Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday PSTSS: "Time Passages"

Well, this hasn't been anything like the regular weekly feature I once imagined it would be, but I'm still going to keep at it, when the muse strikes me.

The Christmas season is often a part of the year when I, like a lot of other people, get caught up in all sorts of memories and traditions. But those memories rarely seem to take a nostalgic or melancholic form; mostly, they're outwardly directed, not meditative. Still, lately--perhaps because of all that's been going on around here over the past couple of weeks--I've found myself in a genuinely sentimental mood, getting all wistful about things for reasons that are pretty hard to articulate. I'm not morose or anything, just a little distracted.

There's never been a better pop song, to my knowledge, at expressing this kind of nostalgic or melancholic distraction than Al Stewart's "Time Passages." His album of the same name was the very first piece of commercial music I ever bought with my own money; I picked it up in cassette form at a grocery store sometime in 1978. (In a very early flicker of critical consciousness, I can remember comparing Al Stewart's music quite favorably with the then-ubiquitous Bee Gees and their Saturday Night Fever recordings.) I played that cassette tape over and over, and then eventually grew out of that music and stopped playing it. It was years before I came back to the song (having long since lost the cassette) and rediscovered Al Stewart; I'd never known before about his folkie, literate side, or that this album was a lucky combination Stewart's lyrical sense and Alan Parson's jazzy production. I'd certainly never known that Stewart himself didn't ever care for the easy-listening pop feeling the song (he apparently sometimes plays it in concerts today as an acoustic Irish jig). But not that any of that matters insofar as this tune is concerned. I bet it probably seems too slight for most pop listeners today, but I'd say that's their loss; the song itself remains a thoughtful, well-crafted gem.

It was late in December
The sky turned to snow
All round the day was going down slow
Night like a river beginning to flow
I felt the beat of my mind
Go drifting into time passages
Years go falling in the fading light
Time passages
Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight

Well, I'm not the kind to live in the past
The years run too short and the days too fast
The things you lean on
Are the things that don't last
Well, it's just now
And then my line gets cast into these
Time passages
There's something back here that you left behind
Oh, time passages
Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight

Hear the echoes and feel yourself starting to turn
Don't know why you should feel
That there's something to learn
It's just a game that you play

Well, the picture is changing
Now you're part of a crowd
They're laughing at something
And the music's loud
A girl comes towards you
You once used to know
You reach out your hand
But you're all alone
In those time passages
I know you're in there
You're just out of sight
Oh, time passages
Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight

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