I remember this song and not much more than that. There’s no witty anecdote to pair with it. No life-changing experience for which it served as soundtrack. I never owned it or dubbed it off the radio or made any concerted effort to purposefully hear it. It was just a song.
It was undoubtedly popular. I remember that much. But to me, on the cusp of teenhood in 1984/1985, it wasn’t much more than another dreaded slow song somewhere between Bryan Adams’ “Straight from the Heart” and Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” at school dances. At 12/13, I was not oblivious to the unsettling realization that girls suddenly fascinated me in strange new ways, but I was still firmly entrenched in the belief that touching them as we swayed around a gymnasium was unequivocally mortifying.
Others weren’t so torn. And they certainly lapped up the song’s subject matter, lauding it as some sort of anthem for our dissipating innocence. In reality, we hadn’t a clue, the lyrics meaningless to a bunch of kids only just becoming old enough to babysit younger siblings.
Soon enough, the song was forgotten. Completely. I don’t think I heard it again, in whole or in part, until this summer when I chanced upon it while hopping through radio stations on a boring drive home from a camping trip. It hit me like a cinder block dropped from an overpass.
Perhaps 12/13 year old me couldn’t properly appreciate the song’s message, but 49/50 year old me sure as hell can. I’ve rarely felt such overwhelming sorrow and … self-pity … I guess. I am exactly what the song yearned to avoid.
As I sat there mindlessly driving, watching the passing lane markers count away the years of my life, my entire body tearlessly wept; an emotional dry heave.
I’ve listened to this song dozens of times since and I’m still overcome with this same unsettling sensation every time. It fascinates me as guts me. A morbid, self-flagellation of longing for a past utopia that never existed. I wish I knew then what I know now … about this song … about me … about life … I think I would have danced more.
Let’s kick off this late summer weekend with a heart-wrenching wallow in nostalgia. From the 1984 album of the same name by Alphaville, this is “Forever Young.”
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