Monday, June 15, 2009

The Mystery of Time

by Julia Buckley

Today we attended a family party for the FIVE graduates in my extended family this year: four who are leaving grade school, and one who is off to college. It seemed odd to us that the young people (all of whom are taller than I am) are suddenly, it seems, knocking on the door of adulthood. Meanwhile, we parents looked at one another and said, "Weren't we this young just a couple of years ago?"

Of course we weren't, but time has a way of surprising one. It got me thinking about all the great songs about time. I'm listing my top ten here with the most famous and profound lines from each as a reminder that I'm not the only one disconcerted by the river that is time.

1. TIME IN A BOTTLE by Jim Croce. This was the first one to pop into my head, perhaps because of Croce's poignant reminder to "save every day like a treasure." This is all the more moving because of Croce's early demise.

2. OLD MAN by Neil Young. I heard this on the radio the other day and realized that my sympathies had at some point shifted from from the speaker to the old man, especially after hearing the callous nature of youth in the line "Doesn't mean that much to me to mean that much to you." Still a great song, though.

3. SUNRISE, SUNSET from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. Can anyone, young or old, hear this song without crying? I challenge you: here it is, from You Tube.

4. TIME OF YOUR LIFE by Green Day. This is a lovely anthem to a life well-spent, and a well-meaning speaker sings repeatedly "I hope you have the time of your life."

5-7. IN MY LIFE, YESTERDAY, and WHEN I'M 64, by The Beatles. They were still young fellows when they wrote these songs, but they seemed to understand the mystery of time and its power to change things (and yet to leave things the same).
A great example of time is this clip of a very young Paul McCartney singing one of his most famous songs. He's yet to be married and have children, to achieve all sorts of musical milestones, to lose a wife to cancer, to lose another to a bitter divorce. Here time has not yet done its work, and yet the song wistfully recalls an earlier time.

8. BOYS OF SUMMER by Don Henley. One of my favorite wistful lines is "Out on the road today I saw a Dead Head sticker on a Cadillac; a little voice inside my head said 'Don't look back, you can never look back.' " So true, Don Henley, and yet everyone does it anyway.

9. CAT'S IN THE CRADLE by Harry Chapin. Only after time has passed does Chapin's speaker, a father, accept that he has shaped his own destiny in neglecting his son. "My boy was just like me . . . " There's another one: can you listen to it without crying? My sons like to sing it to me when they feel I'm neglecting them. Works like a charm.
Here's Chapin singing the song live in 1981, the same year he died at the age of 38.

10. TURN, TURN, TURN by The Byrds. These lyrics were taken from Ecclesiastes in the King James translation of The Bible, and perhaps that's why they have a timeless wisdom. "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven."

What great songs about TIME would you add to this list?


Martha said...

There is a wonderful, short video on YouTube with Pete Seeger and the Byrds about the writing and shaping of Turn, Turn, Turn. Love that song!

One of my very favorite songs about time is by Sandy Denny
"Who Knows Where The Time Goes"

A number of artists have recorded it. My favorite version is by Judy Collins. Sad and not sad at the same time.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

What a great list! I frequently think about how fast my children (ages 12 and 7) are growing up.

How about "Dust in the Wind"?

Mystery Writing is Murder

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Anne Murray, Time, Don't Run Out on Me (was singing along with an old tape in the car only yesterday) and speaking of Pete Seeger, the Weavers, not sure which line is the title, but the chorus goes:
How do I know my youth is all spent/My get-up-and-go has got up and went/When I think of it all, I'm able to grin/When I think of the places my get-up has been.
I went to my older granddaughter's PRESCHOOL graduation last week, and all the mothers were getting teary-eyed over their 5-year-olds in bright yellow cap and gown (the school's called Yellow Duck). It starts early nowadays!

Julia Buckley said...

I am going there now, Martha! I want to hear it. And I am a huge Pete Seeger fan.

Elizabeth, DUST IN THE WIND is a great one, and beautifully sung, with that lovely violin in the background to make it more poignant. So existential, though. I hear it and think the writer must have had a really bad year. :)

Liz, I always tend to forget about Anne Murray, and yet she was one of my favorites in the 70s. And that's a great song.

Julia Buckley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jeffjbuckley said...

My favorite is "Time" by Pink Floyd. Deliciously bitter and sad yet beautiful and poetic. Every line's a classic. In four brilliant versus it takes you from the youthful feeling of having all the time in the world, to the realization that your days are numbered and finally the regret of wasted time, the wishing it could be recaptured and the sad realization that it can't.

Sandra Parshall said...

Like Martha, I love the Judy Collins version of "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" -- beautiful and poignant.

Julia Buckley said...

Jeff, thanks for commenting. :)
I will listen to the Pink Floyd song; the lyrics that I pulled up online are depressing but very apt.

Sandra, this must be a song worth listening to, since two of you have mentioned it.

I've also remembered a lovely song that some of you will recognize if you like ABBA or if you saw the movie MAMMA MIA. It's called "Slipping Through My Fingers," and like Jim Croce, the speaker says "I try to treasure every minute," but she is speaking of her rapidly growing child.

Debbi said...

"Time" by Pink Floyd is a great choice. I'd also add "Late Lament," which is recited before the song "Knights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues on the album "Days of Future Passed" (a whole concept album on the passage of time :)).

For those who don't know it, "Late Lament" goes:

Breathe deep the gathering gloom
Watch lights fade from every room
Bedsitter people look back and lament
Another day's useless energy spent.

Impassioned lovers wrestle as one,
Lonely man cries for love and has none.
New mother picks up and suckles her son,
Senior citizens wish they were young.

Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colors from our sight.
Red is grey and yellow white,
But we decide which is right.
And which is an illusion?