It’s the mid-to-late 1960s. You’re a record producer for Nina Music. Maybe you wear snakeskin boots and sunglasses that defy seasons, light and dark rooms—you transcend style. Your office is ridiculous: lined with gold records, photo ops with the most famous people in the world, in each corner of the room: enormous fake plants.
It’s an average day, perhaps a little slow when into your office walks a 16-year old kid with hair slick as vinyl, a face carved from the sky, and an ego that interacts with yours as though they’re oxygen molecules. Cellular transformation aside, you see a look in his eyes that you recognize had you been able to look into your own when you were his age. The kid is [lastfm]Jackson Browne[/lastfm], and he’s written a song.
If you’re like me, the song hits hard and you want to hear it over and over. Each line drips bittersweet and pours out like honey into tea: “These days I seem to think a lot / about the things that I forgot to do / and all the times I had the chance to.”
The emotional depth. The maturity. The sincerity of it.
Browne finishes the song. You smell hit, perhaps even classic.
“Where do I sign?” you nearly ask before remembering that’s what he is supposed to say.
If a kid walked into my office and played a song like that, what would I think? What would I say? The above narrative is more to paint a picture rather than a sheer truth. You’d have to had actually been there to know for sure. What is known is that Jackson Browne wrote “These Days” when he was only 16, projecting an understanding of life—so brilliant in its melancholy—in a way that most people never achieve. The writing conveys the vision, reflection, regret and insight of a man of 80.
Genius can inject itself like a sting, or plant eggs in the subconscious, incubating for years, waiting for the right time to hatch. Browne’s original demo of “These Days” sat unproduced for several years before [lastfm]Nico[/lastfm] recorded it (Browne played guitar on the track) in 1967.
While a beautiful and haunting rendition, Nico’s cover didn’t catch on, and several other versions were recorded by big names such as [lastfm]Greg Allman[/lastfm], [lastfm]Kenny Loggins[/lastfm] and [lastfm]Iain Matthews[/lastfm]. It wasn’t until 1973 when Browne re-recorded it himself for his second album, For Everyman. “These Days” has since been covered by contemporary musicians such as [lastfm]Elliott Smith[/lastfm], [lastfm]Mates of State[/lastfm], and [lastfm]Denison Witmer[/lastfm], and (Nico’s version) was featured prominently in Wes Anderson’s 2001 film The Royal Tenenbaums, cementing the song’s timelessness, its profound reach from one generation to the next.
Greatness is often sought out, found only if it wants to be. Sometimes it finds you. “These Days” found me in 2002: a kindred spirit in the form of song. It helped me through a lot and still does. It keeps me on the move, as things are bound to improve. Songs help heal. Doesn’t everybody have a song like that?
Had I been around in the 1960s, sitting in the ridiculous office, in the sunglasses, and a young man whose ego peeled paint from the walls walked in and played me that song, I wouldn’t know what to say.
I’d just want him to play it again.