“The future is a faded song.” T. S. Eliot said that in his magnificent Four Quartets
. And: “Words move, music moves / Only in time.” What art form explores time, plays with time, manipulates time? That’s what music does. Time is the medium and the message.
1. "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)" by the Byrds
The Byrds made this famous, but Pete Seeger wrote it. Or rather, borrowed it from Ecclesiastes. A time to every purpose under the heaven
, you know. He might have added, That which has been is now; and that which is to be has already been; and God requires that which is past.
2. Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 9, Adagio
In this movement, the finale of Mahler’s last completed symphony, time stops. Music can do that. How? It’s a mystery. Adagissimo
barely conveys the unreality of it — the notes disembodied, cellos barely taking breath, violins and violas hovering like ghosts. We enter a place outside of time.
3. Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 32, Arietta
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Mahler wasn’t the only one who could turn the dial on the time machine. Here’s Beethoven’s last piano sonata — yes, once again, the last
. Coincidence? I don’t think so. After this second movement, the sonata is over. Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus
contains an entire (fictional) lecture on the subject, “Why Beethoven has not written a 3rd movement to Op. 111.” But I digress.
4. "Time Is on My Side"
Everyone knows the Rolling Stones version, but listen to Patti Smith here
: “The past projects fantastic…tick tock, tick tock, fuck the clock!”)
5. "Is It Like Today?" by World Party
Just all the history of humankind, past and future. And then we come face to face with God.
It isn't just a day Oh-oh-oh
6. "I Got You Babe" by Sonny and Cher
Is it like today? Eh-oh-oh
Is it like today? Oh Bang!
This one is an exercise for the reader: In what magnificent movie of time travel (a special kind) does our hapless hero hear this song? Again and again. And it’s always 6:00 a.m.
7. "Time Between Trains" by Susan Werner
She is one of my favorite singer-songwriters, and this is a song about waiting. Waiting is what every good time traveler wants to avoid. Is she waiting for a train? Maybe. Could be a metaphor, though.
8. "Forever Young" by Bob Dylan
Why do we need time travel? Because it’s the closest we can come to immortality.
May your song always be sung.
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is our leading chronicler of science and technology, the bestselling author of Chaos: Making a New Science
; Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman
; The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
; and most recently, Time Travel
. His books have been translated into 30 languages.