Is this its own song, or a coda of sorts to "Old Friends"? It has its own title, its own track listing... and its own melody, the intrumental version of which opens the album. So we're going to say it's perhaps Simon's shortest song, but still its own, self-contained song.
If this is an epilogue to "Old Friends," the implication is that one of them has died, and the other is now remembering them, perhaps spurred to do so by the photo mentioned.
The first two lines are a pun of sorts. "Time it was" is another (and old-fashioned/literary) way of saying "There was a time," or "There once was a time when..." Meanwhile, "What a time it was," means, in the words of the Weavers' album title, "Wasn't that a time!" The first version is wistful; the second victoriously recalls past glories.
Then there is a slant rhyme: "innocence/confidences." The first implies having nothing to hide; the second implies secrets. The slant rhyme indicates a trying to make sense of something that might not, in fact, make sense. Life is like that, and so are relationships.
Adding to the muddle is that fact that this was "long ago," plus the slipping of memory with age, echoed in the inverted half-thought, "Long ago, it must be..."
The next two lines have confused me for most of my life. "I have a photograph, perserve your memories." OK, fine, the friend has a picture, and alone remembers the things that they both used to, since the other has passed on.
Then the next line, "They're all that's left you." Surely, Simon meant "They (the memories) are all that's left of you." After a person has died, all that is left of them is the memory of them, yes?
But, scrutinizing it now, I see that yes, both the printed lyrics and the song itself leave out the "of."
So we have "Memories... [a]re all that's left you." The memories have left the friend, not the other way around...? But then, shouldn't it be "They're all that've (that have) left you"?
Maybe we can't expect someone admittedly "old" and lost in reverie to adhere to perfect grammar, one way or the other.
"Your memories... [a]re all that's left you." Maybe we will never know what this line means. Maybe some things, in life, relationships-- and music-- are our beyond our ability to make sense of them.
Musical Note: In the biography, Paul Simon: A Life, author Marc Eliot posits that the flow of Side A of Bookends traces the line from youth to age: "Save the Life of My Child," then the young romance in "America" and "Overs," and then "Old Friends." In between these bookends is the story of a life.
IMPACT: The album was nominated for "Album of the Year."
Next song: Fakin' It