As someone who is fascinated by one-hit wonders , from time to time I ponder the career of Duncan Sheik. Most people will likely not have any idea who he is, as someone whose only appearance on the pop charts was for his song “Barely Breathing,” which only hit #16 on the pop charts in 1996 but managed to stay on the charts for more than a year (this was before the 52-25 recurrency rule made that more difficult). And while that remains the singer-songwriter’s only hit, it does not mean he stopped making music, as songs like “She Runs Away” (a very Nathanish song, I must admit) and “On A High” continued to reach the lower half of the adult top 40 chart, which is a suitable place for an artist like Sheik. Among the songs by Duncan Sheik that could have been hits was a soundtrack pop song attached to an Amanda Bynes movie called “Half-Life.”
A “half-life,” of course, is a reference to the length of time it takes radioactive materials to halfway break down into the isotope down the chain of radioactive decay. The song itself, perhaps unsurprisingly, reflects on that process decay and finds Sheik wondering if there is any escape from time of any kind, viewing love as a potential escape from the ravages of decay. By the time Sheik released this album, he had perhaps given up on having another hit on the pop charts, because if there is one thing that our youthcentric culture does not want to address or deal with, it is matters of aging and decay. And if Duncan Sheik by this time was still not a very old person (he is still only 49 right now as I write this, and he was in his early 30’s when he recorded his reflective ode on aging), he was certainly an old soul whose musings on the ravages of time were far out of step with a popular culture that was still celebrating teen pop and boy bands at the time. In a culture like ours where youth is celebrated, it is a common consequence to want to ignore or disregard the problems of aging and the natural decay that human beings have to deal with.
There are, of course, some people who cannot ignore the process of aging for one reason or another. Either their attention is turned to the processes of decay that they see around them in aging and often forgotten people or in the crumbling infrastructure that is all around us, or by their own premature aging and decay. As Duncan Sheik movingly sings “Can’t you see I’m breaking down,” one can suggest that it is the realization of his own personal aging and creeping decrepitude that most interests Duncan Sheik. And, it should be noted in the interests of fairness, that it is this same element which accounts for my own intense personal interest in the subject. To be sure, I think I would be observant enough to reflect on the decay that was going on around, but my own personal awareness of the problem certainly does add an edge to the problem. When one cannot be sure that one will be able to walk around normally when one wakes up, the problem of aging and decay and physical ruin is something that can no longer be pushed aside as an irrelevant problem.
What are we to do about it? Is there an escape from time? To be sure, there are ways that we can ameliorate our condition. Perhaps there are some life changes that we can make in our particular case that might arrest the breakdown we are suffering. We can certainly cultivate habits of behavior that will make our life better, but while our imagination can remain young for a very long time after we are no longer so, our physical condition is terminal. So long as we are flesh and blood creatures subject to wear and tear and the ravages of time and a frequently unfriendly environment, we will decline and eventually something will give out and end our mortal existence. Our memory may live in others, our works may live on to inspire and encourage others, but so long as we are dependent on our physical bodies to house our heart and mind and spirit, our existence on this mortal plane will eventually come to an end. Seen in that light, it is perhaps unsurprising that Duncan Sheik’s song ends on a subdued note, with the awareness that although love may very well make our life better, it does not provide an escape from time that would lead to eternal life, which is a gift that must be granted by God above.
 See, for example: