A friend told me last week that she had spent one night doing nothing but playing her guitar, working out the intro to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”
I don’t have much Pink Floyd in my musical library, and what I have is predictable: “Wish You Were Here,” “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Comfortably Numb” and the entirety of Dark Side of the Moon. Until last week, I hadn’t listened to Dark Side for years—decades, even—probably because I bought it when it came out in 1973 and had grown tired of it.
My friend’s work on “Wish You Were Here,” though, prompted me to listen to Dark Side again—with headphones, of course. It has held up well. A little too well. The song “Time” brought back a series of memories, none of them pleasant.
In late 1974, I dropped out of college, the result of uncountable bad choices. I was living at home again, without direction, a future invisible. I used to spend a lot of time on a street corner a couple of blocks from my house, watching traffic and life pass by. I wasn’t interested in much of anything else.
One summer day, a classmate from high school walked past. He stopped to talk awhile. The conversation was pleasant enough.
A couple of days later, I got a letter. The envelope had no return address, nor was the letter signed. The classmate I met on the corner, though, had distinctive handwriting, and I knew it was from him. The letter was the lyrics from Dark Side’s “Time.”
Clearly, it was his assessment of my life as he saw it. I realized parts of the lyrics seemed written for me:
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun
Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Even though he was borrowing from Pink Floyd, and even though I didn’t want to admit it, the lyrics fit. In denial, I tried to forget about his letter; obviously, I haven’t. But who knows? Maybe his letter helped me shake off my lethargy and go back to college two years later. Maybe I was tired of living half a page of scribbled lines.
As I said earlier, my friend’s guitar work prompted me to listen to Dark Side again. This time, different lyrics from “Time” dried out my mouth in the way it does when I’m at the intersection of Truth and Fear:
And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death
My friend is 22. I am 61. Listening to Dark Side again reminded me that when she is in the sweet spot of her life—44, let’s say, her life and career still in ascendancy—I’ll probably be in a nursing home just like my father was, eating soft foods and wearing adult diapers.
Or I’ll be dead.
I’m fortunate to have a job where I work with young people who are in many cases less than one-third of my age. They are fun to be around. They laugh at my classroom jokes (usually); we share a mutual respect; and they often address me by just my last name, the same way they talk about or address their friends. It makes me feel like I’m still relevant to them somehow.
I feel the same about my friend. We’ve co-hosted a radio show for more than three years. She turns me on to new music; I play things she missed because of her age. Music has always been the best way I bond with people, and this is the basis for much of our friendship. Outside of my wife, who knows about my friend and is cool with our friendship, my radio co-host is my best friend.
In an odd bit of irony, we often have lunch after our show at a restaurant on the same street corner where I used to hang out. It wasn’t a restaurant back then, but it’s still as familiar a place as I know.
As we do our radio show and have lunch, I realize our time together is limited. She has outgrown her life here and will move abroad this summer to go to school and work on landing a job in the music business.
Twenty-two. Sixty-one. There’s no denying what the numbers mean. In Dark Side‘s “The Great Gig in the Sky,” a spoken voice says:
I am not frightened of dying, any time will do, I
don’t mind. Why should I be frightened of dying?
I too am not frightened of dying. I’m curious about what’s on the other side. And as my father said to me once, “Death is part of life.”
I am sad, though, about what I’ll miss.