I made a point in the first few installments of this column to call out Rush and AC/DC for having never written or released power ballads. At the time, I think my purpose in making that statement was to set up some structure for myself by rather narrowly defining what a power ballad is, erecting walls to keep my writing from getting too expansive, or too personal. Little did I know, of course, that I could pretty much do whatever I wanted here and no one but Donny Osmond fans would complain, and that sometimes the most satisfying things for me to write were both expansive and personal.
And, as it turned out, both AC/DC and Rush had indeed recorded what could, by most definitions, be considered power ballads. Those scruffy and very Australian Young brothers and their playmates had, back in the Seventies, recorded a little ditty called “Love Song,” as we discovered in last year’s Backtracks box. Rush, on the other hand, contributed more than a handful of ballady-type things in their “Geddy’s Got a Synth” period—not my favorite Rush years, but there is definitely wheat to be found amongst the chaff (most of that wheat, not coincidentally, smells like Moosehead. Or Molson; I can’t tell the difference).
“Time Stand Still” came out in late 1987, during the early portion of my senior year of high school. At the time, when it was first played on rock radio every hour on the half hour, I recognized it as a pleasant enough song, a little too keyboardy and insufficiently guitary for my taste, but any Rush was good Rush, as long as I didn’t have to watch them play in a silly video (and then, as if on cue, they made a silly video for the song). It was inoffensive and I enjoyed it.
The song’s lyrics became more totemic for me as the school year progressed, as it gradually dawned on me what changes would be in store for me in the months ahead. Neil Peart, 35 at the time, had crafted a song about the passage of time and our inability to halt that passage, for any reason—to simply catch a breath in the midst of a hectic schedule, or to stretch a moment of enjoyment with those we love, or to give ourselves the luxury of appreciating such a moment without having more of them tick by. “I let my skin get too thin,” he wrote, “I’d like to pause / No matter what I pretend.” He knows that to “pause” in this case is merely a trick of the mind—time moves forward, even as we think we’ve stopped it.
No matter—in the chorus, he commands time to halt:
Time stand still
I’m not looking back
But I want to look around me now
Time stand still
See more of the people and the places that surround me now
It’s like that last fight sequence in The Matrix, when the Keanu Reeves character realizes his power, the ability to manipulate his surroundings, to bend them to his will. This is the power Peart calls for (only, you know, without agents chasing him around and shooting at him)—the ability to “freeze” the moment, to take more in, to encounter and interact with more of his environment and the people in it, to “make each sensation a little bit stronger.”
What he’s describing is a kind of nostalgia for the present time, a period not yet passed. As a high school senior, I latched onto that sentiment and made it a mission. Part of my reasoning was the fact that my family moved around a lot when I was growing up (we never lived in the same place longer than three or four years. No, we were not in Witness Protection, though now that I think of it, that would’ve explained a lot). It was practically in my DNA to miss people before leaving them, and in the back of my mind, I knew there was a whole chunk of my friends I’d never see again. The idea of not looking back, but looking around me was apropos, and I made a point of stocking my memories with the colors, jokes, scenes, and sensations of any given moment.
I turn 40 in a week, so I guess I’m supposed to be taking stock of what I’ve accomplished and missed out on in my time on earth; however, I do so loathe the idea of doing the sentimental thing just because I’m supposed to. “Time Stand Still,” though, came back to me recently, first as a moment of humor in the new Rush documentary, Beyond the Lighted Stage (get this two-disc DVD set if you haven’t already), and second as a reminder of how important individual moments are.
A couple weeks ago, I “passed an evening with a drink and a friend,” one of my best friends, a guy I’ve known for 23 years, since we met in the bleachers of an away game for our high school’s girls basketball team (we were each chasing after members of the team, with various levels of success). We sat on his back patio and drank beers and talked, mostly about our kids and the cost of landscaping and our parents’ ills and our jobs. His dad’s getting hearing aids; mine is fighting what appears to be Parkinson’s. His work has him managing a project that has burned him out; I was wondering how I’m going to juggle teaching and day-job duties in the fall. We both bemoaned the fact that we are fatter and balder than we were when we met all those years ago; we laughed at this, but it does take us longer to stretch when we get out of chairs.
As he went inside to the fridge for another round, the great final verse of “Time Stand Still” popped into my head:
Summer’s going fast, nights growing colder
Children growing up, old friends growing older
Freeze this moment a little bit longer
Make each impression a little bit stronger
Experience slips away …
The innocence slips away
We’re innocent at birth and maybe for a year or two afterward. By the time we hit our forties, innocence is a memory so distant as to be nonexistent. It’s all experience. We can’t literally freeze moments, but we can—and should—pause from time to time to take in an event as it goes by: a conversation with a friend; a moment of play with a child; a romantic evening with a spouse or significant other; an afternoon with a parent. It’s up to us to look around, gather the sensations, and hold onto them. These moments slip away so very quickly.
I learned that back in 1987. It’s a lesson that still has resonance for me, all these years and frozen moments later.