This song seems to be a struggle to determine what how much productive time the speaker has left. The music itself lurches between the fast lines that take up most of the song and slower interludes that seem to want to take a look around and enjoy the "scenery," only to succumb to the song's driving urgency.
The main question is: What state of development has the speaker reached-- is it "the springtime of [his] life"... or is "winter" hard by? The song as a whole seems to argue for the latter conclusion. It starts by worrying about time, repeating the word "time" like it is ticking away. "What's become of me," uses the past tense; the words sound like a TV special on "Whatever happened to" some child stars.
It continues, still in past tense, "I looked around... I was so hard to please." Also, he spent so much time choosing, he lost the time to actuate his choices. Is he wrong to feel that he has lost valuable time, not much of which is left? After all, the very weather agrees-- the leaves on the trees are dead, the sky is overcast. autumn is well underway, and the sky predicts "winter" soon.
(The imagery here recalls that of one of Simon's earliest songs: "The leaves that are green turn to brown..." That song, too, is out the inevitability of the passage of time and the nature is life as a series of partings: "Hello... goodbye/ That's all there is.")
Then another thought comes in: "What about what else is going on in the world? There's a band playing to raise money for the poor helped by the Salvation Army. I should go, and bring my cup to help collect donations from passers-by." After all, time is passing-- the leaves are still brown, the sky is still wintry.
Then the song seems to be quoting some helpful adviser, offering encouragement straight off of the "Hang in there!" poster with a cat dangling from a branch. The speaker admits such advice is only useful... if one buys into it, and "pretends" that there is enough time to rebuild hope.
But next comes a truer note of hope. Again, the imagery is taken not from platitudes, but from nature: "Look around, the grass is high/ The fields are ripe, it's the springtime of my life." What am I worried about? I'm young and have plenty of time!
Then this odd bit o "chicken-and-egg" philosophizing: "Seasons change with the scenery." Isn't it more true to say that "scenery changes with the seasons"? After all, it's either nice or bleak out because of what season it is, not the other way around.
But then, what is a "season"? Who determines what "spring" or "winter" is-- aren't these not just human, semantic labels for a natural events with no set start or end? It's the scenery that changes, with or without us, and we have to adjust our outlook.
Just when the speaker seems to have snapped himself out of his funk with this realization, there is a break. The next few lines seem to belong to another song. "Weaving time in a tapestry," seems to continue the poetic nature of the previous thought...
...Then the song snaps into a discussion about a relationship and turns sarcastic: "Won't you stop and remember me/ At any convenient time?"
It's disingenuous. Here is he saying that he must make use of the precious few moments he has left, what with "winter" coming... but this other person should stop whatever it is he or she is doing and make time for him! "Yeah, friend, I'm here, when you get around to me, I'm just sayin'..."
But then, right away, he is apologizing-- or rationalizing-- for himself having forgotten something or someone. After all, he was busy "looking over manuscripts/ Of unpublished rhyme" while having a drink.
Perhaps this is all to say that we make ourselves busier than we actually are, that, as John Lennon so nicely put it: "Life is what happens when you are making other plans." The speaker admits that he is just as guilty for ignoring relationships as he would blame his friend for being.
He wasn't busy as much as self-absorbed. He did not hear the Salvation Army band, and now instead of being with-- and helping-- other people, he is poring over things he himself has written but has not even shared.
Sadly, there is no time to learn this lesson. In the time it took to even think of all this, the weather has gotten even colder and time has gotten even shorter.
Before, there were dead leaves and a hazy sky. And now-- oh just look-- "there's a patch of snow on the ground." Winter isn't on its way-- it's arrived! Time's a-wastin'... better get back to work.
IMPACT: The song, one of S&G's fastest and hardest-driving, was covered successfully by the all-female New Wave band The Bangles.
Next song: At the Zoo