"What am I going to do with my life" is a question I’ve asked myself multiple times over the years. The reason for this might be the fact that my life, up until now, has been a bunch of restarts: moving from one country to another, changing jobs, changing careers, getting divorced, getting remarried, having kids, etc. It looks easy enough when you put it in writing but in reality, of course, it’s been anything but. There have been times when I’ve felt that my life is spinning out of control so fast that it would be useless to even try to grab it. Yet, so far, I’ve always managed to bring it all into focus, although sometimes in the nick of time.
However, if there is something I’ve learned from my misfortunes and rocky patches is that it’s the hardships that truly make a man. As a Chinese proverb argues, "A fall into a ditch makes you wiser." I believe this to be true. The problem, of course, is that while it’s easy to see the benefit of hard times in hindsight, when you are in the middle of sorting your life out, the proverb you would write, if given a chance, wouldn’t be the one above. Rather, it might read, "The light at the end of the tunnel is nothing more than an oncoming train." And this is precisely where our track of the week, "What Are You Going To Do With Your Life?" by Echo And The Bunnymen, takes us – into a tunnel of disillusionment and indecision.
"What Are You Going To Do With Your Life?" might not provide any answers to the question it poses but it does portray quite accurately the feeling of confusion and fear that stem from being unsure of which direction to take in life. If this phase in our lives gets prolonged, we usually get into a state of mind where we lose all perspective and consequently, become blind to our own potential. If we are lucky, we have somebody in our lives to remind us of it. However, regardless of the support we get, what our survival ultimately boils down to is whether or not we recognize this potential ourselves. This is described beautifully in the lyrics.
If I could see what you can see
The sun still shining out of me
I'd be the boy I used to be
When love was blind
I'd let the light back in again
And walk you to the tunnel's end
I'll be yours and maybe then
You'll be mine
Tell me... tell me... tell me...
The unique thing about these lyrics is that unlike most songs that celebrate wisdom and understanding that come with age, this song laments what we lose with age: our youthful naiveté. Indeed, things that once seemed clear and simple to us become complex. The idea of this track is roughly similar to what George Harrison’s “Inner Light” points out, “the farther one travels, the less one knows.” Having said that, "What Are You Going To Do With Your Life?" goes slightly further in arguing that the only piece of wisdom we truly gain is that dreams don’t really come true for most of us.
It's only ever what it seems
Memories and might have beens
Heaven's scent: the smell of dreams
We'll never find
The lyrics of the song are outstanding but so is the music. In fact, it's the music here that really stands out. It is not an overstatement to say that everything in this recording is superb. The term “Beatlesque” gets thrown around a lot in music reviews (guilty as charged) but in terms of songwriting, this is the first time ever that I use it and I use it here for a good reason. Listen to the notes in "tell me... tell me... tell me" and right after that in "what are you going to do with your life" – melodic brilliance. These are not your usual notes or chord changes for pop compositions. I will go as far as saying that Lennon and McCartney could have written this song. And even further by saying that Sir Paul would be proud of these fellas, as his influence is also heard in the melodic bass line here – you'll hear it straight away in the first few bars of the track. Not that the triumphs on this song end here. Listen to the stunning cello arrangement, the cleverly played drums and the brilliant lead vocal – nothing but perfection here.
Echo And The Bunnymen began their career in 1978, and it is usually their classic albums such as "Crocodiles," "Heaven Up Here" and “Porcupine” that receive most attention in the media. And it's understandable as both of these were released during the group’s heyday. Consequently, slightly less attention has been paid to their reunion albums of which "What Are You Going To Do With Your Life" is the second. This is a real misfortune since, at least to my ears, these albums are superior to the group's eighties releases. They are better in pretty much every respect, offering their listener refined melodies, mature lyrics and arrangements that, simply put, take your breath away. They might not rock in the same way as the earlier albums, but what they offer in return is something quite a bit more tasteful, artistic and timeless.
Going back to the question our song of the week poses, I remember being in my early twenties, still in college, visiting home, trying to figure out my life. I had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to work after graduation. It was all very daunting – an end of an era. One day, as I was lazing around in the backyard, our neighbor, who was in his late sixties, peeked over the fence and asked me to help him assemble his new lawnmower. It had come to him in about 10 large pieces, along with a thin book of instructions. I told him that I’d gladly help but that I was not very good when it came to putting things like that together. He told me he only needed me to assist here and there, so I decided to give it a go. The sun was shining; we had ice-cold beers – what a great way to spend an afternoon.
As we worked on the lawnmower, we bonded. We told each other some pretty private things about our lives. For instance, I had no idea that my neighbor had been a pilot in the Second World War, flying over the English Channel, fighting off the Luftwaffe. After the war, he had gone to work in the insurance business. He had started his career as an assistant but had done quite well for himself over the years, retiring from a managerial position.
After the lawnmower was up and running, impressed by what he had told me about his life, I asked him if he remembered when life had become clear to him, the moment he knew what he wanted to do with his life. Was it after the war? When he had gotten married? When his kids were born? He smiled and put his hand on my shoulder and said, "I never did figure out what I wanted to do with my life, kid. I just kept living. But I do remember a period in my life when I felt that I should somehow figure it all out. Don't worry, soon you'll have a wife, a job and enough kids to keep you so busy you won’t even remember what it was that you wanted to figure out in the first place."
Turns out he was right.
Check out Echo And The Bunnymen perform live in Liverpool in 2009:
And here’s a very nice interview of Will Sergeant from 2017:
You can learn more about Echo And The Bunnymen here:
About the curator - Tommi Tikka
Tom Tikka is a linguist, poet, professional songwriter, recording artist and a music aficionado. He started playing guitar when he was four and writing songs when he was six. Consequently, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing or writing. It's fair to say, music and lyrics are not just something he loves to engage himself in; to him, they are a way of life.