The Alan Parsons Project – Old and Wise

Sung by Colin Blunstone of The Zombies, Old and Wise sounds thoroughly wistful even while the lyrics are a message of hope. This ambiguity makes it possible to pick whatever interpretation we need at the time. It is a song about love and hope, forgetting and remembering, acceptance and defiance, all kinds of conflicting emotions that may be present when thinking of death. The same ambiguity is reflected in the music which is both dramatic and sensitive.

The line “you were a friend of mine” strikes me as a central point, and it’s reiterated with a different focus. The first time it’s about the narrator thinking of the happiness, intimacy, completion. How humans are social animals and depend on each other even when things are going awry. How friendship and love are important and give meaning to our lives, and how they make us feel like bitter words and autumn winds lose their meaning. It is not only a song about facing death but about facing life. How to make existence seem meaningful when there are countless narratives to choose from, many of them full of bitterness, degradation and despair?

The second time the line is a plea for those left behind to remember the friendship. It is significant that the narrator doesn’t ask to be remembered as such, the focus is on the friendship, and maybe even further on the friend. What the friend should remember is his or her own experience of the friendship as something to be happy about, all the things shared, and the importance they held for the deceased. Not focus on the sadness of what has been lost but the importance of something having been real in the first place, the existence of a relationship. When the physical form is gone, that which is intangible, the notion, the relationship still remains, only now its existence only depends on the one left behind.

Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling sad when hearing this song, but maybe because I associate it with an old break-up. At the time I was listening to The Alan Parsons Project, and maybe I was thinking of the good things we had and how I’d like to grow old still remembering the relationship fondly, even though things didn’t work out. To remember the friendship and laughter and not be bitter about things ending.

The lyrics also state “When I’m old and wise,” which implies that the narrator doesn’t necessarily think like this, but recognizes that it is the sort of wisdom to aspire to, the attitude that would be good to have when growing older. Strangely enough, the older I become, the less certain I am of things, questioning what our notions of wisdom even mean, and whether it is important to define wisdom in the first place.

The song reminds me of this poem by Christina Rossetti. Perhaps not a direct influence, but I’m sure the songwriters would have known such a classic poem on death. It is possible to remember, and yet look forward in life.

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.