Night Flight’s 1988 John Lennon Video Profile: Sailing into the Bermuda Triangle on “Borrowed Time”

By on September 10, 2016

“On the advice of Yoko’s astrology consultants, John Lennon sailed to Bermuda in June, 1980,” Pat Prescott tells us during her introduction of the music video for “Borrowed Time,” featured Night Flight’s 1988 video profile on John Lennon. “A line on Bob Marley’s Burnin’ album inspired John to couple his obsession with death with swaying tropical rhythms.” Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.

It’s been reported that Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono often consulted psychic clairvoyants, astrologers or numerologists before they made any decisions, and even had a room in their apartment at the Dakota in Central Park West which held their collection of Egyptian artifacts and antiques, tarot cards and items from an ancient Japanese practice of katu-tugai, which combined numerology and cartography.

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As Lennon was about to take a trip, those items were apparently consulted in order to avoid unlucky directions in travel, and it was determined that he should immediately go on a trip in a south-easterly direction.

It was further decided that Lennon should sail to Bermuda, a 700-mile journey which would take the former Beatle into unpredictable weather as well as the notorious Bermuda Triangle.

Lennon would fly from New York to Newport, Rhode Island, and then at Murphy’s Dock he and a small crew of men would board a 43-foot centerboard sloop called the Megan Jaye, piloted by its captain, a burly, bearded Beatles fan named Hank Halsted.

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Tyler Coneys, left, was a member of the crew on the Megan Jaye, the 43-foot sloop on which John Lennon sailed to Bermuda in 1980.

It should have taken four or five days to reach Bermuda, but within 48 hours the yacht encountered a severe storm and a force-eight gale winds which blew them off course and added an extra day to their troubled trip.

Lennon was the least-experienced sailor among them, but he wasn’t having severe sea-sickness problems that the rest of the crew were having, and so he gave Halstead a bit of break and lashed himself to the wheel alone for many hours while captain and crew rested below (he later claimed that overcoming his heroin addiction had made him immune to symptoms that others aboard were feeling).

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Lennon sailing in New York Harbor (1975)

After seven days at sea, the Megan Jaye finally arrived in Bermuda, but the experience of sailing through the life-threatening storm had made a huge impression on Lennon, who admitted later it was “the most fantastic experience I ever had.”

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Lennon stayed in Bermuda for two months, in a district called Fairylands, which was set across two small peninsulas and featured winding stone-walled lanes through small green hills and cottages with names like Xanadu and Windermere.

Lennon ended up settling into a house called Undercliff, in the island capital of Hamilton. As a British Overseas Territory, it also might have felt familiar to Lennon, who hadn’t been to England for nine years at that point, with its red telephone and letter boxes and British-named parishes.

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Lennon began working intently on new songs for a new album, the first to feature original material since 1974’s Wall and Bridges.

At some point Lennon was listening to Bob Marley’s 1973 album Burnin’, which features the song “Hallelujah Time,” written and sung by Bunny Wailer.

When he heard a lyric “We got to keep on living/Living on borrowed time,” he realized something that he’d repeat later, that “come to “come to think of it, it’s what we’re all doing, even though most of us don’t like to face it.”

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Lennon began writing a reggae-influenced lightly calypso-ish tune with the title “Borrowed Time,” which begins with the recognition that life is short — “When I was younger, living confusion and deep despair” — before concluding: “Now I am older / The future is brighter and now is the hour.”

On June 22, 1980, Lennon recorded two demos of “Borrowed Time” in a makeshift studio he set up in a spare bedroom at Undercliff, backing himself on acoustic guitar and double-tracking his vocals.

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By the beginning of August, 1980, he had returned from Bermuda and according to interviews he and Yoko Ono did once he was back in New York, he was acutely aware that his life could be cut short at any moment.

On August 6th, he entered New York’s Hit Factory studio with producer Jack Douglas and a handful of hand-picked session men — guitarists Earl Slick and Hugh McCracken, bassist Tony Levin, keyboardist George Small, percussionist Arthur Jenkins and drummer Andy Newmark — and “Borrowed Time” was the second song he’d attempted to record for the planned new album, which was to be in stores before Christmas.

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That album, Double Fantasy, which would also include songs by Yoko Ono, was titled after a the name of particular plant Lennon had seen at the Botanical Gardens, just outside Hamilton.

Lennon told the band to think of the Isley Brother’s “Twist and Shout and “Spanish Twist.” Unfortunately, afte three takes, Lennon sensed his band weren’t quite able to capture the reggae feel of the song as he’d envisioned, and Lennon, frustrated, set the track aside in order to work on others, including several songs he’d also written in Bermuda.

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“Borrowed Time” was one of many songs left incomplete and unreleased at the time of Lennon’s death on December 8th, 1980.

Years later, in an interview she did in 1998 with Uncut magazine, Yoko Ono would remark, “Now when we think about the title, it’s just kind of chilling in a way, that he was very aware that it was a borrowed time.”

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The track would finally make an appearance in January 1984 (after an additional guitar overdub) on Milk and Honey, a posthumous collection of tracks left unreleased from the Double Fantasy sessions.

It was also released as a single in the U.K. (on March 9, 1984) and the U.S. (May 11th), peaking at #32 on the UK singles chart while peaking at #108 in the States.

A music video was created for the song, using childhood photos of Lennon plus rare home movies provided to director Stanley Dorfman by Yoko Ono from the Lennon’s personal collection.

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Night Flight’s video tribute to Lennon — which originally aired on November 11, 1988 — also featured music videos for “Instant Karma,” “Nobody Told Me,” “Steppin’ Out,” “Jealous Guy” and “Come Together,” as well as son Julian Lennon‘s video for “Too Late for Goodbyes,” and Yoko Ono’s video for “Hell in Paradise,” directed by Zbigniew Rybczyński, who also directed the incredible award-winning video for The Art of Noise’s “Close (to the Edit),” which we told you about here.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.