“I Had a Song for the Ages” – The Changing of the Guard

NOTE: This was written for the fan tribute for the tenth anniversary of the release of The Changing of the Guard. I know it’s out of order from what I have been publishing. My OCD knows it too!


The Changing of the Guard as a whole is about reaching a certain age, evaluating yourself and what you have made and then dealing with the dissatisfaction that comes from that.  We have a song ruminating about who you thought you should be grow up to be when you were a kid watching heroes in movies.  There are others remembering the fun of creating when you were young and you could barely keep up with your own ideas.  These early songs create a contrast for the emotional heart of the rest of the album.  There is a reckoning coming and it will hit you when you have left your youth behind; you have a job that wears you out, a house to clean and you find yourself napping on the recliner in the evenings instead of doing anything creative. 

“I Had a Song for the Ages” hits with some speed; the pace is quicker here than the rest of the album and this creates tension.  The intro has a descending, clean piano line while the bass contrasts this with an ascending line.  The rhythm guitar alternates between two chords, creating a chunky groove underneath the piano and bass.  The drums hold a steady, tight beat.  Then the piano taps out.  The bass line descends.  The rhythm guitar does a quick hopscotch down a whole step and back up again just to add a kick at the end of the chord progression.

Things continue in the same way in the verse except that the lead guitar and vocals fill in the space left by the absence of the piano.  The bass continues to ascend and descend in steady lines only to jump around everywhere in the moments between the vocals.  Each instrument and vocal part in the song work to grab your attention, but they take turns instead of hitting you all at once.  The intent is clear here:  There’s still important stuff going on so pay attention or you will miss it.

Oh youth, is wasted on the young
I’ve been hearing this lately
Rolling off my tongue
So, my ground is in the past
So listen up closely: This could be my last

The opening lines have more meaning than just showing that the singer is old and would very much prefer if you kids get of his lawn already.  These first two lines are a lament.  There was some quality to youth that made things easy.  But now what was easy to do requires so much more effort.  The singer doubts whether he has the ability to continue creating as he once did.  He warns us – this show may be ending so pay attention before the curtain call.

Does it matter what my age is, Lord?
Am I the dust from the swept up floor?

But the singer is not convinced it should end yet.  He prays about it.  He wonders if his age will block him from the vitality he used to write and play his songs.  Do you have to turn in your rocker ID card once you start driving a sedan?  He doubts his worth in the present.  Maybe he’s a relic of some past time and the kids want to hear something different now.  Maybe the struggle to create means that there is no well left to draw from; it has dried to dust.

I had a song for the ages
Forgotten in the pages

These two lines are the saddest lines on the album to me.  We can interpret these lines in different ways.  One way to we could view these lines is that the singer knows that he created something great in the past but it has been forgotten by the world.  This interpretation is sad enough, but a recent experience has made me see these lines in a different and far more harrowing way.

I dabbled in some songwriting in my twenties because that’s what you do when you’re young and you have a guitar and a few notebooks.  I kept a notebook with me at all times and I would just down lyric ideas that would pop up throughout the day.  Some of these ideas made it into songs but most did not. 

About a month ago, I was cleaning out a spare closet, found an old backpack and hidden with it was my notebook of lyric scraps.  Flipping through the pages, some of the lines were better than I ever remembered writing and some of it made me cringe (you know, mid-twenties relationship drama lyrics UGH).  What surprised me most of all was how much of it I had completely forgotten.

If I ever thought that writing when I was young was easier, this notebook would prove otherwise.  It was empirical evidence that I have always been wrestling with words, wrangling consonants and vowels to sound the way I want them to sound and say what I want them to say. And more often than not, the words leave me beaten on the mat.  This idea that it was easier when I was young is a delusion.  It is hard work.  It always has been.  When you try to write something true, something that comes from the depths of who you are, it’s is usually a hard row to hoe – full of rocks, dead roots and hard ground.

Now I understand these two lines in a completely different way.  It’s not that he recorded a song for the ages and it was forgotten by the audience.  Oh no, it’s not going to be that forgiving.  He had a great song, a great truth within him, but he never hashed it out into being.  It’s left in scribbled fragments on pages in a notebook and the pocket of a backpack in the back corner of the spare closet where it has stayed for more than a decade.  (And I think that is one of the saddest lines I’ve ever written).

Come here. I’ve got something to say
If you’ve heard it already
You can go out and play

The singer is now intent on saying what he is called to say.  He does not do it for your approval.  He does it because it is what he does.  He will put it out there for those who are intended to hear it.  He’s not concerned about those who pass harsh judgment on his work, saying that they’ve heard it before.  He tells them that they can go out and play.  This could be dismissive the way you would tell a child to go out and play if they are getting on your nerves.  It could also be a challenge, possibly referencing playing an instrument or playing in a band.  If you don’t like what the singer is doing, then stop complaining about it and go out and play your own music and write your own songs already.  Really.  No one is stopping you.

So, I’ll look you in the eyes
So, now you’re all near me;
There’s no need to cry

The singer will be forthright with you; that is what he promises with his work.  He will play, sing and write from his own truth.  Those of us who need to hear this particular truth will be drawn to it.  It is in this dynamic between writer and reader, singer and listener, that the creation fulfills its potential.  What did not exist before now does exist and it has meaning and impact.

Does it matter what my age is, Lord?
Am I the dust from the swept up floor?
I had a song for the ages
Forgotten in the pages

Now what will you do with this?  Is there some work that you started that you never finished?  An idea that you never quite figured out how to make real?  Does it still call to you when you remember it?  Will you answer it finally?

The divide between what you can potentially do and what you actually do can seem impossible to bridge.  It is not impossible, but it takes work.  It’s not going to be fun.  Sure, you may have fun moments in the process of creating whatever kind of work you create (music, art, dance writing, you name it).  But if you dig your heals in and create from what is deep within you, it is going to feel uncomfortable at least some of the time.  Hell, you may even feel like you are in a bare-knuckle brawl most of the time.  Lean into it.  That conflict tells you that something great is happening, possibly something for the ages.