Friday, June 21, 2013

Favorite Song Friday: Young and Innocent Days

Last night was class night for my son's 8th grade class. Kids got all dolled up and gathered on the town green for the traditional taking of pictures with family and friends, and then trekked down the road to the middle school (sans parents) for a dinner dance that invariably signaled the end of their middle school years and the beginning of high school. There's one final day today, sure, but middle school really ended for these kids last night, wrapped up in a bright and pretty bow that gives this latest final chapter a happy ending indeed.

I'm elated to see my kid grow up and grow up well. So the fact that I am practically in the fetal position right now wondering where these past 14 years went...well...that has nothing to do with anything. Why would you even say that?! Stop it! Shut up, OK? Just shut up!!!


And we're back.

So. We all miss the past. At least some of the times. Don't we?

That summer at the beach? That girl in high school, the one we now know how we could said the right things to make it work? That college pal who made us feel so alive but who we sadly lost touch with? A few more moments with a Dad or a Mom, or grandfather or grandmother, or a husband or a wife who's no longer here?

Sometimes it's easy to miss the things we once had, the person we once were, the people we once knew. Even as we appreciate everything we now have, all these years later.

Lest this get too maudlin, let's get down to the music. After all, it's Friday! First day of summer! Time to rev up the wayback machine and take a journey on this newest installment of Favorite Song Friday!

Favorite Song Friday - The Kinks - "Young and Innocent Days"

Ray Davies got nostalgia, and all the good and bad it connotes, as well as any rocker ever did, I think. He got the fact that when you put on the rose-colored glasses, lovely as it makes things appear, the picture changes. And when the picture changes, you're not exactly looking at the thing you thought you were looking at.

Some of Ray and the Kinks' best songs examined the sweet and sour nature of looking back. Certainly "Waterloo Sunset" did. "Sunny Afternoon" and "Celluloid Heroes" too. Later in their career "Come Dancing" painted a lovely picture of a simpler time now tinged with sadness. And heck, the entire brilliant Muswell Hillbillies album examined the notion from every angle imaginable; looking back, longing for something simpler, afraid to  move too far ahead but just as afraid not to. The Kinks got it, no question.

1969's Arthur: Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire was arguably the high point in their string of brilliant records that began with Face to Face and ran through the aforementioned Muswell Hiillbillies. It employed a frequently light touch to deal with some very heavy issues; it was an anti-war record that took a very close look at the British Empire's legacy and wondered just what it was they were fighting for, striving for.

A songs like "Victoria" looked at it under the ironic guise of revved up celebration, whereas "Shangri-La" removed the veneer and faced the cold reality. "Yes Sir No Sir" and the wrenching "Some Mother's Son" are as strong a Vietnam-era statement of war fatigue as any of the time. The marvelous title track admited yep, you were right, we should have known better, but we didn't. And now, as John Lennon once remarked, it's all this.

Then there is today's choice. A lovely, lilting little harpsichord-driven ballad that is exactly what the title indicates: a lookback to those so-called young and innocent days. It's as deep a deep-track as it gets, maybe the least known song on this whole glorious album. But it's as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. It's the simplest song on Arthur, but Lord does it pack a wallop.

I look back on the way I used to look at life
Soft white dreams and sugarcoated outside
It was great, so great
Young and innocent days

I wish my eyes could only see
Everything exactly as it used to be
It's too late, so late
Young and innocent days

I see the lines across your face
Time has done and nothing ever can replace
Those great, so great
Young and innocent days
Young and innocent days

That's it. That's all of it. A gentle little bit of guitar picking to open it up, some unceasingly delicate lead vocals from Ray Davies and (in my opinion) the finest harmonies his brother Dave ever offered. All put in motion by that regal harpsichord that lends an air of high royalty to it all.

And the words. At first it's sweet, as in literally. Ray uses images of candy coating to look back on those great days or yore. "So great" he sings with enough emotion to tell you really means it.

But then...a little bit of reality. By the second verse he realizes he can't go back, no matter how much he wants to. Employing the same rhyme scheme the way great songwriters can, "So great" becomes "Too late." The candy is gone. A hard, real present is all that's here.

And finally, we're old. The dreams have given way to lines across the face, time has stolen away and left us with nothing but memories of, once again, those great young and innocent days. They still look great, "So great," but now they are decidedly of a time that is long, long gone.

Yet despite the simplicity, something in the writing lets us know that yes, Ray gets it. No, they weren't all young and innocent days. But it's nice to think for a moment that maybe they were. Just because the past wasn't as perfect as we'd like to think it was, there was still plenty to recall fondly. And can't that fondness be at the forefront, rather than regret or loss? As Hemingway famously once wrote, "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

It is indeed.

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