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)