Week 152: “Goodbye to Childhood” by Herbie Hancock

There are countless songs about growing up. It’s got to be the most written-about topic that doesn’t involve falling in love, being in love, or breaking up.

What bugs me most about a lot of growing-up songs is their tendency towards nostalgia. Lyrics about things never being the same, or wishing we could go back, or wasn’t that the bestest summer ever…it often feels like a one-dimensional look back. It feels like you should be pessimistic about being an adult.

Herbie Hancock’s 1968 album Speak Like a Child is, according to its liner notes, about retaining a childlike (but not childish) philosophy. Hancock was encouraging people to “think and feel in terms of hope, and the possibilities of making our future less impure”.

And so, while “Goodbye to Childhood” is probably the album’s most contemplative, introspective track, I don’t find it to be sad. I feel like Hancock wants us to say goodbye to the elements of childhood that we don’t need anymore, while retaining the joy and innate optimism that make childhood fun.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The opening sequence. (Which you might recognize from last week.) Ominous and spooky.

2. As ominous and spooky as the first moments of this song are, by the one-minute mark it’s settled into soothing piano and upright bass. Maybe it’s Herbie’s way of telling us that adulthood isn’t as bad as we think it’s going to be.

3. The ride cymbal. Through most of the song it sizzles away constantly. It makes me imagine that the drummer gave the job of cymbal-hitter to an excited kid, who could barely contain himself throughout the entire song.

Recommended listening activity:

Putting on hilarious underwear beneath your fanciest work clothes.

Buy it here.