I Hear The Ticking of the Clock

Admittedly, some serious music folks will likely disagree with 1987 being a great year for music, but I don’t care. I’m a pop fanatic through and through, and when you’re twelve years old, a pop song can make a big impression. Looking back over some of my previous Music posts, a number came from 1987 – like ‘Open Your Heart‘, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now‘, ‘Livin’ On A Prayer‘, and ‘Who’s That Girl‘ (which started the Madonna Timeline).


To the musical canon of 1987, I’d now like to add ‘Alone’ by Heart. It went to #1 in July of that year, a few weeks after Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ reached the top (which I remember waking to on the first day of summer vacation, and dancing out of sheer excitement for a new Whitney Houston song – see, I wasn’t lying about the pop fanatic bit). But while that was a song for the start of the day, ‘Alone’ was solely for the night.

I hear the ticking of the clock, I’m lying here, the room’s pitch dark
I wonder where you are tonight, no answer on the telephone
And the night goes by so very slow, and I hope that it won’t end all alone.

When the day was done, and the night cooled the atmosphere, I would open my window and breathe in the outside air. An old thorny hawthorne tree reached its barbed talons close to the house, nearest my room, but rather than feel threatened, I always felt protected by its multitude of sharpies. In the spring, its white flowers would rain down like snow – we’d sweep them up with shovels before they dried up and turned brown. Now, at the start of summer, the spring blossoms had already fallen, and tiny green fruits were forming – their red mushy form in fall would cause more distress to our driveway, but that wasn’t for a few months – for now they held tight to their branches.

I would do what most kids did in the freedom of their summer days – ride my bike, walk the woods, swim in the pool with our neighborhood friends, collect baseball cards (yes, I did), and simply putter around the house if it rained. I did more unconventional things that most other boys didn’t too – like watching the NBC soap operas while sipping Crystal Light iced tea and sucking on raspberry hard candies, or working on a perennial garden in the backyard flanked by coral bells, anchored by iris, and extended by a row of daylilies. But for the most part, my days were unexceptional, the stuff of carefree childhood. At night – that’s when things changed, and what was safe and harmless in the light of day could take on ominous tones, dangerous dimensions, terrifying meaning. It was at night when I started to grow up. At night, I felt alone. And I listened to this song.

 Til now I always got by on my own, I never really cared until I met you
And now it chills me to the bone. How do I get you alone?
How do I get you alone?

I remember standing in that bedroom close to midnight, the warm light of a child’s room glowing and throwing its assumed safety into every dim corner. Looking out my window into the black night, I wondered: did someone wait out there for me? Would this person be able to find me? Would we find each other? It was such an immense world – more immense than I could even imagine at that early stage of life. Yet even then I yearned for someone. And that someone was a him. I don’t know how I knew, couldn’t put it into words, but the people I felt most connected to, emotionally and physically, were guys. But then it was for friendship, companionship, someone with whom I could share an adventure. I could not access the romantic loneliness of this song yet, but I could sense the pain. I knew the yearning, and I was just beginning to feel the want and desire.

 You don’t know how long I have wanted to touch your lips and hold you tight
You don’t know how long I have waited, and I was gonna tell you tonight
But the secret is still my own, and my love for you is still unknown… alone.

I would come to know the romantic heartache here a few years later. The heartache that came from loving someone who did not know, and who did not love me back. This song would return then, haunting me and daring me to play it, to open up to that sort of pain, and I would. I would always be that way, always open for more, hoping that the one out there in the dark of night would arrive. For all my sense, for all my sanity, for all my cold, hard, calculation, I would be a romantic until the end. Underneath it all. I thought that they could tell. Why couldn’t they tell?

Time has a way of closing the most accepting and open of hearts. Time and experience and a careless world that I explored with ceaseless abandon. Tormented, I would thrash about in bed late at night, entangling my limbs in sweaty sheets, always alone, because who would want to stay?

 Til now I always got by on my own, I never really cared until I met you
And now it chills me to the bone. How do I get you alone?
How do I get you alone?

Will that sort of hurt ever be alleviated by anything, or anyone? Is there a single other person who can do that for us? Is it something we must do ourselves? I was too young to explore such existential questions back in 1987. I would think back to that year, one of the last before I left my childhood for dead, and remember this song, playing in my bedroom, and me, watching out the window, and wondering.

The night breeze blowing over the foot of the bed was cool. In an oversize t-shirt that my Dad got for me at the track, I pulled a single sheet up to my neck and turned on my side. The leaves of the hawthorne tree rustled in the wind. I was just a boy still, too young to be so troubled. Too young to feel so alone.


{To close, a live acoustic version, taken at a show in Seattle in 2003. In some ways, slowed and quieted like this, it’s even more powerful.}

If anyone ever asks you if you are alone, there is but one answer:


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