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.