Well it’s all right, riding around in the breeze
Well it’s all right, if you live the life you please
Well it’s all right, doing the best you can
Well it’s all right, as long as you lend a hand
So go the lyrics to the Traveling Wilburys’ 1988 song “The End of the Line.” With the sad and recent death of rock icon Tom Petty, the song seems even more poignant now.
I was fan of Tom and own most of his records. The Traveling Wilburys had a lineup that was impressive, even by rock superstar standards: George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, and the youngest of the Wilburys, Tom Petty.
After the release of the Wilburys’ first record in 1990, I had a chance encounter with one of the Wilburys in person, George Harrison. I must admit that seeing a living, breathing Beatle caught me by surprise as George literally sat right behind me on the beach in Hana, Maui, where he had a home. As he conversed with a friend, I heard the very familiar Liverpudlian accent and then noticed I had a Beatles cassette in my bag.
When George’s friend left, I turned back to him and said, “I really appreciate all the amazing music you created with the Beatles!” To prove my point, I showed him the Beatles cassette, “Love Songs.” George stared blankly at me through sunglasses and did not respond. Fact is, “Love Songs” was not even a proper Beatles record but rather a compilation later released by Capital Records.
I should have thought of that. No wonder George ignored me.
I later read that he did not really like talking about the Beatles, and could be very reclusive. Later that day, I saw him getting his car and I brought up the Traveling Wilburys and remarked on how I loved that there was a true group sound reminiscent of the Beatles. This time, George became animated and talked about how if I liked the first Wilburys’ record I would like the second one even more.
Now, sadly, George has been gone for some time, dying in 2001 after a battle with cancer at the age of 58. Roy Orbison died in 1988, at the age of 52. And now, a third Traveling Wilbury, Tom Petty, has died at 66.
I recently watched a documentary on the life of George Harrison directed by Martin Scorsese called “Living in the Material World.” In the film, Tom Petty is asked to reflect on his friend, George.
In the film, Tom tells the story of what happened after the death of fellow bandmate, Roy Orbison. After mentioning that George Harrison had called him on the phone, Tom pauses for a moment as if questioning if he should repeat what George had said to him. Finally, he decides to reveal it.
Referring to Roy Orbison’s passing, George said to Tom, “Aren’t you glad it wasn’t you?” Now sadly, it was Tom.
The end of the line comes to every man and every woman. It comes for rock superstars and people we’ve never heard of. It comes to the rich and the poor. It comes to the good and the bad. It will come to you, and it will come to me. There is no escaping it.
There is a Latin phrase, memento mori, which essentially means, “Remember, you are going to die.” It would be written, in days gone by, over pages containing one’s bank balance and other documents. It was not meant to be morbid, but was invoked to remind one that life is short. In other words, no matter how much money you have in your bank, there will be, to borrow the Wilburys, an end of the line.
We don’t know when it will come, but we would all be wise to be prepared.
It comes down to this: Only those who are prepared to die are really ready to live. One of the two surviving Traveling Wilburys, Bob Dylan, put it this way in his song “Gotta Serve Somebody”:
Might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
Might have money and drugs at your commands, women in a cage
You may be a business man or some high degree thief
They may call you doctor or they may call you chief.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
True. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Your afterlife destination depends on which of those two you serve.
Read more at The End of the Line.