On the theme of swan songs, Genesis’ last track on We Can't Dance (1991) is “Fading Lights,” and that’s the inspiration for these images. Both Genesis and Phil Collins’ solo work meant a lot to me in the 1980s and early ’90s. To me, “Fading Lights” was Genesis at their best: a long song with a great solo section and excellent lyrics and vocals. What a way to end an album. What a way to say good-bye.
Like “The Garden,” there’s a bit of longing nostalgia—a sadness that life is so fleeting. Whereas “The Garden” seems to find a bit of solace, “Fading Lights” is haunting, maybe tinged with regret. Still, that is not unusual for Genesis: loss is a theme that ran through their music, especially since Phil Collins became their principle member.
For some reason, I saw a man and his son as representational figures here: the father is a guiding figure who would not be around forever, hoping that he taught his son what he would need to know to survive and maybe find meaning and happiness in life. Here, the light is both wisdom and understanding, but also the inevitability of death: “Like the story that we wish was never ending / We know sometime we must reach the final page.”
Even the album cover of We Can’t Dance reflects this theme.
I can’t help but hear my own life and concerns reflected in music that’s touched me in some way. Some albums mark specific periods in my life and will forever be associated with the abstract shades of people and places my mind retains. This song transcends the early-’90s for me, emphasizing the importance of the present.