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?