Forty-seven years ago Credence Clearwater Revival released their last studio album before breaking up, called “Mardi Gras,” an album lovingly dissected by Todd In The Shadows for his Trainwreckords series. While I am no fan of most of the album, one song on the album has a sense of poignancy that I still ponder from time to time, namely the melancholy second single off of the album, “Someday Never Comes.” Various times songwriter John Fogerty has stated that the song has its genesis in the sad generational pattern of relationship failure in his life. When he was young, his parents split up and he was told by his father that someday John would understand what was going on, but John found that as his marriage and his band and his relationship with his label were falling apart that someday never comes. He never felt that he knew and understand what he needed to. I suspect this is a common feeling. Many a child grows up thinking that they will never make the same mistakes that their parents made, only to find out that they have reached adulthood and find that their early life and their adult life have many of the same patterns, and that one doesn’t know and understand what one needs in order to make life and relationships work very well.
Why does someday never come? Part of the problem is that someday is a vague and unspecified term that expresses a vague wish that is nevertheless not a priority. When a parent tells a child that someday they will understand, they are trying to avoid an awkward and personal conversation that would expose them as some sort of wicked or lazy or cowardly sort of person, the sort of person who breaks promises and violates trust or simply does not wish to put forth the effort that it would take to rebuild a broken relationship of some kind. To tell a child that someday they will go fishing together (or some other activity) is to raise expectations without providing a firm commitment. It is unsurprising that “Someday” has been related to songs that deal with the vagueness of such implied promises. Most of the time these songs are not very good. One can think of “Someday” by either Nickelback or Sugar Ray, where the artist seems unaware of the vagueness of the term, an in Nickelback’s case uses it to express a false implied promise that “someday, somehow, we’re going to make it alright but not right now. I know you’re wondering when.” It is entirely appropriate that someone would wonder when someday would come, because for that time to come there would need to be a firm commitment to do something, and if there was a firm commitment it would be now, and not someday. Someday in English has the same sort of vague connotations that “mañana” has in Spanish, where gullible Americans think the term means tomorrow when it really means, “whenever I feel motivated to get around to it,” which is likely to never happen.
To be sure, there are songs that deal with specific time references, and that specificity adds a great deal to the poignant meaning of the songs. Such is the case, for example, with the song “2003” by Nina Gordon, one of my favorite songs of all time, where Nina passionately proclaims that she and her temporarily separated lover will meet again in 2003, and where Nina wonders presciently whether her love will wait for her. That specificity in time is important because it is now 2019 as I write this, and it is very possible that her live didn’t wait for her, which only adds to the emotional weight of the years that have gone on since 2003. It should also be remembered that not all uses of “someday” in songs lack a high degree of deep emotional resonance. “Someday We’ll Know” by the New Radicals shows the lead singer reflecting on a relationship where his partner appears to have moved on while he hasn’t, and the vagueness of that time when the narrator will understand why the relationship wasn’t meant to work out or when the estranged partner is supposed to realize that the relationship was meant to be does add emotional weight, as it is a feeling that many people are familiar with.
What are we to learn from this? One obvious lesson from all of this is that it is best for our own integrity and character to be honest with ourselves and others. If an honest explanation of our own conduct will reveal us to be some sort of scoundrel in our dealings with others, or one simply does not know how to explain something, it is best to admit it openly. There are many things in this world that happen that are difficult or even perhaps impossible to understand, at least at the time they are happening and we are trying to process them in the moment. If we want children to better understand the nature of the world they will inhabit as adults, where responsibilities seem crushing and where actions taken for one’s own self-interest often have negative repercussions on others and other situations where there in fact may not appear to be any good options at all, but merely a variety of bad ones, then that is something that needs to be explained to the children rather than waved off with vague terms like someday. It can be hard to know what is age appropriate explanation of the difficulties of adult life, and it is easy for parents to wish to protect their children from the sort of adult fears and worries that make our lives less innocent and less enjoyable, but children whose parents are splitting up are already in the place where their parents have deliberately shattered the innocence of childhood. One has to own up to it and make the best of the inevitable questions that children are going to ask when adults are screwing things up, and honesty is a big part of that, especially when the truth hurts.