I first heard this song in a music video played between the movies on OnTV when I was a kid. I didn’t know who Steve Winwood was, and the video made absolutely no sense whatsoever, but the song stuck with me. (I went with a different clip, because the official video really does suck, but you can watch it here if you like. The video I’m posting has some really beautiful images with it, and it’s the full album version, not the single edit.) Again, it’s real meaning was kind of lost on me at that tender age, but something pulled me in.
The funky synths and keyboard are part of it. Winwood is a fantastic keyboard player, so his mastery of early 80s synthesizers isn’t really a surprise. He brings warmth and emotional depth to a type of music that tends to be cold and plastic. But the lyrics are what really sell me on this one. It’s an affirmation, a triumph over fear and insecurity. “Stand up on a clear blue morning, until you see what can be alone in a cold day dawning. Are you still free? Can you be?” That’s the real question of life, isn’t it? Can you be free? Most of the time, the answer to that is no. We have families and jobs and bills to pay. Responsibility is generally considered the antidote to freedom. But there is freedom in those, too. The knowledge that you aren’t alone, that you have security, that you have prosperity. Being free from all obligations isn’t the kind of freedom this song is about, anyway.
This is about having the courage to take a chance. The freedom to choose your own life. The freedom to be who you are without fear or regret. The freedom that comes from not lying to yourself anymore. “When there’s no one left to leave, even you don’t quite believe you, that’s when nothing can deceive you.” We all struggle with this. For me, it’s the fight to not be afraid anymore. I’m a fearful person, always have been. I worry, I fret, I procrastinate. I’m doing it right now. I’ll probably do it some more tomorrow. That’s just part of who I am. And I have constantly struggled with the fear that I am not good enough, that I will fail. Yeah, yeah, the only failure is in not trying, yadda, yadda, yadda. But I’ve been standing on the edge of the cliff for so long, I’m not sure I’m ever gonna jump. I need to be pushed. I’ve gotten close a couple of times recently. I’m teetering, but I’m still balanced on the edge, flailing my arms, terrified that I’ll suddenly be without the nice safe rut I’ve been in for years. It won’t take much to make me fall.
“And that old gray wind is blowing, and there’s nothing left worth knowing, and it’s time you should be going.