When I was a Boy
Sometimes a song is more than the sum of its melody and words.
‘When I was a boy’ (link) is an example of such a song, to me anyway. When all said and done, music is subjective. It’s a terrific song, one that set me thinking. It is written and performed by Jeff Lynne probably best known for fronting ELO. He also played with The Move and The Travelling Wilburys among others. He’s written countless songs, performed with, and produced songs and albums for, musicians including George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty to name a few. It’s his less-heralded collaborations with a host of other people that make him one of the great Brits of music. He’s been at the top of his game for over 50 years.
I listened to a recent interview with him. He was explaining how he wrote his songs and how he got to work with the people he did. What came across, perhaps most important of all, was that he appears unshowy and modest. He still has a gentle mid-England accent and he talked fondly of his time back in the family home.
When I was a boy could only have been written in retrospect. He’s looking back having achieved his childhood dream. In fact, something beyond his wildest dreams I would think.
When I was a boy, I had a dream
All about the things I'd like to be
Soon as I was in my bed
Music played inside my head
When I was a boy, I had a dream
There’s an accompanying video animating his progress from a young lad to dreamland. It’s a great song and a moving video, made special because we can feel him living his dream. I find it moving not because he achieved international fame, but because he could write a song looking back to his childhood when he dreamed his dream. How wonderful is that?
It’s also moving because it made me think about my youth. Did I have a dream?
Can’t remember to be honest, certainly nothing that shaped my life and took over. I seem to think that I just got through the days best I could, without any particular goal. See there, the word goal, that’s telling. Big difference between a dream and a goal.
Harvey Mackay (businessman and motivator) says, “A dream is a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline”.
Plans and deadlines are fabricated, unromantic things invented by people who feel they need a safe structure to hide away in. No, I’m not talking about goals I’m taking about dreams. A goal is promising myself to get the shed cleaned out. No way that’s a dream. An actual dream is doing what Jeff Lynne has done.
Because I can’t remember, I must conclude that when I was a boy, I didn’t have a dream. I probably had every lad’s ambition to be a fireman, train driver or whatever, but they were just passing whims. Actually, I found out early that I couldn’t be a train driver because I’m red/green colour-blind, so that cocked that up, and my brother became a fireman, so he lived that bit for me, in his big green fire engine!
Perhaps there’s a more realistic question, though hypothetical: If I look back, could I recognize where I am now as being the fulfilment of a dream? In other words, has anything I’ve done been worthy of a dream, or has my life been a succession of short and medium term goals. There’s nothing wrong with that I might add, for most of us it’s just the way it is. It’s hopping from stone to stone across a river instead of gliding across.
Actually, I do have one period in my life that retrospectively feels like I lived a dream, namely our boating years. But it wasn’t something planned for, it sort of happened along the way. To embark on a new adventure, without an end date, was perhaps a brave, crazy decision, but it proved to be justified. If we hadn’t done it we’d never have known what we missed, if you get my meaning. In other words, if we hadn't taken a chance we'd have missed out on the best time of our lives. It was only by following our instincts that it happened at all, and then only because I trusted my wife. It was she who recognized we needed to change course. It was radical but we ended up living in a metal tube in a ditch. Utterly mad, but ultimately unforgettable. So, that was a dream created by accident and circumstance.
But it wasn’t a dream in the sense of Jeff Lynne’s.
During his interview he said he remembered hearing a Roy Orbison song at a young age and becoming fascinated about how it all worked, the chords, melody, the words. That started him off. From a very early age, not far into double figures, he heard those tunes in his head and began his dream. From what I can gather, he’s still in it.
When I go back in my mind I see a right old mixture. Overall memories are favourable, there’s fun, games, family, sunshine. I can dip into my youth, smile, and return to present. However, if I linger a while, I disturb the sludge and it begins to bubble up. The hills and meadows are the pearls but down on the valley floor muddy geysers burble. I've recently discovered a group of friends from 50 years ago, junior school, where most memories are fun, but the harder I look the more the dark seeps in.
I now realize there wasn’t time for dreams, I was too wrapped up with short term concerns. Get through a lesson so I could go and play. Get through a term so I could go home for holidays, get through my youth so I could be independent. Decide I don’t want to be independent; I want my youth, my family and friends back.
I want to go back and find a dream. But it’s too late. I’ll have to manage on a series of little naps.