We’re the Journey

I have been feeling my age lately. It’s not anything physical (although I’ve had a couple of medical adventures in recent weeks), and it’s not even the face I sometimes spot in the mirror, the one that looks less like Michael Brandon in the movie FM  and more like my father, if he had a graying goatee and my mother’s cheekbones.

It’s neither of those things. It’s simple arithmetic.

The other day I was in the car when “Hotel California” came on the radio, and I sat there in the parking lot of the convenience store waiting for it to finish, thinking that I could very well have sat in the car waiting for it to finish on a May day in 1977 when it was new and hot and one of the top songs in the country. Then came the arithmetic: 34 years? Really?

The spring of 1977 is more vivid in memory than the stuff that happened to me last week. I can see the sunlight, walk through the places, hear the music without a radio: not just “Hotel California,” but “Southern Nights” and “When I Need You” and “Right Time of the Night” and “Lido Shuffle” and “Couldn’t Get it Right” and “Sir Duke” and “Dreams” and “Feels Like the First Time” and “So in to You” and all the rest of the songs in the Top 40. Even considering all we know about the role music plays in our lives, it’s still a jolt to realize that, through everything that’s happened in 34 years, certain songs retain the power to summon up the time before.

On another day recently, I was in the car when the 1973 Seals and Crofts hit “We May Never Pass This Way Again” came on the radio. I can usually tell you in a couple of seconds the month and year any 70s hit single was at its peak, but with 1973 I never know. I was once told that there’s something in the chemistry of adolescence that affects perception and memory, and I believe it. The couple of years before and the several years after 1973 are neatly marked into increments by the record charts and the radio, but 1973 itself is a swamp. Songs, people, things that happened and the reasons why, everything’s mixed up and hazy, and years of trying to sort it out have gone for nothing.

And so I had to look up “We May Never Pass This Way Again” to tell you that it reached its chart peak in November 1973. I liked it back then, although I didn’t buy the single. For some reason, I bought the sheet music. I can remember picking it out on the piano, and I would certainly have honked through it on my saxophone, which I suspect was an indescribable horror for my family.

I don’t remember now, but I suspect that “we may never pass this way again” was a catchphrase in the culture back then, one of those embroidered-on-a-pillow bits of folk wisdom that is easier for common folk to swallow than carpe diem or tempus fugit. But I don’t think Seals and Crofts’ “We May Never Pass This Way Again” is about seizing the day because time flies. To me, it’s about using what you have learned from where you have been to get you through the places you’ll be going:

Like the twilight in the road ahead
They don’t see just where we’re going
And all the secrets in the universe
Whisper in our ears
All the years that come and go
Will take us up, always up

It’s so much about living in the moment before the moment can pass. It’s about hoarding a few moments to use again someday, when you need them.

In other words: We are going to pass this way again. We’re going to sit in our cars some fine spring afternoon and remember the people we were, the times we had, the ones we loved, and the songs we listened to. And we’re going to glance up into the rearview mirror and see for a moment not the graying and crinkly-eyed faces we looked at in the morning, but the younger ones we used to wear.

7 responses

  1. Good stuff as always.
    I’m gonna have to listen to this when I’m not on The Man’s time — I keep trying to remember it in my head, but I keep coming up with “We’ll Never Have To Say Goodbye Again” instead.

  2. This is one of those that’s never far from me. Hoarding moments, indeed. Nicely said.

  3. Jim, many of the Seals and Crofts songs are taken directly from Baha’i scripture. “We May Never Pass This Way Again” is one of the unwritten but widely accepted tenets of the Faith. In “Ruby Jean and Billie Lee”, the tune about their wives, they refer to “soaring in the atmosphere of Abha”. The Kingdom of Abha is the Baha’i concept of heaven. Jimmy and Dash wrote many of their songs in Appleton, staying with Joey and Lana Bogan at their home there. Joey, who got second engineer credit on a few of their albums, played bass with a band called “California Earthquake” at a bar on College Ave in Appleton called “The Red Lantern”, with his wife Lana singing and (another Appleton native) Don Dexter drumming. Dexter was Glen Yarbrough’s drummer for years. Often, Jimmy and Dash would “sit in with the band” and work out their songs. That little tinkly toy piano intro you hear on “Summer Breeze” was played, if I recall correctly, on a toy piano belonging to one of Joey and Lana’s kids. Jimmy and Dash spent a lot of their time in the early 70’s in Texas, of course, but also spent a fair amount of time in Appleton, often gathering with local Bahai’s at feasts and celebrations.

  4. […] Just Keep On Comin’, jb takes a pensive look at life via a record that never strays far from me. His thoughts on Seals & Crofts’ “We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” are worth your […]

  5. Spring 1977 is one of the best times of my young adulthood. It was my second semester of college, and I was hanging around with new friends who would remain so for all the decades afterward. We were 19, 20, 21 and having a great time filled with laughs. So the records you mentioned and others from that time instantly bring it all back to me. But as you note, records can do that for me, too, from various times of my life. Well, more like until about 1985, when my sense of time-by-music starts to go off the rails as I started listening less and less to current music. I started listening to Top 40 and buying singles around June 1968 (and yes, I can pinpoint it with that kind of precision) when I was 10, so whenever I hear a song from that period until about 1985, I can pretty much tell when it was from and what I was doing. I eventually went backward from spring 1968 through the ’60s and into the ’50s and know the music from that time, too, but I have a harder time pinpointing what times of the years those songs are from, because I didn’t experience them firsthand. I know the years, but the months are harder to identify. What I especially like is that I identify records with their contemporaries. So if I think of “Hotel California,” I will think of the other singles and albums that were popular at the same time. They all paint a picture of a specific time and place in my life.

  6. Jim, this is one of your best posts ever! I, too, can recall many of the details of 34 years ago when “Hotel California” came on the radio. Where has it all gone? When you hear those songs, it does take you back to that time. Would you wnat to go back to that time?….knowing now what you didn’t know then?

  7. I’d give it all up for just a few moments back in 1977…

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