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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

As we're often painfully reminded, "Time" only moves forward

Alan Parsons and company tenderly embrace this fact in a song that can soundtrack the end of many things.

Today has been a rough one for multiple reasons. Part of that roughness has come from the accumulation of stress, procrastination, and lack of sleep over classes and midterms... but while those issues remain, they're hardly the reason why today was so mentally taxing.

Really, it came down to two things that have been weighing on my mind. Firstly, I've taken some time in recent days to reach out to people I really value for the first time in a while via text, and I'm just not getting any response whatsoever. I get that they have their busy college lives too, but I can't help but feel down about me not getting any reply at all, not even a quick 'hi' back or a heart or thumbs-up. It makes me feel like I'm losing friendships I really value, and at this point I'm uneasy as to whether or not I should even try to follow up with them, out of fear of looking desperate.

Secondly, and more acutely related to the song I chose, the news of a local sports figure's death has hit me surprisingly hard. Ray Fosse, a two-time World Series champion catcher and longtime broadcaster for the Oakland Athletics, died today at age 74 following a 16-year battle with cancer which he only made public a few months ago. Having grown up an A's fan, Fosse's voice soundtracks a number of baseball memories throughout my childhood. The fact that he was broadcasting just over two months ago definitely increases the weight of it all as well, making it just feel less real. Fosse's death also hits home because of my family's history with cancer, including my paternal grandmother succumbing to cancer while my father was still in college.

Given the delicate, mournful state I've been in today, especially this evening, I wanted my song selection to embody some of those same qualities. I found the perfect choice in the Alan Parsons Project's 1980 soft rock gem "Time," which gently confronts the temporary quality of life through the perspective of one about to leave it.

Even as far as 'soft rock' is concerned, few songs of its genre and time are as soft and pleasant to the ears as "Time." From its first moments with Eric Woolfson's piano introduction, the track is awash in the warm embrace of its home key of E-flat Major, and while it temporarily ventures away a few times, the consistent return to the key and repetition of the song's form means the tonic is never far away. Woolfson's vocal melody — his first as part of the Alan Parsons project — is firmly within the main key, but the track nevertheless has harmonic intrigue through the chords that sound behind the lyrics. Through Woolfson and guitarist Ian Bairnson's use of a couple chord extensions and the building of other chords on top of tones in the melody, the song's harmony is slightly adventurous but never too dissonant, adding to "Time"'s expansive yet comforting feeling. Said harmonies are grounded by David Paton's bass and Stuart Elliott's ever-steady backbeat. Elliott's snare drum is notably given more reverb behind it as the song progresses, increasing the track's fullness as it fills more and more space.

At its core, "Time" owes its greatest emotional affect and payoff to two elements: Eric Woolfson's vocals and the Philharmonia Orchestra's strings. Woolfson's voice is a slightly breathy, yet remarkably clear tenor, a sound which provides comfort in its lower register and immaculate brightness in it highest sections. The verses primarily yield the former feeling as Woolfson sings of time "flowing like a river / to the sea," perhaps slowly but with clear direction. The verses also establish the song as being from the perspective of someone about to die through first-person lines such as "Goodbye my friends... The stars wait for me." The narrator's approach to death is a calm one, likely because they understand it will inevitably come for all of us and are content with nature running its course despite how much it may pain them to go. That pain is also somewhat audible in the chorus, when Woolfson sings his highest notes on the line "Till it's gone forever." The instruments match Woolfson's intensity in the chorus, as the drums add cymbals and fills, and the Philharmonia's strings swell and reach their peak. Just as quickly as all that happens, though, it's gone: after just six measures, the swell is over, and the track returns to its regular verse volume and brightness. It's a satisfying moment in the song, sure, but I also can't help but think that — like the life of the narrator and so many others — it's been cut a bit short. As Woolfson repeats "forevermore" in the fade-out, "Time" as both a song and a tenet of life slips away, and it sinks in just how quickly time can pass... and pass us by.

Of course, the speed at which time moves away from us into the past also makes death and other inevitable parts of life so scary and difficult to confront. In reflecting on one's passing, we are confronted with our own mortality, and as difficult as it is to stomach, we need to be comfortable facing it. For us to be as serene in death as the narrator of "Time," we need to make the most of the time we do have in the present. Things may not always work out, but not trying just leaves more questions unanswered. Even if I don't get a response, I'm glad I had the guts to reach out, and I hope they appreciate it even if I don't get anything back on my end from it.

As for those who have already left us, we must take comfort in what they gave us in the time they had on this earth.

Rest in peace and comfort, Ray. Thanks for everything.


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