Walking in the Wind is a bonus song on Made in the A.M. It doesn’t fit easily into the One Direction canon; it’s not swaggering or fit for a stadium. There are no rivals, no romantic interests, no ships. This is One Direction doing Paul Simon. This is One Direction sitting back, taking a breath, settling into a story.
From the opening, stepping guitar, Walking in the Wind is unhurried. A week ago you said to me, do you believe I’ll never be too far. The song is an exchange between one who’s lost someone, and the one who’s been lost. The fact that we can sit right here and say goodbye, means we’ve already won. The latter remembers their time together, and the former insists: it isn’t over, you’ll find me, there’s still more to come. We had some good times, didn’t we? We had some good tricks up our sleeve. The one who lost sings. And the other responds: But it’s not the end. I’ll see your face again.
Walking in the Wind isn’t a sharp song. It’s imprecise. But it points at a singer trying to interrogate the loss, trying to understand the promise and the inevitable breaking of that promise. The song examines, rather than argue. It doesn’t defend against the present or future absence. There is no armor, no mechanism. Simply truth. The song looks back on what once existed, and recognizes it as a faded medium: a Polaroid.
But that’s okay! The song insists. It’s catchy and chill. The melody picks up and sweeps forward. They sing, insistently: You will find me, in places that we’ve never been. For all that the song is about, the music is upbeat and optimistic. It’s okay, it will be okay. We’re sure of it.
Harry Styles, a co-writer on Walking in the Wind, said of another song he wrote, Olivia, that “it doesn’t have to be so literal.” Olivia doesn’t have to be a person, he insisted. It could be a place. “Sometimes I think it’s cool to take an emotion and personify it.”
I think the same thought applies to Walking in the Wind.
The song is about loss, yes, but not necessarily one loss, one absence. As adults, we become inured to small deaths. The numbers we lose, the friendships that fall away, the moments we forget. All small, nearly imperceptible endings in our daily lives. So many, that soon we stop counting. We’re taught that every door closing will open another, and we whisper this to ourselves, enough so that we forget to notice if another door does open, or if the first door simply stays closed.
We come to understand these endings by containing them within a story. We accept a break up because a best friend says, “Sometimes, relationships take so many parts of you, that by the end, you’re left with nothing,” and you decide to think about the break up as you would a survival story, rather than the more pedestrian “we stopped liking each other.” A move becomes a step forward, rather than a step away; a fight becomes a miscommunication.
Walking in the Wind is trying to decide which story to tell. The one of the absence, or the one of the future reconciliation. This song is about loss. But it’s also about the stories we tell about those losses, and the ways we claim them.
Yesterday I went out to celebrate the birthday of a friend. But as we raised our glasses up to make a toast, I realized you were missing.
Stories rename themselves as we go. Their edges shift. Their definitions change. The way we experience them in the moment is different from the way we experience them in retrospect, and this is what Walking in the Wind hinges on. It’s optimistic, still, in that moment of reckoning. The song insists: you will find me. What has happened, has happened. But more is to come.
This isn’t a song about mourning. It’s about the story that comes from the mess. It’s not an ending, or even a punctuation mark. It’s a semi-colon. Unresolved.
We may not know if it’s okay. We may not know for awhile.
We had some good times, didn’t we? We wore our hearts out on our sleeve.