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And I will never grow so old again…

And I will never grow so old again…

Nostalgia for a possible future. That’s what Sweet Thing can make you feel. Not forever young, but you don’t need to be.

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Last Updated : 19 May 2024, 00:09 IST
Last Updated : 19 May 2024, 00:09 IST
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Mark Seymour, whoever he is, famously proclaimed that Sweet Thing by Van Morrison is the most perfect song of all time. Now I don’t know about all that, but I’m pretty sure it’s right up there with the best of them.

If I were you, I’d stop what I’m doing right now and listen to it. It has the power to conjure peculiar memories.

And I will stroll the merry way and jump the hedges first/

And I will drink the clear, clean water for to quench my thirst/

And I shall watch the ferry-boats, and there I’ll get high/

On a bluer ocean against tomorrow’s sky/

And I will never grow so old again/

And I will walk and talk in gardens all wet with rain

Sweet Thing is a song from the 1968 album ‘Astral Weeks’, the Wikipedia page for which is the only encyclopaedia entry that has ever moved me to tears. Somehow, I don’t know why, I’d almost rather read the Wikipedia page for ‘Astral Weeks’ than do just about anything else in the world. Nostalgia, I guess. It’s all just nostalgia.

When I mentioned “the most perfect song of all time” thing to a young student of mine, he insightfully retorted: “Van Morrison is for nostalgia. Van Halen will keep you forever young.” This truth, though indisputable, is nevertheless complicated by three considerations. First, of course, it ironically evokes Bob Dylan’s Forever Young. Dylan and The Band had originally recorded the song together in 1973 for his album ‘Planet Waves’, but the more memorable version remains its deeply-sentimental live performance at The Band’s 1976 farewell concert, ‘The Last Waltz’, which was immortalised in Martin Scorsese’s eponymous concert film. I say ‘ironically’ because it’s really just more nostalgia, isn’t it?

The second is that I have relatively little use for Van Halen…except once when getting super-pumped up listening to the inimitable synths of Van Halen’s Jump while psyching myself up to plunge into the Pacific Ocean to begin the treacherous swim leg of an Ironman race in Ecuador. I will never forget that thrilling moment. Still, if you look at the YouTube comments under the video for Jump, you don’t find a majority of adrenaline-soaked, life-affirming ideas, but instead mostly just a lot of old men reminiscing about high school in the 1980s. Sneaking nostalgia in through the back door.

And the third thing? Well, here’s where it gets a little crazy.

The literally-mad German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a lot about memory, nostalgia, and the ways that sentimental looking-backwards had the corrosive tendency to weaken one’s appetite for undertaking future adventures. For him, what pushed the species valiantly forward was more important than either knowledge of the past or justice in the present. As he quipped, “I would always value a life-affirming lie over the truth!” In his provocative essay, On the Use and Abuse of History for Life, Nietzsche argued that forgetting was just as important as remembering. For, the utility of looking backwards lies purely in how it pries open worlds of future possibility.

Admittedly, I can get pretty nostalgic in Poorva Paksha sometimes. But I don’t write about the classic rock songs of the 1960s and ’70s merely for sentimental reasons. I do so because in their depth, realness, mood, epicness, ferocity, protest, they often clear brush for how we ought to be pressing bravely forward today. They’re inspirational. But they’re pensively inspirational, not thump-thump-thumpingly so, like the kind of music we often use to power through a sprint run.

With its anachronistic lyric, And I will never grow so old again…, Van Morrison’s Sweet Thing is unique even in this. It reminds us that we grow old only once, and must make it mean something now. Not to take the easier path, escaping into sentimental memories of a past just beyond reach, but rather in longing for, working for, futures just as memorable, and maybe more meaningful.

Nostalgia for a possible future. That’s what Sweet Thing can make you feel. Not forever young, but you don’t need to be.

And I shall drive my chariot down your streets and cry out/

Hey, it’s me, I’m dynamite and I don’t know why/

And you shall take me strongly in your arms again/

And I will not remember that I ever felt the pain.

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