Since this is the 10th anniversary of this blog, I thought songs about the past would be apropos. Some of you reading will no doubt think "Does ever look in any OTHER direction?" The simple answer would be: Nope, not really. And until the present gets less tedious and more interesting (and as long as this 10th anniversary is going on), I don't see that changing anytime soon. With that, "The Five Songs" brings you a group of ditties which I really resonate with and capture that "reminiscing about bygone days" vibe I'm looking for. And for this week, you'll be able to listen to "The Five Songs" over in that box on the right hand column over there. Just click on the first sound file and listen away (you can also have them play one after the other by selecting that little sprocket-looking icon and clicking on the autoplay thang.
- REMEMBER (CHRISTMAS) by Harry Nilsson - Ever since I was a child I've loved this song. And it happens to be from one of my favourite albums of all time, too. Me parentals bought this album new upon release and it spun quite often in the old wood-paneled living room on Linwood Avenue in Maple Surple. The song, contrary to the parenthetical in the title, has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas. I suppose the word appearing in the parentheses is due to the use of "sleigh bells" in the song. These are not meant to evoke the yuletide season per se but are instead, I think, meant to drum up feelings of nostalgia which are readily triggered by the sound of these sleigh bells and their associations with childhood Christmases. But this is not a Christmas song, I swear! It's also not about STAR WARS despite it's opening line: "Long ago/Far away/Life was clear/Close your eyes". These words hopefully cause the listener to immediately open themselves up to remembering as the dreamy instrumental piano brings us to the line: "Remember/is a place from long ago/remember/filled with everything you know/remember/when you're sad and feeling down/remember/turn around". This, to me, warns that in our seemingly endless surge towards this "future" that everyone's so concerned about, it's important to stop and turn around towards our past so that we don't forget what brought us to this point and what formed us as human beings. I have to stop myself from simply printing ALL the lyrics to this magnificent song but here's the next important line: "Remember/life is just a memory/remember/close your eyes so you can see". There's something of the "stop and smell the roses" philosophy going on here which I think is very important. This is such an exquisite jewel of a song that I'm still shocked to this day that it's not as famous as the Beatles' YESTERDAY. And no, that overplayed song will not appear in this "Five Songs" list. The endless, blind drive toward setting goal after goal after goal (which this current society seems to value above all else) does not leave room for what it means to be human; and what is the use of working yourself to death if you're not living an actual conscious life every day? It's not getting to some end goal that's important; it's how you live your life on the way. "Remember/life is never as it seems/Dream".
- LOOKING BACK by Nat King Cole - This 1958 song has Nat seemingly veering into a little country and western area. If that might seem a little odd, it's also quite odd that this is the only song in these five "looking back" songs which is about regret and the mistakes we make throughout a lifetime. "Looking back over my deeds/I can see signs a wise man heeds/and if I just had the chance/I'd never make that same mistake again". Songs about looking back might seem the opportune time to think about where we went wrong or what we'd do differently but that's not what I wanted this "five songs" group to be primarily about. There may be a small aspect of that to it but overall these songs to me are more importantly about memories and what make us who we are.
- NIGHT MOVES by Bob Seger - This is exactly what I'm talking about. Probably the ultimate "coming of age" song, Seger raps rhapsodic about his teenage years. That time when we're somewhere between being a kid and being an adult. This theme will be revisited in the very next song, funnily enough! But right here, Bob Seger really takes us on a trip in the wayback machine to the high summer of life. In fact, the frequent repetition of the lines: "in the summertime/in the sweet summertime" drives this point home quite vividly. This is an intensely summery song; however, Bob Seger is looking back into his past so he doesn't leave it all rosy-coloured glasses on bright sunny summer days. At the song's three minute mark, he seems to break from his reverie: "I woke last night to the sound of thunder/how far off I sat and wondered/started humming a song from 1962/ain't it funny how the night moves/just don't seem to have as much to lose/strange how the night moves/with autumn closing in". And at that moment in the song, where he's brought it down to an almost hushed quiet with no accompaniment but a softly strummed acoustic guitar, Bob Seger brings the song to an complete stop for a few seconds. One of the most arresting moments in pop music. Before once again restarting the song. This particular song goes out to my friend and co-worker Angel who likes to torment his girlfriend by randomly breaking out into a chorus of this song at the most unexpected moments!
- 1979 by Smashing Pumpkins - Once again, we're back to that "coming of age" thing and vivid flashes of memory this time from Billy Corgan's adolescence. Corgan too has said that this song arose from a vivid memory of him sitting in his car in the rain at a traffic light during his teenage years (between being a kid and being an adult once again) with the strong feeling of waiting for something to happen but nothing's quite happening yet. "The street heats the urgency of now" really captures that odd moment at the end of high school when we seems to be idling (like Corgan's car in the rain) in a momentary holding pattern before we burst forth into the "real world" of forming a grown-up life for oneself. The future stretches out before us at that age and we have that feeling of immortality: "With the headlights pointed at the dawn/we were sure we'd never see an end to it all".
- IN MY LIFE by the Beatles - And I'd like to end the five songs with this perhaps obvious but I think vital choice of perhaps the finest song about looking back at one's life. "There are places I remember/all my life/though some have change/some forever not for better/some have gone and some remain". We all know the song. There's really no need to quote the whole thing; which I could very easily do. The crux of the song, to me, is sort of a conquering of death through memory. There's that old cliché that those we've lost live on through our memories of them and, to me, that's something of the truth. It's the closest we can get to still having them with us. That's why our memories are so vitally important. To me, the song loses its way when John Lennon veers off into the rather typical "love song" territory that Bob Dylan criticized the Beatles about; that is, how he suddenly starts singing to a girlfriend that, above "lovers and friends I still can recall/some are dead and some are living" he loves her more than any of them. I think he'd find, after the passage of time and the probability that whomever he was singing too probably didn't stay in a relationship with him for very long (at that young age) and that those "people and things that went before" are still just as important memories as they ever were. A momentary infatuation which hasn't lasted the test of time can't really compare with those past important people and events which remain with us in our memory throughout a lifetime. If this momentary woman Lennon is singing to, in fact, lasts to become that important, she will still not supercede those others but will join their ranks as equally important. There's more than enough love in the human heart to go around!