The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere

Wire mesh of the 2010 New Years ball overhanging a wire bridge in Sydney, Australia

So what I do is I collect stories, stories and songs and poems. I seek out the elders and garner stories and songs and poems. Stories characterized critically as “oh that’s that 60’s stuff”, like suddenly doing old rock n’ roll will be doing “that 50’s stuff”, well, this is the 90’s you know — I have a good friend in the east, a good singer and a good folk singer and a good song collector, who comes and listens to my shows and says “Uh, you sing a lot about the past.” So I sing about the past. You can’t live in the past, you know? And, I say to him, “I can go outside and pick up a rock that’s older than the oldest song you know and bring it back in here and drop it on your foot. Now the past didn’t go anywhere, did it? It’s right here, right now.” I always thought that anybody told me that I couldn’t live in the past was trying to get me to forget something that if I remembered would get them in serious trouble. It’s not that 50’s, 70’s, 90’s…that whole idea of decades packaged, they don’t happen that way. The Vietnam war heated up in 1965 and ended in 1975. What’s that got to do with decades? No, that packaging of time is a journalistic convenience that they use to trivialize important events and important ideas. I defy that.

Time is an enormous long river. And I’m standing in it, just as you’re standing in it. My elders were the tributaries, and everything they thought and every struggle they went through and everything they gave their lives to and every song they created and every poem that they laid down flows down to me. And if I take the time to ask and if I take the time to seek, if I take the time to reach out, I can build that bridge between my world and theirs, I can reach down into that river and take out what I need to get through this world. Bridges — from my time to your time, as my elders from their time to my time, and we all put into the river, and we let it go, and it flows away from us and away from us until it no longer has our name or our identity. It has its own utility, its own use, and people will take what they need, and make it part of their lives.

Utah PhillipsBridges

As we kick 2009 to the curb and bid a not-so-fond farewell to a rough decade, let’s not forget all the good things that happened, the great stories told, the friends made and the good people lost. Whether 2010 is really the turn of a new decade, or even just a journalistic convenience as Utah says, it’s never a bad time for a fresh start. Just remember that the past didn’t go anywhere, so make good use of it.

(Photo via Ben Harris-Roxis on Flickr)

Leave a comment

Please feel free to leave a response, I’d love to know what you think!
There’s also an RSS 2.0 feed for comments left on this entry, if you’re into that sort of thing.