a weeks vacation to forget her his girl took a weeks worth of valium and slept" The freshman part of the song goes with her being so young and how he used her for a while.
- nate, Lansing, MI
great song great album. too bad the "boy bands" had to appear on the scene. its things like that that keep true musicians off the radar. its a real shame.
- will, mcallen , TX
when he says "stop a babies breath, and a shoe full of rice, no," that means that after she gets an abortion, there will be no wedding (they won't be getting married after the abortion.) they aren't necessarily freshmen in high school or college, but freshmen is used as a term to describe how they were new to everything like that.
- Ross, Cleveland, OH
ive always wondered- do you think theyre talking about freshmen in high school or college? im guessing college, but who knows. and whats the deal with the shoe full of rice?

what the hell is a verve pipe anyways? lol. i love this song. =)
- ak, reston, VA
I think that his part with his (ex)girlfriend is about the abortion, and then the second verse is about a friend breaking up with his girlfriend, and she commits suicide by overdosing. Then they don't talk about their lacking relationships. It kinda makes sense, doesn't it?
- Ashleigh, Palm Coast, FL
Let us set aside the true meaning of the song, "vander ark's ex getting an abortion," and think about it for a second. This seems like one of those songs that has a literal meaning but then again a ton of multiple other meanings. It depends on how you look at it. I used to listen to this song so much when I was younger, what i got out of it was (aside from the stopping baby's breath part), "it's about a guy who has made mistakes, and when he made them he was too ashamed to be responsible, and like mandy said he uses being a freshmen as an excuse. This could just be a play on words meaning in his young age, who knows. I related to the song though b/c I've made mistakes that I didn't even want to think about being responsible for, and then you take so much time worrying and feeling bad for not taking the blame that you realize It's gone and you never had time to MAKE UP FOR IT.
- mikey, Ashtabula, OH
I'm surprised there are no comments here--I used this song for a health project in 9th grade--therefore I have it somewhat analyzed. I feel its about a group of kids who thought they "knew everything" but once they reach high school they quickly lost control. Throughout the song, they claim they are "merely freshman", their excuse for all thats gone wrong, and feel responsable for
In the end, they cannot remember what made them feel they were so 'big', and they cannot believe how blind they were to reality
- mandy, n/a, MA
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