Did you succeed or did you fail?
Did you ever reach your destiny?"
It seems like a lot of songs, particularly in Country Music, involve a character, usually the narrator, talking to an elderly man. Why is this such a recurring theme?
Well, when someone's been around long enough to be described as "old", they've had a lot of life experience, and usually can impart good advice to the listener. Often, the person he's talking to will ponder over his advice, perhaps deciding to change his own life based on it.
A variant often seen in older music (as in, from the Middle Ages onwards) has the old man be the main character (usually the daughter)'s father, disagreeing about an Arranged Marriage or the Overprotective Dad preventing a marriage.
Songs that include this:
- "People are Crazy" by Billy Currington is about the narrator going to a bar, and meeting an old man. The two talk for hours like old friends, and after that they never speak again. The old man dies, and it turns out he's a millionaire that has decided to leave his fortune to the younger man instead of his own kids.
- In Craig Morgan's "This Ain't Nothin'", a reporter asks an old man what he plans to do after a tornado destroyed his entire home. The old man tells him that a destroyed house is nothing that money can't replace - at age 8 he lost his father; in Vietnam he lost his brother, his best friend, and his left hand; and last year his wife of fifty years died - so a ruined house is nothing.
- In "Almost Home" the narrator wakes up a homeless old man he finds sleeping outside in subzero weather. The old man shares the dream he had been having about a nostalgic day in his youth, and wishes the narrator had left him alone because he was "almost home". This was intentionally left open-ended on whether he meant he was almost home in the dream, or almost home to Heaven.
- In Love and Theft's "Can't Go Back", in the first verse, the narrator mentions that he meets an old man by the side of the road, and offers to drive him home, and the old man tells him that the world's living in sin, and you might want peace and understanding and harmony again, but you can't go back to where you've never been.
- In "The Good Stuff" by Kenny Chesney, after the narrator fights with his significant other, he goes to a bar and asks for "the good stuff". The old barkeep tells him that "the good stuff" is kissing your girlfriend, marrying her and seeing her hold your baby girl, and being there to hold her hand as she dies.
- Another Kenny Chesney song, "Don't Blink" is about a 102-year-old man being interviewed; he is asked about the secret to life. He advises the viewers "don't blink", because life goes by so fast. The narrator, who saw this on television, decides to slow down and enjoy life more.
- In Phil Vassar's "Don't Miss Your Life", the narrator is on a plane working. The older man next to him says he used to be the same way, but then he missed all the important events in his kids' life. The narrator decides that as soon as the plane lands, he'll buy a ticket to go back home.
- In "Waitin' On A Woman" by Brad Paisley, the narrator's waiting for his wife, and an old man sits down next to him and tells him affectionately how he's always waiting for his own wife, and he doesn't mind, and if he's the first to go, he'll still be waiting for her and won't mind how long she takes. Paisley even re-released the song with Andy Griffith spliced in for the old man's parts, and this version was used in the music video (see above).
- Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler" is about the narrator speaking to an older man on a train. The older man gives him advice about life, comparing life to a game of cards.
- "Old Man and Me" by Hootie & the Blowfish is about the narrator speaking to an old man, who talks about his life and wonders who will walk with him in Heaven.
- In "Minutes to Memories" by John Mellencamp, an old man on a bus speaks to the young man next to him. He advises him to live an honest life, being tough and being the best he can be. Toward the end of the song, it is revealed that the young man is the narrator, and that he's found that the old man's advice helped, so he's passing it on too.
- "Love, Me" by Collin Raye is about the narrator's grandfather talking about his relationship with the narrator's grandmother, hours before she dies.
- "You Are Old, Father William" is a Lewis Carroll poem written into the narrative of Alice in Wonderland. It involves a young man questioning his father's silly, age-inappropriate behaviors. (It's also a parody of a long-forgotten moralizing poem by Robert Southey, "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them.") The poem has been turned into a song in several adaptations:
- The 1965 double LP audio version had a version performed by Karen Dotrice (Alice, as the young man) and Ian Wallace (the Caterpillar, as Father William), with music by Philip Green.
- Very briefly performed by J. Pat O'Malley as the Tweedles in the Disney version.
- Sammy Davis Jr. performed it as a song in the 1985 TV musical version.
- A song by They Might Be Giants for the soundtrack to the 2010 Tim Burton film adaptation.
- "Old Man" by Neil Young is about a young man telling an old man that they're not that different.
- Tom T. Hall's "Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine" is an old man's view on the three worthwhile things in life.
- Hall's later hit "Faster Horses (The Cowboy and The Poet)" is almost a parody of this concept, with the Old Man boiling life down to "faster horses, younger women, older whiskey and more money", then drawing a gun on the narrator when he objects.
- "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Iron Maiden is based on the classic Samuel Taylor Coleridge epic poem where an old man's penance is to tell his bizarre supernatural tale of survival on the high seas to various individuals, in this case he stops a guest on their way to a wedding and mesmerizes them with his strange story.
- "Can I Play With Madness", also by Iron Maiden, recounts a conversation between a young man struggling with nightmarish visions and an old prophet.
- "The Mollusk" by Ween doesn't explicitly mention the age of the wise person speaking to the child about his newfound invertebrate...but from the context he is much older and experienced in the ways of questionably factual marine life knowledge.
- Some examples of the last type of song - a daughter speaking with her father - include La Bella Franschescina and Mon Pere Mariez-Moi Donc.
- A subversion in "Africa" by Toto: the narrator stops an old man specifically because he wanted a conversation, but the man didn't say anything.
- Parodied in "Old Blevins" by The Austin Lounge Lizards. The song starts out sounding like it is going to be a standard "old man in a bar offers young man advice" song, but most of Blevins' dialogue is just "Blah Blah Blah" and the singer realizes that if he doesn't patch things up with his girl, he might end up just like Old Blevins.
- "Old Man" on the 1967 Forever Changes album by Love is this trope to a "T".
- "Slip On By" by Austin Webb is similar in subject matter to "Don't Blink" by Kenny Chesney, mentioned above.
- "Oddfellows Local 151" by R.E.M. is a parody of this; PeeWee, the protagonist, sits behind the firehouse to preach his wisdom to people, but he keeps falling over (it's implied that he's drunk) and the only people there to listen to him are a boy and girl who have to drag him away to clean him up.
- "Mr Bojangles" by Jerry Jeff Walker; Mr Bojangles (not Bill "Bojangles" Robinson) is a silver-haired man the singer meets in a jail cell, who talks about his life as a Street Performer, and demonstrates his dance moves.
- The bulk of the narrative in Ragged Old Flag consists of an old man on a park bench speaking to the narrator, using a worn-out American flag as a metaphor for the country: distressed by years of war and conflict, but still waving proudly.
- "Chiseled in Stone" by Vern Gosdin is the story of an encounter with an old man in a bar, where narrator has gone after a fight with his lover. The old man tells the younger how lucky he is to have someone to go home to, revealing that his wife had passed away. The conversation inspires the narrator to buy flowers and reconcile.
- "Tattoos and Scars" by Montogomery Gentry is also about two men in a bar. The young man enters and shows off his tattoos, telling stories about where he got them. The old man then displays his scars, which are all from a much harder life, including fighting in a war.
- Father and Son by Cat Stevens is about a father passing down some life advice to his son who is about to move away.
- A variation in "A Pair Of Brown Eyes" by The Pogues: The narrator is getting his ear talked off by an old war veteran, and trying to ignore him to focus on his own problems.
- When he did a country album, naturally Voltaire had to do one. We got When You're Dead.
- Jimmy Buffett has "Last Mango in Paris, where the narrator (presumably Jimmy himself) has a conversation with "a legend," who regales him with tales of derring-do, then mysteriously disappears.
- The infamous ballad "I've Never Been to Me" by One-Hit Wonder Charlene is a distaff variation, sung by a woman who stops a younger woman on the street and tells her to appreciate the simple pleasures of life. The song's writers also wrote a gender-shifted version where the narrator is a haggard old man talking to a younger man.
- "Moments" by Emerson Drive is about a young man Driven to Suicide who meets a homeless old man under a bridge who tells him about meaningful moments in his past. This inspires the young man to ponder his own life and remember his own moments. He walks away imagining the old man sharing the story of helping him pull through as another of his moments.