Today I was answering some online surveys and I put some music on to pass the time. I opened Windows Media Player, hit shuffle, and sat down to answer pointless surveys while listening to my favorite songs. Granted, the surveys aren’t entirely pointless, in the time I’ve been answering them (several months now) I have managed to make about £40, which is useful, if not a lot.
As I was listening to my playlist two songs came up that I’ve been meaning to write about for quite some time. Every time I hear one, I think of the other, and about the bittersweet message they convey. Both make me sad and happy and nostalgic, and I find it curious that both songs, written around the same time, but an ocean apart, are so hauntingly similar.
I cannot remember which song I heard first, but I have my father to thank for both. Both artists were favorites of his, and they are now my two favorite singer/songwriters too. The first song is ‘Aquellas Pequeñas Cosas’ [Those Little Things] by Joan Manuel Serrat, and the second song is ‘Bookends’ by Paul Simon.
Serrat’s song goes as follows:
Uno se cree que los mató el tiempo y la ausencia | You think that they were killed by time and absence
Pero su tren vendió boletos de ida y vuelta | But their train sold tickets there and back again
Son aquellas pequeñas cosas | It’s those little thing
Que nos dejó el tiempo de rosas | Left behind by ‘times of roses’ [golden times]
En un rincón, en un papel, o en un cajón | In a corner, on a paper, or in a box
Como un ladrón, te asechan detrás de la puerta | Like a thief, they lie in wait behind the door
Te tienen tan a su merced como hojas muertas | They have you at their mercy like dead leaves
Que el viento arrastra allá o aquí | That the wind blows here or there
Que te sonríen tristes y | That smile at you sadly and
Nos hacen que lloremos cuando nadie nos ve | Make us cry when no one else can see
The song tilts to the ‘sad’ end of the bittersweet spectrum, telling about how memories are bound to return unexpectedly, carrying with them feelings from golden days of our past that will make us cry. It doesn’t condemn these ‘little things’ that will trigger the memories, even if it does compare them with ‘thieves’ and say that memories have us at ‘their mercy’. Merely, I think, the song tells us to expect them, and not to shy away from the tears they might stir.
Simon’ song goes:
Time it was and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you
I think Simon’s song is slightly more hopeful than Serrat’s. It also tells of memories of long ago, and of how those memories are found in objects like photographs. However, while Serrat sings that these little things make us cry, Simon advices us to ‘preserve them’ for they are all we have left.
Still, that’s not to say that the songs are in opposition, rather, I think that they approach the same idea through different angles, each highlighting a specific quality about memories. Serrat tells us to expect memories, and the feelings attached to them, while Simon encourages us to hold on to them, because they are special. Both talk about those ‘golden times’ of ‘innocence’ and ‘confidence’, and about how long ago they were, and both talk about our tendency to keep and preserve these memories, in corners, papers and boxes.
‘Aquellas Pequeñas Cosas’ was recorded in 1971, while ‘Bookends’ was released in 1968, and in a way one song compliments the other. I find it interesting that both songs are sung in very soft voices, and mostly to the accompaniment of a single acoustic guitar. In addition, they are very short, Serrat’s song having only two verses and Simon’s having only one. It’s as though the subject they sing about is so fragile, it needs to be expressed gently and softly.
I remember listening to both as a child and wondering what it would be like to have those memories. I had seen my mother on several occasions going through photo albums or through some of the boxes that were usually kept in the back of the closet. She would take them out and look at them sometimes sadly, but often with a smile, and I used to wonder how that would be like.
I don’t have to wonder anymore. Those little things have made their way back to me, and sometimes they make me cry, but they’re all that’s left me. However, I still have space in my boxes and corners, and I have many more papers to fill and photographs to take.
Keep on making memories,
All the best,
Joan Manuel Serrat, ‘Aquellas Pequeñas Cosas’, Mediterráneo (1971). <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZt9vBZr4Kg>
Paul Simon [Simon & Garfunkel], ‘Bookends’, Bookends (1968). <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5S5V-Y53ad4>