Before we start, I’m running out of ideas. I’ve got a couple more already written, but I need more songs that might be interesting to explore. So if you’d kindly tell me in the comments below I’d be dead chuffed. -Thomas
This week we dive into this song by Mike + The Mechanics from 1988 called “The Living Years”. It reached the top spot on the US Hot 100 and peaked at second on the UK singles charts in 1988. The story behind the song is poignant but also serves as a lesson. Let us explore it.
The song explores the relationship and conflict between a father and son. The father has passed away, and the son regrets not resolving said conflict and is now trying to tell the rest of us “it’s too late when we die, to admit we don’t see eye to eye”.
The second verse is where we see the first mention of a father-son conflict. It also states that there is a father in the song through the line “To all my father held so dear”. Though it seems like they did not argue, it still states “I know that I’m a hostage to all his hopes and fears”. What he’s trying to say is that his father controlled the son’s future, the “his” from the lyric is the father. This could’ve caused conflict due to what the son wanted to do was different to the father’s plans for him. The final line of this explains that the father has passed and shows the son’s regret. The song clearly states “I just wish I could have told him in the living years“. The wish is a sign that he wanted to do it, and now regrets not. The “living years” of course, a time when his father was alive.
The next verse says “Stilted conversations, I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got”, which is indicative of the lack of communication between the two. Their awkward conversations might’ve been due to not agreeing on the aforementioned plans for the son’s life. It could also be due to not spending enough time with each other or the two not sharing any common interests, which leads to the son doing one thing and the father doing another.
A continuation of the disagreement idea is evident in the fourth verse. “You say you just don’t see it, he says it’s perfect sense”, that bit shows that there really are opposing ideas. As this section of the lyrics is the son restating the father trying to explain to the son the reason for the father’s plans. Another line from this verse is “we all talk a different language”, showing the disconnect in their understanding of each other.
Here’s the conflict part. The 5th verse (6th, counting the chorus) says that “we open up a quarrel between the present and the past”. Could the past be his father and the present be him? If so, it might mean that the differing ideas were based on generational beliefs, possibly a case of “old conservative” VS. “young liberal”.
The 7th verse shows his regret in the simplest form.
I wasn’t there that morning
When my Father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say
He clearly misses his father and regrets not being there by his father when he was on his deathbed. And these “things I (he) had to say” could be related to the conflict that the two have had. The son might’ve finally understood him and wanted to tell his father that, but was deterred due to the history of “stilted conversation”.
The final verse before the last chorus is quite touching. Here it is in its entirety.
I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years
My take on this is that his father is now part of his newborn child, and the cycle might repeat itself. As the first line of the entire song says “every generation blames the one before”, so as the son blamed his father, the new son will blame the new father. As Elton John would put it, “It’s the circle of life”.
Now, for the chorus you’ve heard so much about.
Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye
The chorus basically sums up the song’s message. “Say it loud, say it clear” is a link to communication, referring to the lack of it in the father-son relationship. “You can listen as well as you hear”, there’s a difference between the two. The former is actively focusing on the words or sounds you hear. Whereas hearing is just intercepting those sounds, but not thinking about them. “It’s too late when we die”, once again referring to that the son couldn’t resolve anything after the father’s passing. “To admit we don’t see eye to eye”, another reference to the conflict.
And that’s it for this week. Do listen to this song for it’s touching message about how to never let any conflict go unresolved and remember, you might not like how some songs sound, but the message is always more important. Substance over style, unless you’re David Bowie (may he rest in peace) for whom both naturally come together. Speaking of David Bowie, Major Tom out.
Featured image from http://www.the80srocks.com/the-living-years-video/