Monday, February 21, 2011
As Dreams Go By
When Casey, our family dog, started to age, he had trouble getting around.
He was fond of sitting on my parents’ bed and since the climb was difficult for him, my mother would get behind him and give him a push.
“It’s tough to get old, sweetheart,” she’d say affectionately.
I’m appreciating those words more and more lately. For example, a woman greeted me at my gym on Sunday saying that she hadn’t seen me in a long time and asking me how I was doing.
We chatted briefly and then went our separate ways and I still have no idea who she is or how she knows me.
Should I be worried about this?
I like to listen to Jonathan Schwartz’ radio show on WNYC on the weekends. He plays a lot of tunes from the American Songbook—music from my parents’ day as I often say—but he also slips in songs from my day. This happened recently when he played a Harry Chapin song called “"W*O*L*D."
The song tells the story of an aging DJ trying to get back with his ex-wife. He’s bouncing all over the map to work at different radio stations, fighting to stay young in a business that does not forgive aging.
I hadn’t heard this song in years. It seemed like it was all over airwaves one minute and the next minute it’s an oldie.
I thought the song came out in the Eighties but a little net research told me that the song was released in 1974. I started feeling pretty “O*L*D” myself, but, hey, I was only off by a decade. You don’t have to make a federal case out of it. What’s your name again? Get off my lawn…
The song was Chapin’s only UK hit and it was said to be very popular with disc jockeys, who gave it lots of airplay. No surprise there.
"Where Were You When...?"
I actually remember what I was doing the day Harry Chapin died. It was July 16, 1981 (wow!) and I was working out at a gym on Ovington Avenue in Bay Ridge.
A bunch of us noticed that the radio, which was tuned to WNEW-FM, was playing one Harry Chapin song after another. (Schwartz was a deejay there, by the way.)
We wondered why Chapin was getting this special treatment and then it slowly dawned on us what was going on. Radio stations rarely play a block of a singer’s recordings unless something major happens. And, more often that not, it’s because they’re dead.
When the DJ finally came on we learned that Chapin had been killed in a car accident on the LIE. He was on his way to perform at a free concert and had suffered a heart attack, though it’s unclear whether it happened before or after the accident. He was 39 years old.
Chapin had other hits, of course, including “Taxi” and “Cats in the Cradle.” My favorite Chapin song, however, was a tune called “Dreams Go By,” which I don’t think ever got the airplay it really deserved.
The song has a deceptively bouncy melody and it describes how reality eventually—and inevitably—overtakes our dreams. And like so many other things in my life, the song takes on a special significance now that I’m older.
We hear about a young couple who gradually surrender their fantasies of being artists and instead go to school, get jobs, and have kids. By the end of the song, the two young people are now grandparents.
As the chorus tells us:
"And so you and I
We watch our dreams go by
We watch our sweet dreams fly
I’ve seen a lot of dreams go by myself. And while I haven’t given up on all of them, I must say that it really is tough to get old, sweetheart.