Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Time Isn’t Holding Us, Time Isn’t After Us

I was out driving yesterday.I was out driving yesterday. Took the car for an overdue oil change, and found myself heading back down a road that if I were to have continued on it would eventually have led to where I used to work my old full-time job.

Have to say I was glad to stop about halfway. To have some other destination.

While I never wrote specifically here about what I did or where I worked, some readers might remember me talking around the edges of that old job now and then. And my having noted three months ago -- to the day, actually -- that I’d finally made the decision to leave that job and move into writing full-time.

There were a lot of reasons for the change, but one was the drive. Twenty-five miles to, and twenty-five miles back. And generally we were talking around 40-45 minutes per trip, often closer to an hour. That was 8-10 hours per week, then, I was in the car, driving down that road, again and again.

A lot of time to think about things. Like how much time was slipping by.

Yesterday in the car I had dialed up the Talking Heads on the music player. A brilliant band, in my opinion, that produced a solid decade’s worth of inventive, smart, and just plain groovy music. All of their albums are great, but their fourth album, Remain in Light (1980), the pinnacle of their collaborations with producer and for-a-while-fifth-band-member (sort of) Brian Eno, has always been a special fave of mine.

'Stop Making Sense' (1984) by the Talking HeadsThat’s the one with what is probably the Talking Heads best known song, “Once in a Lifetime,” although yesterday I was listening to the live Stop Making Sense long player (from 1984), and in fact I’ve always preferred that version of this particular song.

You know the tune. While the “letting the days go by” chorus gets a bit surreal with all of the water flowing underground and all, the verses effectively present a speaker, kind of a preacher-type, inviting the listener to think about his or her life as it has been lived. “You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack,” he begins. “And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile,” he continues, adding, pointedly, “You may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’”

From there more questions are suggested to the listener. “Same as it ever was,” singer David Byrne repeats over and over, articulating what the poor sap stuck in some unpleasant life routine might conclude about how things are going. Sort of recalls one of Doyle Brunson’s “Doylisms” -- included in The Godfather of Poker at the start of chapter 16 -- “the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.”

The song builds to a kind of epiphany -- a “once in a lifetime” sort of moment -- where one perhaps finally “wakes up” and climbs out of the rut.

I had an English professor, an especially good teacher, who once kind of surprisingly brought up the Talking Heads song in the context of talking about Matthew Arnold’s poem “The Buried Life.” The Victorian poet was conveying a similar message about how in all of our running about we sometimes forget who we really are. How we sometimes find ourselves yearning with “an unspeakable desire / After the knowledge of our buried life.”

It was a clever comparison, and obviously has stuck with me to this day. Arnold’s poem also employs water imagery -- he talks about how “through the deep recesses of our breast / The unregarded river of our life” flows. The poem also builds toward a kind of “once in a lifetime” moment where one realizes what is happening. “This is rare,” says Arnold, but sometimes “a bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast / And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again,” at which point “A man becomes aware of his life’s flow.”

One reason I’ve always preferred the live version of “Once in a Lifetime” -- specifically the one that appears on the Stop Making Sense LP and in the Jonathan Demme-directed film -- is because of one particular sequence near the end of the song, a sequence that doesn’t really happen in the shorter studio version. It starts right about the four-minute mark of this clip:

In the performance in the film, Byrne leans backwards, as do the backup singers. Gradually they straighten back up -- sort of like being reborn or at least coming back to oneself. And Byrne sings:

“Time isn’t holding us, time isn’t after us.”

He repeats the lines -- adding “time is a pony ride” for grins. It’s a chill-producing, triumphant moment. It’s a victory. It also rocks.

I got the oil change, and headed back home. Had some more writing to do. And living. No more letting the days go by.

Time isn’t holding us. Nor is it after us. It just is. We make our own meaning -- of time, of everything. We can throw up our hands and say nothing can be done (“same as it ever was”) or we can try to become aware of our life’s flow and live.

You have to decide about all this stuff on your own. But wherever you’re going, drive where you want to go.

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Blogger NT said...

Absolutely marvelous post! It's exactly what I wanted and needed to hear today. Thanks!

(Isn't it nice when a big life decision feel so RIGHT?)

~ NT (aka Cardgrrl)

7/28/2010 11:47 AM  
Blogger bastinptc said...

Splendid observations, sometimes easier to say than to fulfill, but that's part of it too.

I met Byrne years ago, I believe 1980. The conversation was awkward, perhaps more my fault than his, addled as I was at a gathering. Nevertheless, important words were had and they have been committed to memory. The guy has that effect.

Good journey.

7/28/2010 1:00 PM  
Blogger CakeGirl said...

I just heard this version, and for the first time really heard the last lines. I looked them up and found this post. We just suffered the loss of an amazing person, and have been using a hard time, just moving forward, without questioning everything. Definitely want to run fa fa fa fa, fa far away. ;) You're post says just what my heart was feeling and accepting. Thanks got putting out into words, before I even had the chance ♡

2/15/2016 8:53 PM  

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