If you’re new to this blog, welcome. What I try to do here is give you a song that’s been in my head, and break it down as to what it could mean for you. It’s a little like a tarot card reading, except that the song takes the place of the cards.
That said, like tarot, a lot can be open to interpretation.
For example, if I tell you that an Andrew Gold song was in my head, you could take that to refer to a couple different things.
There are his two big hits from the 1970’s – “Thank You For Being A Friend” and “Lonely Boy”. Both have fairly obvious meanings, and if they resonate with you, that could be what this little exercise means.
Really, sometimes it is that simple.
When I get a song in my head, it could also refer to the album, to the period of time when it was released, or to something significant that I associate with the song. And, in this case, since I’m offering this up to you, it could be something that YOU associate with the song. Or the album. Or the time period.
The song in question wasn’t a hit, though. In fact, that album from which it came wasn’t really a hit, either.
The album was called “Whirlwind” and it was Andrew’s attempt at straying from what was expected of him to create a rock album. This was much different from his previous recordings, both on his own (like to the two pop songs I already mentioned) and with Linda Ronstadt.
Stop there for a moment.
This is something else to think about in relation to this particular song. Instead of being about the lyrics, the meaning for you could be about trying something new, something you always wanted to do even though it was out of your comfort zone, and much different from what others might be expecting from you.
“Kiss This One Goodbye”. That’s the title of the song.
It’s about letting go of something, or someone, that just isn’t good for you, or doesn’t serve a purpose for you anymore.
In the song, Andrew sings about a woman whom he loves, but who doesn’t treat him well. He knows he deserves better, so it’s time to get rid of her and move on.
Of course, that’s a lot easier to do in a four minute song. But that’s always the case, isn’t it?
Is it time to make a change? Is there something or someone you’ve been holding onto even though you really know it isn’t in your best interest? And never will be?
That’s a big idea to ponder. And many times, I find that songs are like that. A talented songwriter can weave in exactly what you’re thinking or feeling, and present you with a melodic version of your problem and a possible solution.
And then other times, it’s just a catchy song. And it might be deep and philosophical or romantic or a million other things, but mostly, it’s just a catchy song.
That is also true of “Kiss This One Goodbye”.
Songs can be a lot of things, evoking thoughts and feelings that the artist may not have even intended.
For me, Andrew Gold’s “Kiss This One Goodbye” is not about any of the things I mentioned.
In May of 1980, Saturday Night Live was wrapping up its fifth season. This was to be the final season with the original cast. While Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi had left at the end of the previous season, this would be the last one for original cast members Jane Curtain, Garrett Morris, Bill Murray, Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner. Lorne Michaels even left, though he would return in 1985.
It was the end of an era.
And on that last episode of that final season, with Buck Henry as the host, Andrew Gold appeared as the musical guest.
So for me, this about endings, bringing one important, and successful, part of life to a close. It may have served well, but the time to move on is now at hand.
And while this isn’t about a relationship, necessarily, the story of the end of that season of Saturday Night Live, the end of that era of the series, does seem to go along with the overall theme of the song.
It may not be about getting rid of something, or even someone, who no longer serves you. It might just be about taking a break from being safe, and preparing to try something new.
And with that, let me let Buck Henry introduce you to Andrew Gold and his song “Kiss This One Goodbye”…
***Ken's note: I know there are lots of Grateful Dead fans out there. And I also know that all of you know more about the Dead than I ever will. I don't intend for this blog to be a serious, historical or otherwise official interpretation of "Uncle John's Band". Like a Tarot reading, this is just what I think and feel about this song today, and how I think it might resonate with those who have come here for this particular message. I profess no expertise and mean no offense.***
This one’s been in my head off and on for a while now.
Both the song and the band mean many different things to different people.
The song started showing up as part of Grateful Dead concerts in 1969, finally showing up an album the following year.
You can check out the lyrics at a number of places online, and dissect individual lines and phrases. Maybe it is a kind of commentary on the time, as acts of violence here and the continuing war in Vietnam slammed the door on the Summers of Love.
Or it’s just a remembrance of, maybe even a long for, happier times. And a reminder to be kind.
Likewise, you may have your own opinion or interpretation of the band, itself. The Grateful Dead certainly evoke a variety of feelings.
Some see them as a kind of blues/folk band, leading an endless caravan of devoted followers back and forth across the country.
Others elevate them to an almost deity status.
There’s also the literal interpretation of their name, “grateful” and “dead”.
And then there are those who dismiss them as a relic of a drug culture that has moved on without them.
Here’s what I know, and what it means to me.
“Uncle John’s Band” was the first Grateful Dead song I knew of. That is, it was the first song I’d heard and knew it was by the Grateful Dead.
The line “Come hear Uncle John’s Band, playing to the tide” made me put this on my Beach Trip tape when I was a teenager. I doubt there are a lot of people who associate the Grateful Dead with going to the beach, but once I’d made that connection, it remained.
It’s also about taking a break from all the things that make us all so busy, to think things through and, what’s most important to me, just enjoy the music.
It took the Dead the better part of a year to get this song the way they wanted it, so it could be recorded for one of their albums. How often do we rush something rather than having the patience that would have required? I often find myself trying to cram seventy minutes into an hour, where everything I need to do seems to be indelibly stamped with ASAP and TOP PRIORITY.
I also find it ironic that the Dead didn’t even take their own advice, touring to the point that the music and the road were almost all there was. I find it all too easy to immerse myself in a new project where hours evaporate. At least, I hope it’s only hours, and not days-weeks-months-years.
So it seems each different analysis I do have the possible meaning for this song seem to circle back around to the same theme. Take a break. Stop and think.
Maybe stop and don’t think. Just for a moment.
By the way, the quality of this video isn’t great, but it is kind of historic. It’s from1970, the summer the Dead finally recorded this song. In fact, this is the Grateful Dead in the KQED studio in San Francisco.
So take a break, even if it’s only for five minutes and forty-two seconds. And listen to Uncle John’s Band playing to the tide.
I go back and forth about how I feel about music that gets released after an artist has died.
On the one hand, if I really liked that particular singer or musician, I’m excited to be able to get something new, even though they aren’t around anymore.
And on the other hand, I feel that there’s a good chance that music hadn’t been released for a reason.
I loved John Lennon, and his death in 1980 hit me hard. When the rumors began to circulate that there were songs he’d recorded but hadn’t gotten around to releasing, I was very excited. And I bought them all.
In fact, I continue to buy them. And if Yoko finds another tape of demos, I’ll buy that, too.
I’m not so sure John would want that stuff out there, but I think that’s a risk all artists take, especially today. If you record something, or put something in print somewhere, it’s going to get released. It’s just a matter of time.
The song that’s the subject of this blog was one of those songs. And I’m pretty sure John didn’t want it released. Not because it was bad, but because it just wasn’t ready, yet.
In the summer of 1980, John went on a vacation about his yacht, sailing from a port in Rhode Island to Bermuda. Along the way, he encountered a severe storm that lasted for a very long time. All aboard got seasick. John was one of the first to recover, and he took the wheel, all alone for hours.
Obviously, this gave him ample opportunity to think about a lot of things, large and small. Once in Bermuda, he felt inspired to write a song based on a lyric from a Bunny Wailer song (“Hallelujah Time”). By the way, Bunny was a member of the group the Wailers. As in, Bob Marley and the Wailers.
Anyway, the lyric line that was John’s inspiration was “living on borrowed time”, which is what he felt he’d been doing. In fact, he said, “Come to think of it, that’s what we’re all doing, even though most of us don’t like to face it.”
For those who don’t know, or don’t remember, this was kind of a rebirth period for John Lennon. He had basically retired in 1975 when his son Sean was born. In 1976, he wrote a song for Ringo and also performed on the track, “Cookin’ (In The Kitchen Of Love)”. By 1980, he felt as though he was ready to get back to work.
When he recorded “Borrowed Time” that summer, he couldn’t get his band to give him the reggae feel he felt the song needed, so he shelved it. It would surface four years later on his first posthumous release.
I find this song to be a little like a Tarot card – there are many different possible interpretations.
There’s the obvious, of course. We’re all living on borrowed time. Are we making the most of every precious moment?
There’s nostalgia for our younger days, and you can have that at any age – whether you’re 24 or 64. Is where you are today where you thought you’d be when you were back then (whenever “back then” was)? Was your future brighter than or is it brighter now?
And there’s the story behind the song. The rebirth. The rediscovery. The victory over the storm.
And there’s the act of putting something off until a tomorrow that never really came. Sure, he recorded the song, and it was finally released, but not on his terms. Not the way he wanted it done.
Maybe the message here is a combination. Strive to make your days count. You may not be where you thought you’d be, but you’ve battled and beaten plenty of storms. And while you can think about the future, and plan for it, don’t live for it.
Ken Kessler has always been interested in psychic phenomena, and like Mulder on the X-Files, wants to believe. But like most, he tends to look for, and accept, rational explanations. (More)