Friends Together Watch Their Childhood Fly

I am not one of those people who disparages Facebook friendships as cheap. Maybe this is because I don’t have 2,000 Facebook friends. Maybe it’s because some of my social media relationships have turned into valued real-world friendships. Or maybe it’s because I enjoy having a comfortable crowd of a manageable size to hang with, even if it’s just a virtual hangout.

So: when I get a friend request from somebody with whom I haven’t had contact since the night we graduated from high school, I pause over the “accept” button. With my cleverly self-referential profile picture and my carefully sculpted list of interests, I am not the same person now that I was back then. Neither is the person making the request. And if we have no connection beyond a relatively brief temporal one from 35 years ago, how do we know should we be friends today?

In the space of 15 months between August 1970 and November 1971, Elton John released five albums: four classic (Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, 11-17-70, and Madman Across the Water) and one forgotten: Friends. The latter is the soundtrack to a 1971 film that practically nobody saw, about a young couple who meet and run away together before being tragically separated. Some of the album is instrumental music from the film score, and a few of the full songs are heard only in snippets in the film. However, a number of tracks are pretty strong: “Can I Put You On” is a rocker that would have fit nicely on Madman, and “Michelle’s Song” sounds a bit like a demo for “Tiny Dancer.” But compared to the rest of Elton’s 1970-1971 output, Friends barely registers—except in one critical way.

One of the many millions who didn’t see Friends was Elton’s lyricist, Bernie Taupin. He told an interviewer that he banged out some lyrics based on a glance at the script and never even saw a rough cut. But he wrote some magnificent words about friendship and love that have stood for 40 years alongside the best work of his career.

“Seasons” is mostly instrumental, but Elton takes a verse at the end:

For our world, the circle turns again
Throughout the year we’ve seen the seasons change
It’s meant a lot to me to start anew
Oh the winter’s cold but I’m so warm with you
Out there there’s not a sound to be heard
And the seasons seem to sleep upon their words
As the waters freeze up with the summer’s end
Oh it’s funny how young lovers start as friends

(“It’s meant a lot to me to start anew” is the weakest line of that verse, but if you’ve ever started anew with a formerly lost friend, it doesn’t seem weak at all.)

The movie’s title song was a modest hit single late in 1971.

It seems to me a crime that we should age
These fragile times should never slip us by
A time you never can or shall erase
As friends together watch their childhood fly

It occurs to me that Bernie, barely removed from childhood himself at age 20, hit upon a metaphor that explains why we can’t just ignore those Facebook requests from people we haven’t seen in 35 years: “Fragile times . . . you never can or shall erase, as friends together watch their childhood fly.”

The thing that seems most precious the older we get is young time—when we, like the young Elton and the even younger Bernie of 1970, were becoming whatever it is we were going to be. If the people who were with us in young time, even in small ways, want to be with us now, even in small ways, why should we tell them no?

6 responses

  1. Case on point: somehow I was placed into a new Facebook page consisting of people who graduated from my small-town high school, planning a reunion this fall of three graduating classes (1965, ’66, ’67) – I must have clicked the wrong button on the invitation. I’m not clear how this happened, but soon the “friend” requests starting popping up from people who I have not seen for over 40 years.

    At first I okayed the friend requests; now, I’m not. As you pointed out, in so many cases we have nothing in common in 2012. We are not the people we were in small-town Wisconsin in the mid-60’s. And while it was fun to see how some had changed, it’s also become clear that it is, for me, more humane (?) to simply ignore the requests.

    I went to only one class reunion – the fifth – because I happened to be back “home” at the time, and was conned into going by a fellow classmate. Never again.

    In a graduating class of 88 kids, TWO of us went “off to college”. I would guess 80 of the others have not lived outside of a 10-mile radius of “home” at any time in their life.

    It’s not that I’m a snob; it’s not that I don’t acknowledge our similar roots; it’s just that we really have only our high school experience in common, and I’m not interested in conversations that start out “remember when we……”.

  2. The requests I tend to ignore are those from people I knew only by name. The tougher ones are those from people with whom I had some sort of relationship back then, or people I have run into every couple of years since.

    First-world problem, ain’t it?

  3. I liked this post enough to send it to a HS friend of mine, who liked it too.

    I have been reluctant to reconnect with people simply because our parents all chose to live in the same town in the 1980s.
    I quit FB nearly two years ago because I just wasn’t that interested in what people were doing.
    To me, the perfect social media site would be like Facebook taken up about 30,000 feet, where I would get one update every year listing what people are doing; where they live; and the three most significant life changes they made in the year since I heard from them last.
    Almost like a Christmas-card letter.
    “Reconnecting” with people so often seems to mean reading about what they bought at Starbucks yesterday … no, thanks.

  4. It occurs to me that Facebook friendship might be best when it’s like Twitter follower-ship. I don’t follow somebody on Twitter unless I feel like I’m consistently getting something worthwhile from them. (There are people with hundreds of thousands of followers who seem like they should be interesting, but who are not. Some of my favorite follows have a couple hundred.) There are people among my Facebook friends who are consistently interesting, so if I had the patience for it, I might organize my friends into lists: “consistently interesting,” “occasionally interesting,” and “always at goddamn Starbucks,” or equivalent.

  5. Such an overlooked song in the Elton repository. I remember hearing on radio in Feb.1971 and liking it. Since I was about embark on my first High School romance, this song will always have a place in the heart soundtrack that we all carry from those innocent days. And I agree about Facebook. I have gotten back in touch with those old friends we should never loose touch with. Anyway, it makes life a little nicer in my corner.

  6. I’ve done a few Facebook friendings from folks I knew in high school and college but lost track of, but only a few. What’s been more fun is connecting with interesting friends of friends; as they’re still limited to Facebook, I’d call them acquaintances, but there are a few that I would like to see step from the virtual world into the real world.

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