I’ve noticed that you can group people into three reasonably distinct categories:
- a select group of people are music fanatics (you see them in brick & mortar record stores, or at club gigs at midnight on Tuesday nights)
- a larger subset of the population are music fans (appreciative of music, but can take it or leave it, and probably haven’t bought more than five albums since they finished school)
- pretty much everyone else just don’t get into music at all (these people are weird and frighten me)
It also seems like you can split the fanatics into two fairly distinct camps: those who gravitate towards the music or those who tune into the lyrics. Growing up, whenever a catchy song came on the radio, my mom would pick up on the melody while my dad always seemed to remember the lyrics. Usually it’s the melodies and rhythms and dynamics that ensnare me, rather than the words.
But once in awhile, the music and the words come together in a way that bridges the gap. “Time”, by Pink Floyd, from 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon is a fine example of a beautiful song where the melody is inextricable from the lyrics. While all of my high school classmates were rockin’ like Dokken, or sewing Motley Crue patches onto their jean jackets, I was working my way through the Pink Floyd back catalogue. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
Roger Waters would have been about 28 years old when he wrote the words to “Time”. Years later, when I was an impressionable teenager, they sounded like a cautionary tale from someone much older and wiser than myself.
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an off hand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way
Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then the one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun
The message seemed to be “live every moment to the fullest and don’t get stuck in a rut, otherwise some day you’ll wake up and realize that half your life has evaporated with nothing to show for it”. Maybe that propelled me forward through my university years; it’s hard to say. I didn’t always live every moment to the fullest.
The second half of the song seemed to be a lament from a middle-aged man:
And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking
And racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in the relative way, but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death
Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
In the last few years, I’ve noticed how the seasons seem to fly by. One day you’re slathering on sunscreen and walking around in shorts. But seemingly the next day you’re raking the leaves, and the day after that you’re putting the snow tires on the car and digging your winter clothing out of the basement. And I’m not even particularly busy away from work; I can only imagine what kind of acceleration my friends feel with spouses and kids and all their other commitments. I try to make efficient use of my days, knowing that I’m only immortal for a limited time. I can’t stand wasting time on low-value activities, either at work or at home. I try to keep an even keel, but it drives me nuts when I have to wait 90 minutes at the government office to renew my passport, or when I’m expected to spend half a day at work taking care of some random detail that has no bearing on my designs. Still, there’s been more than one occasion where I spent a Friday night or a Sunday morning curled up on the sofa doing sudoku puzzles. It makes me feel guilty that I’m not living a ‘real’ life.
The way that Waters segues the lyrics of “Time” into a reprise of the song “Breathe” is also pretty brilliant:
Hanging on in quiet desparation is the English way
The time is gone the song is over, thought I’d something more to say
The line about ‘quiet desperation’ is so quintessentially English. And then, of course, Waters does have something more to say. The last part of “Time” is about being at home, curling up next to a fire to chase away the chills & demons:
Home, home again
I like to be here when I can
When I come home cold and tired
It’s good to warm my bones beside the fire
Far away across the field, the tolling of the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spells
This reminds me of an old hound dog, one that’s protected his master’s property for a decade. Now, with his days of chasing jackrabbits long behind him, he sleeps at his master’s feet in front of a smoky hearth, wagging his tail and dreaming of more fleet-footed days. It seems like an apt metaphor for growing old and facing the inevitable.
Even though I know all the words to this song, don’t expect to see me rocking it at karaoke any time soon. Despite its brilliance, it’s kind of a buzzkill.
Epilogue: not much good came out of the Live 8 concerts in 2005. But I will be eternally grateful that we got to see masters Gilmour, Mason, Waters and Wright back together for one last gig.