Category Archives: Music

George Harrison: All Things Must Pass

Everything changes; everything evolves, all is transitory. This may be the fundamental fact of life. Buddhist philosophy is particularly insightful on this point with its distinction between gross and subtle impermanence. In simple language, George Harrison set this idea to music.

“All Things Must Pass”

Sunrise doesn’t last all morning
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day
Seems my love is up and has left you with no warning
It’s not always going to be this grey
All things must pass
All things must pass away
Sunset doesn’t last all evening
A mind can blow those clouds away
After all this, my love is up and must be leaving
It’s not always going to be this grey
All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
None of life’s strings can last
So, I must be on my way
And face another day
Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It’s not always going to be this grey
All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
All things must pass away


Mike And The Mechanics: “The Living Years” – Philosophical Reflections

I recently stumbled upon a song that I’d forgotten about, “The Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics. The group formed in 1985 as a side project of Mike Rutherford, one of the founding members of the band Genesis. The song was written by Rutherford and B. A. Robertson after both of their fathers died, and shortly before Robertson’s son was born. (Rutherford wrote about his father in this article in the Guardian.) According to Wikipedia, “The song was a chart hit around the world, topping the US Billboard Hot 100 on 25 March 1989,[2] and reaching No.1 in Canada and Australia and No.2 in the UK. It spent four weeks at No. 1 on the US Adult Contemporary chart. The music video and lyrics are below, followed by a brief commentary.

“The Living Years”
Every generation

Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door

I know that I’m a prisoner
To all my Father held so dear
I know that I’m a hostage
To all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got

You say you just don’t see it
He says its perfect sense
You just can’t get agreement
In this present tense
We all talk a different language
Talking in defence

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts

So Don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different day
And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in
You may just be OK.

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

I wasn’t there that morning
When my Father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say

I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new-born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

Reflections – We do tend to blame those who went before us, especially our parents, for many of our problems. But children are quite similar to their parents. This realization should bring about understanding—our parents probably did the best they could, and we should appreciate that. Of course members of the older generations often assume that the new generation is “going all to hell.” The understanding needs to go both ways.

Clearly the composers of the song feel regret for not having said more to their fathers and for the misunderstandings and anger. This is the problem with bitterness—as many sages from Buddha to the present have noted—it really hurts those who are bitter. When we cease expecting perfection from our parents and our children, we will find more inner peace.

Forgiving those who hurt us doesn’t mean we approve of their actions. It means we are letting go of the past and journeying into a better future. It also means that though we were hurt and didn’t deserve it, we also hurt others even if unknowingly. It is part of human interaction to hurt and be hurt despite the best intentions. But we would live better if we could all forgive and not have lifelong anger and the regrets that follow from it. We would all do better to be less judgmental, especially if we have not walked in the other’s shoes.

What a beautiful song.

Shinichi Suzuki and Schubert’s “Ellen’s Third Song” (Ave Maria)

Shinichi Suzuki (1898 – 1998) invented the international Suzuki method of music education. It is considered an influential pedagogue in music education, especially of children. During his lifetime, he received several honorary doctorates in music including from the New England Conservatory of Music (1956), and the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, and he was proclaimed a Living National Treasure of Japan, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize.

When he was seventeen, Shinichi heard a recording of Franz Schubert’s “Ellen’s Third Song,” played by a famous violinist named Mischa Elman. (Suzuki supposedly likened listening to this composition to hearing the voice of God.) It was based on Walter Scott‘s popular epic poem The Lady of the Lake. It became one of Schubert’s most popular works, recorded in different versions under the title of Ave Maria, with various lyrics which often differ from the original context of the poem. It was arranged in three versions for piano by Franz Liszt.

But it is one of the most melodious pieces of music that I’ve ever heard.

Grandchildren (Oh Very Young)

My two-year old granddaughter sees the world differently from most adults—the commonplace is extraordinary to her. Every tree, bush and rock, every ant, dog and butterfly are objects of fascination; every ball, stick, and swing immerse her in play. Being in her presence I find, that I too pause to find the ordinary … extraordinary.

But there is a darker side to being with her. I sometimes tell her about my mother or my father, and soon she will ask “where are they?” I could give a comforting answer, but I must tell her the truth—they are gone and will never come back. And when she asks, “what of you and grandma? Then I will have to tell her that we too will someday go and never come back. And the same with her mom and dad. And the same with her.

I now see why parents either deceive both themselves and their children—to protect them all from this sinister truth. But we shouldn’t deceive ourselves or lie to our children. We should tell them the horrible truth, face it courageously, and then do our best to change it. We should make death and suffering optional, which science and technology may well do in the very near future.  And then we won’t have to lie to our children anymore.

Children help us to see both what the world is … and what it could be. And for that, thanks little one. Oh, and here’s a song for you, my little granddaughter. I remember when I was young enough I thought this song was about me, and then it became a song for my children, and now its a song for you …